Summer of ’69On July 10, 2019 by Elyse
. . . 1769, that is. Sorry, Bryan Adams.
If the Enlightenment-era botanist Sir Joseph Banks had a LinkedIn profile, he’d be the connection we’d block from our newsfeeds.
This distinguished-looking Englishman served as president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for over four decades, was an influential proponent of settlement in Australia, sailed the South Pacific Ocean with Captain James Cook, collected 30,000 plant specimens on his travels —1,400 of which he reportedly discovered—and was invested as a Knight of the Order of the Bath.
In response to the latter, caricaturist James Gillray lampooned him and drew what we’d all have been thinking:
Later in life, Joseph was described as “an elephant, quite placid and gentle, allowing you to get upon his back or play with his proboscis.” In context, this is (probably) not as suggestive as it sounds. However, Joseph didn’t always have the dignity and wisdom of an elephant.
As an adventurous young man, he set sail in 1768 with Captain Cook on HMS Endeavour and among other destinations, visited Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. When he returned, he was determined to show the world what a refined, cosmopolitan gentleman he had become:
Not pictured: Joseph getting caught with his pants down—literally—in a canoe in Tahiti in May of 1769. But I’ll let him tell you the story in his own words from his journal. Just forgive him his “appalling spelling and non-existent punctuation.”
Night came on apace, it was nescessary to look out for lodgings; as Dootahah made no offer of any I repaird to my old Freind Oborea [also known as Purea, a prominent chieftainess] who readily gave me a bed in her canoe much to my satisfaction. I acquainted my fellow travelers with my good fortune and wishing them as good took my leave.
We went to bed early as is the custom here: I strippd myself for the greater convenience of sleeping as the night was hot. Oborea insisted that my cloths should be put into her custody, otherwise she said they would certainly be stolen. I readily submitted and laid down to sleep with all imaginable tranquility.
Anyone who’s ever taken a shower in a communal setting can see where this is going.
About 11 I awakd and wanting to get up felt for my clothes in the place in which I had seen them laid at night but they were missing. I awakd Oborea, she started up and on my complaining of the Loss candles were immediately lit. Dootahah who slept in the next canoe came to us and both went in search of the theif, for such it seems it was who had stolen my coat and waistcoat with my pistols powder horn etc., they returnd however in about ½ an hour without any news of the stolen goods.
I began to be a little alarmd, my musquet was left me, but that by my neglect the night before was not loaded; I did not know where Captn Cooke or Dr Solander had disposd of themselves, consequently could not call upon them for assistance; Tupia stood near me awakd by the Hubbub that had been raisd on account of my Loss; to him I gave my Musquet charging him to take care that the theif did not get it from him, and betook myself again to rest, telling my companions in the boat that I was well satisfied with the pains that Oborea and Dootahah had taken for the recovery of my things.
Soon after I heard their musick and saw lights near me; I got up and went towards them, it was a heiva or assembly according to their custom. Here I saw Captn Cooke and told my melancholy story, he was my fellow sufferer, he had lost his stockins and two young gentlemen who were with him had lost each a Jacket. Dr Solander was away we neither of us knew where: we talkd over our losses and agreed that nothing could be done toward recovering them till the morning, after which we parted and went to our respective sleeping places.
Misery loves company. The next morning:
At day break we rose according to the custom of our companions. Tupia was the first man I saw, atending with my Musquet and the remainder of my cloaths, his faith had often been tried, on this occasion it shone very much. Oborea took care to provide me with cloth to supply the place of my lost Jacket so that I made a motley apearance, my dress being half English and half Indian.
Talk about a walk of shame. Then, the plot thickened:
Dootahah soon after made his apearance; I pressd him to recover my Jacket but neither he nor Oborea would take the least step towards it so that I am almost inclind to beleive that they acted principals in the theft. Indeed if they did it may be said in their excuse that they knew I had in my pockets a pair of pistols, weopons to them more dreadfull than a cannon to a man marching up to its mouth: could they get possession of them they thought no doubt that they would be as usefull to them as to us; self defence and preservation therefore in this case came in opposition to the laws of hospitality, duties to which mankind usualy give the preference in all cases.– The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks, May 28-29, 1769
About 8 Dr Solander returnd from a house about a mile off where he had slept: he had met with more honest companions than we had for nothing of his was missing. We spent the most of the morning in trying to persuade our freinds either to restore our cloaths or give us some hogs acording to promise, but neiether could we do, so we were forcd to set out for the boat with only the pig got yesterday, dissatisfied enough with our expedition.
Joseph could’ve had great success on LinkedIn but clearly would’ve needed some help with the 18th-century version of Tahitian Tinder.
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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