SIR JOSEPH BANKS AND THE QUESTION OF HEMP is a short read that encompasses over 250 years of international politics. As is usual with such books, it contains salacious asides, violence, corruption, stupidity, hubris, naivety, secrecy, regicide, vast sums of money, secret agents, wars and invasions, but all this is only to construct a line of conjecture and to structure the data supporting an argument that I felt totally incapable of contradicting.
Dr John Jiggens has a talent for not letting obscurity get in the way of his research. The dark, dusty records, diaries, letters and dispatches that were hidden away in the archives of a once global power failed to keep their secrets from him. His inquisition into what was behind the thinking of the powers running the British Empire 250 years ago shows that nothing has changed, leaving me with my own set of conclusions about what is needed for actual change to occur.
This in turn also illustrates the way meaning is not constrained by the page. The motivations that moved these men are at the core of the questions Dr Jiggens asks. Supporting his conclusions and placing competing assertions into a perspective that leaves them sadly wanting.
The story goes from Botany Bay to India, the Bahamas, South Africa and back to England. The sea power of the age was what allowed the maintenance of the British Empire and in turn, the resources that were necessary for the maintenance of both the commercial maritime fleet as well as the Navy were of critical importance.
It was to this end that the British Empire’s trade between nations is important and so it matters who was at war with whom. The British Empire only had a few suppliers of the pivotal resources necessary for the effective functioning of the Navy.
What was this to Mr Banks? Most of us are aware of what Joseph Banks did when he was with Captain Cook. His botany has been famous since then. What isn’t as well known is who Mr Banks was other than in terms of his position aboard that old coal barge, the Endeavour. His social position, his friends and his collaborators in the expansion of the Empire project. I wasn’t aware until I was informed by Dr Jiggens’ book that Mr Banks was actually up to his eyeballs in the intrigue and covert machinations of the Empire.
I had, like so many of my contemporaries, thought of Mr Banks as a kindly old trout, in his dressing gown and slippers rummaging around in a dimly lit library, surrounded by the specimens from his adventures. Nope, I was dead wrong. This bloke was on more boards, commissions and associations of the highest consequence in the Empire. A friend of the top movers and shakers and he had his genius employed as an expert advising and making decisions to advance the Empire and defend her interests abroad.
The central theme of this book is the premise that the colonies of Botany Bay and Norfolk Island were only settled for the purpose of a “Convict Settlement”. Dr Jiggens takes an alternative view to this and clearly makes his case. His idea is that it was hemp that motivated the settlement in Australia.
However, the events that led to the DuPont Corporation’s activities in the early 20th Century are as pertinent as the plants flax and hemp were to Mr Banks. The result was so much confusion by so many people who should have either known better or been more ethical in their actions.
Sadly, it doesn’t tell the whole story and there is still further to take it. Looks like I’ll be buying the next book Dr Jiggens puts out.
Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of Hemp is available from Dr John Jiggens' website for $30.00 (paperback) RRP.
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