Eton College, a great English school, was founded by King Henry VI. It has had among its scholars many who in later life became world famous including more Prime Ministers than any other school. One of the former pupils was Joseph Banks. One of the current masters is CCS member George Fussey, who is also the curator of the Natural History Museum at the college. His invitation for the society to visit Eton College on 12 July, 2014,1 was accepted by 35 members and friends, including one from Canada, one from the USA, and no fewer than eleven from Germany.
Those members at the UK meeting at Marton last year heard George Fussey’s excellent lecture about Banks and the Endeavour voyage. He referred to it at the start of his talk to us, which took place in the Natural History Museum. He added more about Banks’s schooldays at Eton, as we sat surrounded by many artefacts and memorabilia, before he led us through the establishment of the museum. Created in 1875 from the nucleus of the then Provost’s bird collection, the museum later moved to the Lawson Memorial Hall. Designed by T.G. Jackson, it is decorated externally with carvings of birds and animals; light within comes via a wonderful stained glass window, designed by Leonard Walker, which depicts ten species of birds and commemorates four Eton schoolmasters killed in the Alps in 1933. Many of the items on display have been donated by old scholars.
Alongside a life-size cut-out of Sir Joseph Banks was the college’s copy of Banks’ Florilegium. George Fussey proudly opened it to display some of the wonderful copperplate engravings of the plants collected by Banks and his team of botanists during the Endeavour voyage. Elsewhere in the museum there was a detailed display of Banks’s cabin in Endeavour, which included even his dog! In a glass case was an excellent model of Endeavour made by Norman Paulding, a former member of the Captain Cook Society.2
Free time exploring the museum followed George’s talk, and everyone took the opportunity to examine many of the artefacts, engravings and drawings, before it was time for lunch.
It was taken in the splendid school dining room, where we sat to an excellent buffet – rather different I guess from the school meals experienced by Banks and his fellow pupils years ago!
Following lunch we assembled again at the Natural History Museum to hear a talk by our President, Cliff Thornton, about a different bird from any we had seen or heard of earlier in the day, a hummingbird. When at Nootka Sound in March/April 1778 Captain Charles Clerke recorded the purchase of birds from the Indians, including the Crimson Throated Humming Bird. He wrote,
one of the smallest and most beautiful of its kind; its throat when exposed to the sun exceeds all description but when seen in a different light appears of a dirty copper colour. From the number which were brought by the Indians for sale I should suppose it by no means uncommon. It is frequently met with on the other side of the continent.3
The word continent, in this case, referred to the other side of Vancouver Island! Cliff’s interesting talk was well illustrated and excellently delivered as always.
The final part of the day was a tour of the College guided by George in exemplary fashion, with lots of historical facts and anecdotes included. In the garden within the cloisters George proudly drew our attention to the collection of Australian plants, including a Banksia. To tour this famous College building was a great pleasure.
Most of group were in Eton just for the day but the eleven from Germany, and me, stayed for the weekend, allowing us time to explore more of Windsor and Eton and to enjoy each other’s company. Friday evening found some at an excellent Moroccan restaurant. Saturday evening brought all of us together for a very enjoyable evening at another restaurant, and then in our hotel and, before we all wended our way home on Sunday, some found time to visit Windsor Castle. Two brave ladies managed to get to Greenwich to the Longitude exhibition,4 before hastening to Heathrow for their flight home.
My thanks to Michael Spiekien for some of the photos that appear here.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 16, volume 37, number 4 (2014).
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