Sydney Parkinson's art

Sydney Parkinson was the first European artist to create drawings of Indigenous Australian people, as well as Australian landscapes, from direct observation. Hundreds of his drawings survive in the British Museum. He is particularly remembered for his plant illustrations which were later used to create the lavish plates for Joseph Banks’ Florilegium. Parkinson died of dysentery in January 1771 on board Endeavour.

When the Endeavour returned to England in 1772, a dispute arose between Joseph Banks and Sydney’s brother, Stanfield Parkinson. As his employer, Banks claimed rights to Sydney’s drawings, papers and collections made on the voyage. Stanfield claimed that Sydney had willed them to his family. Banks lent the Parkinson family Sydney’s journal and drawings with instructions that they were not to be published, however Stanfield disregarded this and arranged for A Journal of a voyage to the South Seas to be printed from Sydney’s account of the voyage. Banks managed to suppress Stanfield’s publication until the official account of the voyage, edited by John Hawkesworth, appeared. In return for Parkinson’s papers, Banks paid Stanfield Parkinson 500 pounds for balance of wages due to Sydney, but the dispute did not end there. Stanfield further accused Banks of retaining items collected by Sydney which were intended for his relatives. Stanfield Parkinson was declared insane soon after the publication of Sydney Parkinson’s Journal and died in an asylum.

The hand-coloured plates below are from the 1784 edition of Sydney Parkinson’s Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas. By this time, the rights to the Journal had been acquired by naturalist John Fothergill, who supplied a preface responding to the accusations made by Stanfield Parkinson towards Joseph Banks in previous editions.

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 > View the complete colour plates in Parkinson's Journal via the Library's catalogue catalogue link

 > Learn more about how Australian's exotic flora was viewed in England