A tale of two brothers

A Tale of two brothers

John Thomas and Henry were born in King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Their grandfather was born in St Michaels on Wyre. Their great great great great grand uncle was James Baines, our founder. Normally I write about past pupils and staff but I could not miss the opportunity to write about Thomas Baines as John was known as it is 200 years since he was born.



English artist and explorer (1820-75)


 Early life

(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.

South Africa

In 1842 when he was 21 years old and wished to see more of the world he sailed for the Cape Colony aboard the Olivia, captained by his old friend William Roome, arriving on 23 November 1842. For his first five years in Cape Town he worked first as a painter for a cabinet-maker and then as a scenic and portrait artist becoming well-known for his many attractive seascapes in oils and watercolours usually featuring the backdrop of Table Mountain. From 1845 he was employed as a portraitist and painter of marine subjects. He tired of repetitive painting and between 1849 and 1852 Baines based himself in the eastern Cape (Grahamstown) 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. Returning in 1851 he found Grahamstown almost in a state of siege and was offered a post as artist-draughtsman to the forces under General Somerset 1852 during the so-called Eighth Frontier War. He made many sketches of the action, some for the Illustrated London News, frequently at great personal risk.

Fortunately he kept a regular diary and a rich daily account of his experiences and impressions survives. “Of adventurous disposition, he mingled with adventurers, and the pictures he painted in the course of his travels are amongst the finest mementoes Southern Africa has of the days of frontiersmen and ivory hunters.” There was little demand for paintings in a frontier society and for many months he wandered alone and on foot into the more remote parts of the colony and recorded the culture and habits of the Xhosa people who offered him food and shelter. During this period Baines accompanied a group of hunter-traders into the Transvaal and learned about the river systems and lakes in what was then referred to as the ‘far interior’—places such as present-day Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, which he was later to visit and record. Baines proved himself to be a careful observer of humans and places, and a physically robust and resourceful young man.

Return to England

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). He also went to London and worked at the Royal Geographical Society on a map of Africa, in consultation with the cartographer John Arrowsmith. His artist’s eye and field knowledge earned him the respect of those he met and suggestions were made that he accompany Augustus Gregory and his team on an expedition across northern Australia, sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society.

Australian expedition

Meeting Aborigines

In 1855 Baines joined Augustus Gregory’s 1855–1857 Royal Geographical Society sponsored expedition across northern Australia as official artist and storekeeper sailing from Liverpool to Port Phillip on board the Blue Jacket which made a record voyage of 69 days and joined Gregory in Sydney. The expedition’s purpose was to explore the Victoria River district in the north-west and its suitability for colonial settlement by establishing the extent of its agricultural land and collect details of the region’s rivers.

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. He circumnavigated the whole of Australia by long boat, producing many paintings of the voyage. His adventures, too numerous to review here, earned him the following praise in Gregory’s official report: “I consider it my duty in this place to recommend his [Baines] conduct throughout the Expedition for the approval of his Excellency, as he has shown considerable energy and judgement in carrying out his instructions and a constant desire to carry out the object of the Expedition.

Baines’ achievements

Seldom without a pencil and sketchbook to hand, Baines produced a graphic record of Gregory's expedition unparalleled in contemporary Australian exploration. Always an observant naturalist, his washes and sketches of plants were well regarded by the eminent botanist Sir William Hooker. His paintings of Australian animals and insects and the Aborigines portraits he painted were appreciated by zoologists and anthropologists. Seventeen plant specimens in the collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, bear his name, as does Bolbotritus bainesi, a new genus of beetle he discovered. His reputation – not only as an artist, but as an accurate and scientific geographer, was spreading in scientific circles, in both England and Europe.

He had done well and earned himself a good reputation for organisation in the face of an unknown land, an unhealthy climate, often uncongenial and uncooperative companions, the hostility from Aboriginal Australians and the difficulties of provisioning stores and ships. He left Sydney in July 1857 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and received its gold medal in 1858.

Expedition with David Livingstone

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 7th Dec 1859 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.

Zambesi expedition

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, who was leading an expedition to establish a line of trading stations across southern Africa via the Zambesi. In addition, the affair which had resulted in his dismissal from the Zambesi 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 23rd July 1862 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) Theexpedition 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 andmedicines 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.

His paintings of the Victoria Falls (The Victoria Falls, Zambezi River was published by Day & Son) date from this time and are immense contributions to the artistic heritage of Africa, as are many of his other depictions of landscape, botany, zoology and people of the region some of which were published as coloured lithographs in 1862. The Victoria Falls, Zambezi River was published by Day in London 1865. 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, but he arrived too late - Livingstone had already left the area.

An interlude in England

In 1864 Baines returned to England and worked for a time at the Royal Geographical Society’s rooms in Whitehall Place lecturing on his African travels and illustrating his talks with magic-lantern slides apparently waiting an opportunity to return to Africa.

Gold exploration in Botswana and Zimbabwe

He returned to South Africa in December 1867 to work for the South African Goldfields Exploration Company. He travelled a number of times from Durban to the Tati goldfields near Francistown in Botswana. In 1869 he 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. Also in 1869 he led one of the first gold prospecting expeditions to Hartley Hills near Chegutu in Zimbabwe. In 1870 Baines was granted a concession to explore for gold between the Gweru and Manyame rivers by Lobengula leader of the amaNdebele nation, although the South African Goldfields Exploration Company had insufficient finances to take advantage of this project. He mapped and wrote a useful description of the route from Pretoria to the Tati goldfields.

In 1873 he was awarded a testimonial gold watch by the Royal Geographical Society and in the same year visited the Injembe district of Natal to investigate gold deposits and attended King Cetshwayo’s coronation. He was busy writing an account of his expeditions when he fell ill with dysentery and died in Durban on 8 May 1875 at the age of 54 and is buried in West Street Cemetery.

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.


Mt Baines in Tasmania named after Thomas Baines


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.” He never married, but his pleasant manner and faithful nature secured him many friends. He was a man of many talents but is primarily remembered as an artist. He left many thousands of sketches, watercolours and oil paintings and made a huge contribution to cartography which give a unique insight into colonial life in southern Africa and Australia. Many of his pictures are held by the National Library of Australia, National Archives of Zimbabwe, National Maritime Museum, Brenthurst Library, the Albany Museum, the Africana Museum, the Royal Geographical Socoiety and Cape Town Castle. Around 400 oil paintings are known to exist, and many more watercolours and sketches.

The Thomas Baines Nature Reserve near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa was named after him and he deserves to be better known for 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 BeetleBaines' most loyal promoter was his mother who, until her death in 1870, displayed his canvases in her sitting-room window in King's Lynn and in organised many public exhibition of his work. In 1851 she sent two parcels of her son's Eastern Cape pictures to Queen Victoria and organised the printing of most of his publications.

Renaissance man

Helen Luckett wrote on the centenary of his death: “... 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.





English artist (1823-94)


Little is known about Henry only that he was born in Kings Lynn. Henry lived all his life in the shadow of his older brother but was far the better painter of the two.  Both their father and grandfather, who was born in St Michaels on Wyre were amateur artists. He lived in Kings Lynn the whole of his life painting scenes of East Anglia and the Wash. His pictures sell, nowadays, for thousands of pounds. A recent sale had a picture of his sold for £100,000.