Developments included the advent of a much broader community of scientists as members of new scientific societies like the Royal Society in London, contributors to new scientific journals, a rush of books, encyclopaedias and compendia of lists and knowledge, an increased scientific rigour. As a period of European collection around the world government naturalists began accumulating specimens in public museums like the British Museum rather than working under patronage to fill the curiosity cabinets of wealthy dilettantes.
Though it was the glitter of treasure and fortunes and the first-published travelogues associated with spices that drew out the adventurers, but under Banks’s time at Kew more down-to-earth economic concerns were to take over, especially the harnessing of economic botany for empire. From the colonies came cocoa, sugar, quinine, coffee, tea, cotton, timber, and ornamental plants many processed into other products – cocoa for chocolate, timber for ships and so on: tropical crops plants like the breadfruit were exchanged across hemispheres east and west, Caribbean to East Indies … and elsewhere. To these colonies went the food plants of Europe, the familiar cereals, root crops, fruits, herbs and domesticated animals that they were used to in Britain from the Neolithic, supplemented mostly by the Roman food plants brought to Britain during its occupation, spices , Plant-based products were still of as the
It was a time when science flourished as never before, the old natural history splintering into a plethora of new disciplines and sub-disciplines. Starting with the expeditions themselves there was the cartography, hydrography, hydrology, meteorology, and astronomy along with improvements in navigation techniques and shipbuilding. Animals and plants shipped back to Europe in their thousands needed description and classification not only with botany, and zoology, but ichthyology, conchology and many more ‘ologies – all contributing to the sense of ‘improvement’ and ‘progress’ that characterized the Enlightenment.
By the middle of the 19th century all of the world’s major land masses, and most of the minor ones, had been discovered by Europeans and their coastlines charted. This marked the end of this phase of science as the “Challenger” expedition of 1872–1876 began exploring the deep seas beyond a depth of 20 or 30 meters. In spite of the growing community of scientists, for nearly 200 years science had been the preserve of wealthy amateurs, educated middle classes and clerics. At the start of the 18th century most voyages were mostly privately organized and financed but by the second half of the century these scientific expeditions, like Cook’s three Pacific voyages under the auspices of the British Admiralty, were instigated by government. In the late 19th century, when this phase of science was drawing to a close, it became possible to earn a living as a professional scientist although photography was beginning to replace the illustrators. The exploratory sailing ship had gradually evolved into the modern research vessels.