Sir Joseph Banks’ fishing trips in Lincolnshire

Sir Joseph Banks, Bt by Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joseph Banks, Bt by Joshua Reynolds; National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

Weighing the fish after a haul. The tall gentleman in the foreground of the people is Sir Joseph Banks with a net full of fish. Boston Stump in the background. Yale Center for British Art.
Weighing the fish after a haul. The tall gentleman in the foreground of the people is Sir Joseph Banks with a net full of fish. Boston Stump in the background. Yale Center for British Art.

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.

Cookery near Langrick Ferry, Lincolnshire. Yale Centre for British Art
Cookery near Langrick Ferry. Yale Centre for British Art

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 page from the journal detailing Sir Joseph Banks' fishing trip in Lincolnshire. Yale Center for British Art
A page from the journal. Yale Center for British Art

A record of these trips was brought to our attention so, naturally, we 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, we only have space to include some of the sketches in this post, so for more information, we 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).

The windmills at Chapel Hill, Lincolnshire. Yale Center for British Art.
The windmills at Chapel Hill. Yale Center for British Art.

By far the most fascinating aspect of this book is the sketches, we doubt they were meant for public viewing, but simply a reminder and a way of describing their trip to friends and family – the way we do today with our cameras, but for historians, they provide a fascinating snapshot of life during that period.

T. Wilsons house, near the Witham, Lincolnshire taken during an eclipse of the sun. You can just make the woman looking up towards the sky. Yale Centre for British Art
T. Wilsons house, near the Witham, taken during an eclipse of the sun. You can just make the woman looking up towards the sky. Yale Centre for British Art

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!

Going to dinner near Coppin Sike (Copping Syke, Lincolnshire). Yale Centre for British Art. Note the formality of the occasion, the lady, quite possibly Lady Banks, on the right being escorted onto the boat.
Going to dinner near Coppin Sike (Copping Syke). Yale Centre for British Art. Note the formality of the occasion, the lady, quite possibly Lady Banks, on the right being escorted onto the boat.

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, (which 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 Dog Dyke, Langrick Bridge, Anton’s Gowt until it reached the outskirts of the port of Boston.

The Kyme Eau, at South Kyme, Lincolnshire as it looks today meandering through the countryside to where it joins the Witham at Chapel Hill. ©Sarah Murden
The Kyme Eau, at South Kyme, as it looks today meandering through the countryside to where it joins the Witham at Chapel Hill. ©Sarah Murden
A scramble for fish. Yale Centre for British Art
A scramble for fish. Yale Centre for British Art

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, we thought perhaps it was a reference to an acquaintance until we 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.

Eno's house on Frith Bank. Yale Centre for British Art
Eno’s House on Frith Bank. Yale Centre for British Art
Frith Bank, Lincolnshire.
Frith Bank, Lincolnshire. Google Maps

The book is well worth taking a look at to give you an idea of how rural Lincolnshire looked back in the late 1700s.

List of pictures and their respective artist from the journal of Sir Joseph Banks' fishing trip in Lincolnshire.
List of pictures and their respective artist

We have recently been researching Sir Joseph Banks for another project, but more about that at a later date.

Featured Image

Tattershall from the Witham September 1794

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2 thoughts on “Sir Joseph Banks’ fishing trips in Lincolnshire

  1. I reviewed the wonderful edition of Banks’ Letters a few years ago and was impressed by his scholarly attitude and dedication to the study of plants. Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I read in a review of a history of the macaroni that Mr Banks was himself a macaroni. Was this when he was a youth, or did he carry on his interest in this rather effeminate fashion into old age ?

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