By Darryl Mason
Sir Joseph Banks, the father of colonial Australia, explorer, botanist, naturalist, grower of "luxuriant" cannabis plants in theNSW settlement of the early 1800s and drug dealer to English poets of the Romantic era.
Today, Sir Joseph Banks would be labelled a drug dealer.
In England, in 1803, Thomas Wedgwood was growing ever more curious about this drug called Hashish. He simply had to try some for himself. This was the era of English Romantics, and getting completely mangulated on new drugs in the name of Art, inspiration or revelation, was not so frowned upon. Clubs were formed at the height of English (and Australian) society for exactly these kind of experiments in appreciating how other, more ancient, cultures got high.
Thomas Wedgwood was sure his friend the Romanticist poet Samuel Coleridge would know where to get on. And Coleridge, lover of all reality-redefiners, did know where to get Hashish. He turned to his friend Joseph Banks.
Banks, being a botanist, and a friend to the Royal Family, located some quality bhang and forwarded it to Wedgwood and Coleridge with a note saying the cannabis resin-rich substance was popular across the East, particularly with "Criminals condemned to suffer amputation", and that the effects of Hashish included "almost frantic exhilaration."
Presumably that was an observation based on personal experience.
Interestingly, Joseph Banks was a firm believer that Hashish was, or was a constituent of, Nepenthe, the fabled drug of Homeric legend, "the one that chases away sorrow".
The above was drawn from Marcus Boon's book, The Road To Excess, and the Collected Letters of Samuel Coleridge (pub. 1956, Oxford University Press)
Sir Joseph Banks is now, not surprisingly, very popular with Australian Cannabis historians and hemp activists :
1788: Sir Joseph Banks, the man who sent hemp seeds on the First Fleet and recommended the scheme for a convict and hemp colony, must be claimed as hemp's historical Australian Godfather. He frequently supplied seed to prospective growers to encourage production in British colonies, such was the need of the times with hemp a vital military resource for seafaring nations like Britain.
1802 : NSW's governor wrote Banks that he had sown 10 acres of "Indian hemp seeds" that grew "with utmost luxuriance, generally from six to ten feet in height." The governor and Banks did not seem to know that CannabisIndica was any different from European hemp.
1808 - 1814: Shortage of hemp in Britain due to Napoleon's blockade. Colonies encouraged to produce hemp.
And here :
Even before Australia was claimed by England, British farmers grew hemp. Around the same time that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were growing hemp in the American colonies, Sir Joseph Banks made himself "the father of Australia" by being the first British official to suggest that convicts be sent to settle Australia.And here you can read a remarkable take on our history which basically claims Australia was founded all but solely to grow hemp when American hemp farmers, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, revolted against England's rule of the American colonies and cut off England's hemp supplies :
Father Joseph was also a hempster. He and other British leaders said cannabis was the most important seed to be carried on seafaring exploration-conquest journeys, because hemp was essential to the survival of the British navy. They speculated that Australia would be an ideal "hemp colony."
Officials in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) grew thousands of acres of hemp during the 1800's.
The production of hemp (cannabis Sativa) was one of the prime motivators for the Anglo - European colonisation of the continent that became known as Australia.If only they'd taught us that history of colonial Australian when we were in high school, we would have paid more attention.
Britain's economy and security was almost entirely dependent on the traditional hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. At the end of the middle ages, improved ship design and sail configurations required stronger sails. Hemp was the strongest natural fibre known to man. By using Cannabis, the strongest sails could be made for longer voyages.
Cannabis was as important to the economy of the Age of Exploration as fossil fuel oil is to the economy of the military industrial complex of the western world today. Furthermore, Cannabis retained its importance as a strategic raw material for over 400 years, until the development of steam shipping in the mid to late nineteenth century.
All of the European powers with settlements in the New World (American colonies) were particularly interested in growing hemp and laws were made stipulating that the recipients of land grants in the new colonies must devote a portion of their land and labour to growing hemp. All trade depended on it and all naval military strategy was equally reliant on a steady and secure supply of hemp.
The British colonies in the Americas lived up to their promise in securing Britain a supply of strategic raw materials and a wealth of trade and commerce. By the late 1700s a major ship-of-the-line in the British navy required 80 tons of Hemp in sail and rope, this equated with 350 acres of hemp production. The sails and rigging had to be completely replaced every 3-4 years. Hemp production was labour intensive and a source of cheap labour proved valuable to secure a constant supply. In the southern colonies of north America, African slaves were used to produce tobacco and cotton. In the northern colonies of New England, convict labour from Britain was employed. There were no penitentiaries until the 1800s. Convicted felons were bonded as servants until they had 'paid their debt to society' through labour. By 1770 (the year Captain Cook claimed Australia for the British Empire), over a thousand convicts a year were being transported mostly to plantations in Virginia and Maryland in North America.
When the thirteen colonies in North America declared their independence from Britain in 1776, Britain was dealt a serious blow. The British lost the battle of Yorktown in 1781 and the Baltic supplies of cannabis, tar and timber were seriously diminished by the League of Armed Neutrality (an alliance of Holland and other northern European powers). With the Baltic sea route blocked and the north American Colonies lost Britain was isolated from her sources of strategic raw materials. No Cannabis: No Canvas. No Canvas: No trade.
Britain desperately fought to regain control of the American colonies but to no avail. 1783 saw their final defeat and the British Navy and nation was in a desperate situation when proposals to found a colony in the distant land of 'New South Wales' began to appear at the Home Office.
The decision to found a colony in Australia was not an easy one. Australia was in an almost unknown part of the planet on the other side of the earth. Sailing time was about 6 months and it was considered by most people to be to far away to be a useful or reliable supply route for such important strategic materials.
Two of the major lobbyists for the founding of a colony in New South Wales were Sir Joseph Banks and James Matra (aka Magra). Both Banks and Matra had travelled on the Endeavour with Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook.
James Matra was an American loyalist. His family had lost their land and wealth in the War of Independence and formed part of a group in London who had lost everything by their loyalty to the British Crown. They lobbied to be compensated, if not by money then by being allocated land in other British colonies. JamesMatra's first proposals were to found a colony in New South Wales to be farmed under a plantation system by American loyalists and their bonded convict servants. Of course the colony would produce strategic raw materials for the British nation...producing hemp.Sir Joseph Banks was a major influence in the direction and design of British policy. His fame, reputation, friendship with King George and Presidency of the Royal Society gave him profound influence. One of his main interests was the promotion of growing hemp as a strategic raw material for the British Navy within the British colonies.Sir Joseph gave a bag of hemp seeds as a gift to the First Fleet in 1788. A letter received by Joseph Banks from the East India Company in 1801 shows that he was still handing out bags of hemp seeds in the Australian colonies 13 years later.
Joseph Banks would certainly seem a fine and upstanding icon for Australia's growing anti-cannabis prohibition and pro-hemp movement.