John Thomas Baines - English Artist and Explorer (1820-1875)
By Raymond John Howgego
(Known as Thomas Baines) Born in King's Lynn, Norfolk, the son of a master mariner, Baines was educated at Horatio Nelson's Classical and Commercial Academy. He started his working life in 1836 as an apprentice to an ornamental carriage builder but soon turned to painting and studied under the heraldic painter William Carr. In 1842, wishing to see more of the world and inspired by explorer artists like George French Angas and William Cornwallis Harris, he left England on the Olivia (captained by his friend WILLIAM ROOME), bound for Cape Town. He arrived at Cape Town on 23.11.42 and worked as an apprentice to a cabinet maker, an ornamental sign-painter, then from 1845 as a portraitist and painter of marine subjects. Baines based himself in the eastern Cape between 1848 and 1850 and from there undertook three journeys to the interior. The first, in 1848, took him beyond the Orange River; on the second in 1849 he travelled beyond the Great Kei River and over the Winterberg; and in 1850 he made an attempt to reach the Okavango swamps of northern Botswana. In 1850-51 he served with the British army as official war artist during the so-called Eighth Frontier War, and after his return to England published in 1852 his Scenery and Events in South Africa. The following two years were spent lecturing, painting and writing in England (see Note 1, below).
In March 1855 Baines sailed for Australia, arriving in January 1856 to join the North Australian Expedition of AUGUSTUS CHARLES GREGORY as official artist and storekeeper. During the expedition, which crossed northern Australia from the Victoria River to Brisbane, he was placed in charge of an excursion to Timor to collect provisions. On his return to England in 1857, Baines was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and in 1858 he joined David Livingstone's Zambezi Expedition, again as storekeeper and artist. From Livingstone's base at Tete on the Zambezi, Baines joined several excursions into the interior, en route making maps and sketching the scenery and people encountered. However, like most of the other members of the party, he fell out with Livingstone's brother Charles, who claimed that Baines had been guilty of stealing some of the expedition's sugar stock. Although others knew that the charge was unjustified, Baines was dismissed and on 7.12.59 put on a warship bound for Cape Town. Most of his possessions were left behind in Tete, and he never again saw most of his paintings. When Livingstone wrote his official narrative of the expedition he never once mentioned Baines by name and refused to acknowledge that Baines had provided most of the illustrations.
Prince Alfred's visit to South Africa in 1860 provided Baines with work and the money to join the cattle and ivory trader JAMES CHAPMAN (see below), who was leading an expedition to establish a line of trading stations across southern Africa via the Zambezi. In addition, the affair which had resulted in his dismissal from the Zambezi expedition still troubled Baines and he hoped to meet Livingstone to clear his name. During the expedition, Chapman would take photographs and Baines would paint and sketch. Setting out from Walvis Bay, on the coast of Namibia, in March 1861, the party crossed the desert to Lake Ngami in northern Botswana, then proceeded to the Victoria Falls, arriving on 23.7.62 after a journey by ox-wagon of sixteen months. There Baines executed the sketches for what became probably his best known paintings, but technical problems prevented Chapman using his camera and no photographs were taken of the falls themselves. (The Victoria Falls would not be photographed until 1891; see Note 2, below) The expedition was afflicted by unusually high rainfall, forcing a prolonged encampment on the Luisi river in December 1862. Its wagons sank into the mud, and stores and clothing rotted. Widespread malaria and other illnesses struck the party, and stocks of staple foods and medicines were exhausted, forcing the return of the expedition in January 1863 by the same route before a thorough assessment of the lower Zambezi could be carried out. Baines stayed with CHARLES JOHN ANDERSSON in central Namibia and later painted the bird studies for Andersson's Birds of Damaraland and the Adjacent Countries, published at London in 1872.
Baines sailed for England in 1864 and the following year his the album of prints, The Victoria Falls, Zambezi River was published by Day & Son. He returned to South Africa in December 1867 and in 1869, from Durban, was chosen, on behalf of the South African Goldfields Exploration Company, to lead an adventurous expedition to the Matabele king Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi, however, had died before Baines reached him. In 1871 he was granted a concession by Lobengula, chief of the Matabele nation, to explore for gold between the Gweru and Hunyani rivers. In 1873 he visited the Injembe district of Natal to investigate gold deposits and attended King Cetshwayo's coronation. However, while in the process of writing an account of his expeditions in South Africa, Baines fell ill and died in Durban in May 1875. (Baines's goldfield concession, which gathered dust for many years, was purchased by Cecil Rhodes in 1889.) Sir Henry Rawlinson, president of the Royal Geographical Society, in his annual address of 1876, remarked that 'few men were so well endowed… for successful African travel, and perhaps none possessed greater courage and perseverance, or more untiring industry than Baines'.
Baines's detailed paintings and sketches, many of which provide a unique insight into pre-colonial life in southern Africa and Australia, are dispersed throughout various galleries and institutions, notably the National Archives of Zimbabwe, the Royal Geographical Society, Cape Town Castle, the South African National Gallery, the Africana Museum, the Albany Museum, the King George VI Art Gallery and Local History Museum, and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Around 400 oil paintings are known to exist, and as many watercolours and sketches. His name is commemorated by the Baines River and Mt Baines in northern Australia, and by the new genus of beetle, Bolbotritus bainesi, which he discovered beside the Mungone river. The Thomas Baines Nature Reserve, near Grahamstown, South Africa, was named in his honour. Baines's Journal of a Residence in South Africa, spanning the period 1842 to 1853, was eventually published by the Jan Van Riebeeck Society in 1961 and 1964.
Baines's most loyal promoter was his mother who, until her death in 1870, relentlessly and unwaveringly sought to advance the career of her son, displaying his canvases in her sitting-room window in King's Lynn and in 1850 organising a public exhibition of his work. Later, under mayoral patronage, she organised a larger show, 'Panoramic views and paintings of southern Africa', which was supplemented by collections made in the field, including the complete dress of a 'Caffer chief'. Late in 1851 she sent two parcels of her son's Eastern Cape pictures to Queen Victoria. She initiated the publication of the folio of lithographs based on his paintings, "Scenery and Events in South Africa", by Ackermann in 1852, and obtained the patronage of Prince Albert for the project. In the early 1860s she exhibited in King’s Lynn a large collection of his sketches and watercolours relating to the Livingstone and Chapman expeditions, and at the suggestion of Captain George of the Royal Geographical Society she submitted a selection to the Prince of Wales at Sandringham in November 1863. In 1864 Baines's mother arranged publication of her son's "Explorations in South-West Africa" - a move that caused some embarrassment because Baines had promised Chapman that he would not publish an account of the journey until Chapman had published his.
The Victoria Falls were first photographed in 1891 by the hunter and trader FRANCIS HAROLD WATSON (1854-1905; known as Frank Watson or 'Zambezi' Watson). Watson first visited the region in 1873 and made numerous later visits, often in the company of his close friend FREDERICK COURTENEY SELOUS.
JAMES CHAPMAN (1831-72) was born at Cape Town, the son of James Chapman (snr), and began his travels in the interior of southern Africa from Durban in 1849. From 1852 he was engaged in trading expeditions in Namaland and Damaraland, and by 1855 he had reached Walvis Bay, on the coast of modern Namibia. He travelled at times with FRANCIS GALTON and C.J. Andersson and is known to have taken photographs on these expeditions, although none are thought to have survived. During one journey, which went north as far as the Zambezi in 1853, Chapman narrowly missed discovering the Victoria Falls before Livingstone, his party deciding to turn back shortly before reaching the falls, unaware of how close they were. On his second expedition to the Zambezi in 1861-63, Chapman intended to carry out a full examination of the middle and lower reaches of the river with a view to testing its capabilities for navigation, and for becoming a highway of commercial intercourse. In this he was again pre-empted by Livingstone, whose narrative Chapman read after his return. Chapman attempted to farm at Anawood on the banks of the Swakop river in 1863 and 1864, but was forced to abandon his holding due to the Nama-Ovaherero War, in which he refused to become involved. From 1864 until 1870 he lived at various places in South Africa, but returned as a trader and hunter to Hereroland and Ovamboland between 1870 and 1871. He died at Du Toit's Pan, Kimberley, in February 1872.
Chapman married Cecilia Catherine Roome (daughter of the sea captain above) in 1857 and had four children, one of whom, WILLIAM JAMES BUSHNELL CHAPMAN (1858-1932) became a trader, hunter and farmer. He came to Namibia as a child in 1864, spent ten years in Cape Town and returned on 16.6.74 to Walvis Bay as assistant at Harrison's store. He traded and hunted in Ovamboland in 1875, then went to Angola in 1881 and farmed at Humpata, Angola. He finally resettled in 1928 with other Angola Boers in the Gobabis district of Namibia, where he died in October 1932. A second of Chapman's sons, Charles Henry Chapman, went down with the sinking of the Titanic at the age of fifty-two. Another member of the family, HENRY SAMUEL CHAPMAN (1834-1922), brother of James Chapman, arrived at Walvis Bay by sea in February 1860 and travelled extensively as a hunter and trader between Walvis Bay, Ovamboland, Hereroland, Lake Ngami and the Cape until 1863. Later he lived at Oudtshoorn, Kimberley and Johannesburg, and he died in August 1922 at Braamfontein in South Africa.
Records of Baines on the Zambezi are in the Royal Commonwealth Society Library, Cambridge University (ref: GBR/0115/RCMS 224).
Baines, Thomas, Scenery and events in South Africa (London 1852).
Baines, Thomas, Explorations in South West Africa: being an account of a journey in the years 1861 and 1862 from Walvisch Bay on the western coast, to Lake Ngami and the Victoria Falls (London 1864; reprinted 1968; French trans. by J. Belin de Launay as Voyage dans le sud-ouest de l’Afrique, ou récits d’explorations faites en 1861 et 1862, Paris 1868 [abridged]).
Baines, Thomas, The Victoria Falls, Zambesi River sketched on the spot during the journey of J. Chapman and T.Baines (London 1865 [11 chromolithographs + 8 pages of text]; facsimile edn, Bulawayo 1969).
Baines, Thomas, The gold regions of South Eastern Africa (London & Port Elizabeth 1877).
Baines, Thomas, Journal of a residence in South Africa (ed. by R.F. Kennedy, Jan Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town 1961-64, 2 vols).
Chapman, James, Travels in the Interior of South Africa, comprising fifteen years' hunting and trading; with journeys across the continent from Natal to Walvisch Bay, and visits to Lake Ngami and the Victoria Falls (London 1868, 2 vols; Johannesburg 1964; ed. from the original mss by Edward C. Tabler, Cape Town 1971, 2 vols [the undated typescript manuscript of Chapman's book is in the Windhoek State Archives, Windhoek, Namibia]).
Baines, Thomas & Lord, William Barry, Shifts and expedients of camp life, travel and exploration (London 1871, 1876).
Wallis, John Peter Richard (ed.), The northern goldfields diaries of Thomas Baines (London 1946, 3 vols [covering 1869-70, 1870-71 and 1871-72 consecutively]).
García Ayuso, Francisco, Viajes de Mauch y Baines al Africa del Sur redactados con sujecion a sus memorias y relaciones por F.G.A. Tirada (Paris [printed Madrid] 1877).
R: 'Baines, John Thomas', in D.J. Potgieter (ed.), Standard encyclopedia of southern Africa (Cape Town 1970).
Braddon, Russell, Thomas Baines and the North Australian Expedition (Sydney 1986).
[Central African Archives. Rhodesia], Thomas Baines: his art in Rhodesia, from the original paintings in the Central African Archives (Salisbury, Rhodesia 1956).
Godby, M., 'Settlers and travellers: different ideas of home in the representation of the South African landscape by Thomas Bowler (1812-1869) and Thomas Baines (1820-1875)'. Paper presented at the conference 'Landscape and Identity in South African Art', Northwestern University, September 1994.
Kliem, Silvia, The eye as narrator in the nineteenth century expedition writing and photography of James Chapman, 1860-1864 (M.A. thesis, University of the Western Cape, 1995).
Luckett, Helen, Thomas Baines, 1820-1875 (Castle Museum, Norwich & Southampton Art Gallery 1975).
Stevenson, Michael (ed.), Thomas Baines: an artist in the service of science (Christie's, London 1999 [pub. to coincide with the first major exhibition of Baines's work]).
Wallis, John Peter Richard, Thomas Baines of King's Lynn, explorer and artist, 1820-1875 (London 1941; 2nd edn as Thomas Baines: his life and explorations in South Africa, Rhodesia and Australia, 1820-1875, Cape Town 1976).
Copyright: Raymond John Howgego 2006. Ray Howgego (born London, 1946) is an independent traveller and writer who, over the past twenty years, has visited many remote parts of the world. He is author of the "Encyclopedia of Exploration" (Hordern House, Sydney, 2003-2008), now a standard reference source in libraries and collections throughout the world. The four volumes include over 4500 articles. Ray Howgego is Consultant Editor for the forthcoming "Illustrated Atlas of Exploration", to be published by Weldon Owen, Sydney, Australia, while in his spare time he is working on an annotated bibliography of invented, imaginary and apocryphal voyages to be published by Hordern House as the fifth volume of the "Encyclopedia". He has also contributed a number of articles on 'missing explorers' to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
>>> Ray Howgego