The introduction of the breadfruit [Artocarpus altilis (Parkinson)Fosberg] to the West Indies – The role of Sir Joseph Banks. (32)
Keywords:Royal Society, Society of Arts, West India Committee, prizes, botanic gardens
AbstractThe account of the introduction of the breadfruit from Tahiti in the Pacific to St. Vincent and Jamaica in the West Indies is, perhaps, one of the best documented and widely known in the history of plant movement. The success of this feat has been attributed to Captain William Bligh, a very able navigator, who after the aborted first attempt caused by the equally well-known mutiny on board the Bounty, returned to the Pacific and, in 1793, landed the plants in the West Indies. The authors argue that while Bligh deserves the recognition he has received for the physical movement of the plants, the evidence of important primary and secondary sources in the form of letters, diary accounts, the published logs of key players and other publications, points to Sir Joseph Banks as the main actor responsible for this achievement. In this paper, we trace how his position and influential associations were employed in the initial preparations which began two decades earlier during the voyages of Captain James Cook to the Pacific. Having described the potential of breadfruit, Banks organized both Bligh voyages as a result of petitions from the West Indian planters. After the transportation of the first breadfruit plants, he maintained contact with the botanical gardens in the West Indies and, through the Royal Society of Arts, set up the awards of prizes for those who extended its cultivation. Banks was the longest serving President of the Royal Society, from 1778 onwards for forty years, and as a friend and advisor to King George III caused Kew Gardens to become the world centre for economic botany in the English-speaking world through successive collections and re-distributions of economic plants. The breadfruit’s success was pivotal. Bank’s role before, during and after both voyages is described.