The world turned upside down

A punchbowl made of silver is an unusual piece of tableware to commission for a three-year voyage in search of the elusive Great Southern Land. Yet this bizarre artefact was part of the long list of provisions Joseph Banks gathered before he set off on James Cook’s second voyage to the Southern Oceans.

Among Banks’ comprehensive records of his preparations in the Library’s collection — including invoices for £43 worth of beads, pictorial engravings, brushes, medals, soap, ‘french essence to burn’, combs, shirts, cutlery, maps and books — is one, dated 3 July 1772, for a ‘Globuler Silver Punch bowl’ costing £24/8 from instrument maker Valentine Anscheutz in London’s Soho district.

Richard Neville with a silver punchbowl

Although the focus this year has been on Cook and the voyage of the Endeavour, in 1771 it was Banks who was in the public eye. During the months of preparations in early 1772, his name and reports on the prospect of the voyage appeared frequently in the English press.

When it became apparent that Banks and his retinue could not be safely accommodated and he withdrew, it was seen by some as a national embarrassment. The voyage had gone from being an ‘honour to the nation and in all probability the noblest expedition ever fitted out’, reported the Craftsman or Say’s Weekly Journal on 13 June 1772, to a ‘disgrace to the country.’

When he wrote to Lord Sandwich in late May to complain about his removal, Banks described the voyage as a pan-European project: he had ‘pledg'd [him]self to all Europe’ and had hoped that ‘the Learned world in general might reap as much benefit as possible’ from the expedition.

The punchbowl was presumably commissioned for the Resolution’s mess table. The globe has been engraved with a map of the world, traced from William Whitchurch’s 1773 Chart of part of the South Sea, shewing the tracts & discoveries made by His Majestys ships Dolphin, .., Swallow … and Endeavour, Lieutenant Cooke, 1769. Anscheutz must have had access to a pre-publication copy of this map, given that it was published a year after the manufacture of the punchbowl; not surprisingly, only the track of the Endeavour made it onto the globe

The Southern Oceans remain a blank, reminding the viewer that this space would be filled in by the expedition. Unusually for globes of the time, the world is turned upside down, with the target of the expedition — the ‘empty’ Southern Hemisphere — largely on the lid of the punchbowl. The Greek god Atlas, who usually has the weight of world on his shoulders, reclines in an elegant, sculptural repose.

The idea of the blank map — the mystery of the Great Southern Land, waiting to be discovered and completed — was also behind another commission from Banks in preparation for the voyage. In February 1772 he paid the engraver John Bayley to create a map of the Great Pacific Ocean, which graphically demonstrates the uncharted expanse around the South Pole.

The lavish provisions Banks made for this voyage are curiously emblematic of European colonising ambitions at the end of the eighteenth century. The sheer self-confidence of Europe’s penetration into the Pacific, and its cultural blindness, is perfectly bookended by the invoices for more than 140 dozen beads and trinkets to be distributed to people encountered during the expedition, and this silver punchbowl for the mess table.

Richard Neville
Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education & Scholarship, 
State Library of NSW