Just in case you weren’t aware of Sir Joseph Banks, he was born in London, but when he was 21 he inherited the impressive estate of Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire from his father. After leaving university, minus a degree, he became a renowned British naturalist, patron of the natural sciences, travelling the globe, ultimately he became president of the Royal Society from 1778 until his death in 1820.
In March 1779, Banks finally settled down and married Dorothea Hugessen. The couple spent most of their time in London, however, each autumn they made a trip back to Banks’ ancestral Lincolnshire.
During these visits, apart from numerous other things that he had to attend to on his estate, Banks, his wife Dorothea and his younger sister, Sarah Sophia, who lived with them, made several fishing trips to survey the fish in the river Witham.
A record of these trips was brought to my attention so, naturally, I had to find out more. A copy of the book itself is available via the Yale Centre for British Art, ‘Sir Joseph Banks’s fishery book of the River Witham in Lincolnshire, 1784-1800’.
The book itself contains records of the number of fish in the river along with their measurements, which unless you’re interested in fishing it isn’t terribly exciting, but it also contains information about the weather and any unusual events, such as the eclipse of 5th September 1795.
Sadly, there’s only enough space here, to include some of the sketches in this post, so for more information, I would recommend checking out the book itself on the Yale website (it has been scanned page by page, so it’s not the easiest of books to navigate, so a little patience is required).
By far the most fascinating aspect of this book are the sketches, although I doubt they were meant for public viewing, but simply a reminder and a way of describing their trip to friends and family – very much the way we do today with our mobile phones and cameras, but for historians, they provide a fascinating snapshot of life during that period.
On their travels, they took along a large number of friends who ate with them on the river bank or on the boat. Note the canopy in this next image, which was used to shelter under when it rained, which it often did!
They also took along some ‘would be’ artists who drew sketches along the route they were travelling, which ran from the Kyme Eau, which runs through the centre of the tiny village of South Kyme, and is a few miles from the town of Sleaford), when it became the Witham, for a distance of around 15 miles through neighbouring villages of Dogdyke, Langrick Bridge, Anton’s Gowt until it reached the outskirts of the port of Boston.
The book contains sketches of the routes taken on each occasion plus 26 colour illustrations of places and people.
One name kept recurring in the sketches, ‘Eno’s House’. At first, I thought perhaps it was a reference to an acquaintance until I tracked it down to being the name of the landlord, Edward Eno, who, with his wife Rosamond, was the landlord of The Monson Arms, near Anton’s Gowt, on the bank of the river. His son, Hildred Eno, took over as the landlord in the 1850s. The pub no longer exists as such, but there is a house on the bank of the river which could just possibly be it.
The book is well worth taking a look at to give you an idea of how rural Lincolnshire looked back in the late 1700s.
Tattershall from the Witham September 1794