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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

The great South Sea caterpillar transformed into a Bath Butterfly (Sir Joseph Banks)

1795 (printed 1851)
James Gillray

etching, hand coloured on paper (sheet: 47.7 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 34.5 cm x 24.5 cm)

King George III was a great admirer of Joseph Banks and had supported his appointment as President of the Royal Society in 1778. In 1795, Banks was created Knight Grand Cross in what was then formally known as the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. He was the first civilian accorded this honour, which was bestowed in recognition of his services to natural science and exploration. In this cartoon, James Gillray implies the continuing royal favouritism of Banks, mocking it as undeserved: Banks flaunts his Order (of which he was said to be inordinately proud) while the sun, symbolising the king, effects his metamorphosis from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Gillray’s characterisation of Banks as a ‘crawler’ is typically cruel: Banks’s gentlemanly geniality, as well as his extraordinary experience of the world, conduced to his elevated social standing; while his achievements as a naturalist were widely acknowledged by leaders in the field of science. In 1835, publisher Henry George Bohn acquired Gillray’s original plates from the family of Hannah Humphrey, the publisher for whom Gillray worked exclusively from 1791, and with whom he lived for 20 years. Bohn later used the plates to produce two luxurious volumes from which this and many other impressions were later removed and, at times, passed off as originals.

Gift of Douglas Stewart Fine Books 2013

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

James Gillray (age 39 in 1795)

Sir Joseph Banks KCB (age 52 in 1795)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Donated by

Douglas Stewart (1 portrait)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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