Monday, July 20, 2015

The Renaissance Man, Thomas Baines - The Zambezi Expedition (7)

Another member of the Expedition to fall seriously foul of David Livingstone’s inability to lead, or even communicate properly at a personal level with people of his own kind, was Thomas Baines.

Described in an obituary as brave and distinguished, Thomas Baines (1820-1875) was a man of many talents but is primarily remembered as an artist. His personal story deserves far more than a few lines.  (See below for the Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry and other links.)

Baines was the subject of an excellent biography Thomas Baines of Kings Lynn by J P R Wallis, published in 1941, but he deserves a modern reappraisal not just of his art, but because of his passion for wild life and the natural landscape, for his perceptiveness, good nature and tolerance in his dealings with his fellow travellers, people of other races and nationalities.

Baines at the time of his departure in SS Pearl

As an artist he is mainly remembered for his African scenes, but prior to joining the Zambezi Expedition, he took part in an expedition to Northern Australia with Augustus Gregory, travelling much of the Gulf of Carpentaria in a long boat. His art works hang in several Australian galleries and institutions. Mount Baines and Baines River in the Northern Territory are named after him.

Watercolour, Baobab in Africa

Baobab in Australia

Baines sailed together with other members of the Zambezi Expedition from England in SS Pearl in March 1858. It was at some stage on that voyage that the rot set in with most of the relationships that would only get worse with time. (The stories about Bedingfield and Rae featured earlier in this series of posts.) 

Charles Livingstone, David’s brother, took his role as “moral agent” to the extreme and it only needed a minor slip-up in what he considered to be proper Christian behaviour for the men to get on his wrong side. Like David, he was racially arrogant towards the Portuguese, thinking them immoral and degenerate, so when men like Baines displayed friendliness towards officials of Tete Province in Mozambique, who had only shown consideration and courtesy in return, Charles thought they were off having “orgies” together. He whispered his opinion of these wicked doings to his brother who accepted them as truth. David must surely have known in his heart-of-hearts what sort of man his brother really was, yet he allowed important and often fateful decisions to be governed by this vicious gossip.

The biography by Wallis describes how the many natural specimens Baines collected were treated:
 “[They] were denounced, he does not say by whom [again most likely Charles Livingstone] as trash, lumber, stinking things and thrown overboard at the first opportunity” … “and he became tired of collecting. He felt he was looked upon more as a storekeeper and handyman than as an artist and there was no disposition to admit him to the liberal side of the expedition’s work.”
Baines had involved himself in every aspect of the Expedition, including woodworking and boat building, but was laid low several times due to fever - as were most of the participants. The crunch came when he was accused by Charles of being free and easy with the stores and “having given away the property of the Expedition in such a manner as to lay himself open to prosecution”.

While in a delirious state caused by his fever, Baines responded to this accusation by Charles with some no doubt ill-chosen words that were interpreted as a confession of sorts, and his fate was further sealed when he was accused of “skylarking”, ruining a whale boat and wasting his “time and materials in painting Portuguese portraits”. Baines was primarily an animal and landscape painter and not many portraits exist, if any, as he abandoned many of his paintings and drawings when he was forced to leave the Expedition. 

One of the few portraits known by Baines
Wife of Capt. Drysdale, Royal Geographical Society, 1856
Baines in later life, National Library of Australia
Although David Livingstone and Baines seem to have discussed in person the matter of the misappropriation or outright theft of Expedition supplies, it is the official letter of dismissal that David Livingstone handed to Baines in which the whisperings of his brother Charles can be detected. David even questions Baines’ artistic ability, which hardly reflects well on Livingstone. This letter is fully reproduced in all its sniping officiousness in the biography and makes for sad reading. As with Bedingfield, Baines was written out of the official Journal published by the Livingstone brothers, although some of his illustrations were included without accreditation.

Thomas Baines did not let the disappointing and unpleasant ending to the Zambezi Expedition impinge on the rest of his life and he went on to have great influence in the development of Southern Africa until he died in 1875.

In an article written on the centenary of his death that can be read in the JStor Archives, the author states that his ability was outstanding:
... that he probably approached the ideal of Renaissance Man more nearly than anyone in Africa at the time. Besides being a proficient handyman, able to shoe a horse, mend a wagon wheel, or repair a rifle, he was an accomplished astronomer, navigator and cartographer, and a very competent botanist, entomologist (several plants and one insect were named after him following their discoveries) and he possessed a most intelligent and enquiring mind.
The increasingly endangered Black Rhinoceros
The beetle - Bolbotritus bainesi

The bizarre Welwitschia bainesii


Baines, (John) Thomas (1820–1875), artist and explorer, was born on 27 November 1820 at King's Lynn, Norfolk, the second son and one of three surviving children of Mary Ann Watson and John Thomas Baines, a master mariner. His father and maternal grandfather were amateur artists, his brother Henry a professional. His mother strongly encouraged his artistic endeavours and was his chief publicist in his lifetime and after his death. After education at private schools in King's Lynn he was apprenticed to a painter of heraldic arms on coach panels, also in King's Lynn, but began sketching marine subjects. In 1842 he sailed for Cape Town, where he practised his trade until, in 1845, he became a marine and portrait painter. In 1846 he began his career as a traveller, using his writing and painting to finance his explorations. In the late 1840s he started to sketch the battlefield scenes which some regard as his most memorable work, and between 1851 and 1852 he was the official war artist to the British forces during the Cape Frontier War.

In 1853 Baines returned to England and worked for the Royal Geographical Society, on whose recommendation, in 1855, he joined Augustus Gregory's expedition to north-west Australia. Many fine paintings and sketches survive from his journey and the Baines River was named after him. His energy and judgement won him special thanks from the colonial government and the freedom of his native town. In 1858, again on the recommendation of the Royal Geographical Society of which he had been elected a fellow in 1857, he was appointed storekeeper and artist to David Livingstone's expedition to open up the Zambezi for trade. It was an unhappy expedition, from which Baines was unjustly dismissed for allegedly misappropriating stores after a disagreement with Livingstone's brother Charles. His paintings from the Zambezi were exhibited in London and Dublin and his manuscript map of the river (D. Middleton, ‘The doctor who loved Africa’, Geographical Magazine, 45/8, 1973, 596) lodged in the Royal Geographical Society. In 1861 he joined James Chapman on an expedition from the south-west coast of Africa to the Victoria Falls; he made a complete route survey, having been taught how to use surveying and astronomical instruments by Sir Thomas Maclear, astronomer royal at the Cape. He also collected scientific information and botanical specimens—the latter now at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—and made many sketches and paintings, which were published as coloured lithographs in 1862. He returned to England to write and lecture before going back to southern Africa to lead an expedition which successfully secured concessions for a gold mining company, although the company failed to take advantage of his achievement. He mapped and wrote a valuable description of the route from the goldfields of the Tati to the capital of the Transvaal republic. In 1873 he was awarded a testimonial gold watch by the Royal Geographical Society. He continued to travel in southern Africa, surveying, drawing, and painting what he saw. On 8 May 1875 he died of dysentery at Durban and was buried in the old cemetery there.

Baines never married but his pleasant manner and faithful nature secured him many friends. He was energetic and active, despite his limp which resulted from the ill setting of a fractured femur and which earned him the nickname Cripple Thigh. Although largely self-taught and working under very difficult and, in the case of his war sketches, dangerous conditions, he produced technically accomplished and sympathetic sketches, watercolours, and oils, which were highly regarded in his own lifetime and were later much prized, especially in southern Africa and in Australia.

Elizabeth Baigent


M. Diemont and J. Diemont, eds., Brenthurst Baines: a selection of the works of Thomas Baines (1975) · R. Braddon, Thomas Baines and the north Australian expedition (1986) · L. W. Bolze, Thomas Baines centenary, 1875–1975: a tribute to southern Africa's renowned artist-explorer (Johannesburg, 1975) · J. Carruthers, Thomas Baines: eastern Cape sketches, 1848–1852 (1990) · J. P. R. Wallis, Thomas Baines of King's Lynn: explorer and artist, 1820–1875 (1941); repr. (1982) · H. Luckett, Thomas Baines, 1820–1875 (1975) · Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 46 (1876), 141–4


 Brenthurst Library, Johannesburg, corresp., notebooks, diaries, and papers · Lynn Museum, King's Lynn, sketchbooks and paintings · National Archives of Zimbabwe, Harare, corresp. and papers · NHM, paintings and drawings · NL Aus., journal · RBG Kew, botanical specimens · RGS, papers and journals of African expedition |  NL Scot., corresp. with Dr David Livingstone [microfilm] · RGS, letters to Royal Geographical Society

Antiquarian Booksellers 

Australian National Herbarium

South African History Online

African Paintings

Australian Exploration

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