Sex, Botany & Empire

When imperial explorer James Cook returned from his first voyage to Australia, the scandal writers mercilessly satirised the amorous exploits of his botanist, Joseph Banks, whose trousers were reportedly stolen while he was inside the tent of Queen Oberea of Tahiti.

But Enlightenment botany was fraught with sexual symbolism. And in Sweden and Britain, both imperial powers, Banks and Carl Linneaus ruled over their own small scientific empires, promoting botanical exploration to justify exploiting territories, peoples and natural resources. Regarding native peoples with disdain, these two scientific emperors portrayed the Arctic North and the Pacific Ocean as uncorrupted Edens, free from the shackles of Western sexual mores.

Patricia Fara reveals how, barely concealed under Banks' and Linneaus' camouflage of noble Enlightenment, were the altogether more seedy drives to conquer, subdue and deflower - in the name of the British imperial State.