When he celebrated his twenty-first birthday in 1841, few of those who knew Thomas Baines (1820–1875) in his native King’s Lynn in Norfolk, England, could have guessed where life would take him. He’d served his apprenticeship as a coach painter, and looked doomed to spend the rest of his years in that trade. But he’d also been learning to paint, and he came from a family of mariners, so the following year he took passage on the Olivia, a ship captained by a friend of the family, and emigrated to Cape Town in South Africa.
After setting his studio up and working as a portrait painter in the young colony, he was soon itching to travel. In 1848, he left the relative comfort of Cape Colony (as it was known then) and travelled beyond the Orange River, where he made mixed media sketches of the characters he met.
He sketched this Fingo Wood Carrier (1848) using pencil, pen, India ink and watercolour. The Fengu people come from a variety of ethnic groups and have now been assimilated by the Xhosa, in Cape Province.
The Beaufort Beggar (a crippled Kafir), whom he sketched in black crayon, pencil, oil and watercolour in the same year, was probably a regular feature of the streets in the town of Beaufort (now Beaufort West) in the Western Cape province. Baines was there in late March 1848.
Baines must have made quite a name for himself with that and two subsequent trips, as he was then invited to join Augustus Gregory’s expedition to cross northern Australia in 1855-57. This was officially sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, and its main purpose was to evaluate the whole area for settlement by the British. Baines was the expedition’s official artist and its storekeeper, earning himself a place in geography by having a mountain and river named in his honour.
He painted this self-portrait of Thomas Baines with Aborigines near the Mouth of the Victoria River, N.T. towards the end of that expedition in 1857.
His next trip wasn’t such a success. He was asked to join David Livingstone’s expedition to the Zambezi in 1858, again in the roles of artist and storekeeper, but Livingstone and Baines quarrelled over the artist’s use of some spare canvas to paint a portrait. Baines did stay long enough with that expedition to become one of the first Europeans to see Victoria Falls.
Baines painted this Mangrove Swamp at Low Water near the mouth of the Kongone River, Zambezi, in November 1859.
This painting of a Pandanus Palm probably dates from the same period.
He painted this watercolour of a Baobab Tree, South Africa in 1861, before he left on his next expedition with James Chapman to Namibia in 1861-62. That is thought to have been the first expedition which made extensive use of both photography and painting. By the end of that, Baines was exhausted and his health was deteriorating, so he spent some time back in Cape Town preparing his paintings for exhibition, and writing an illustrated account of his travels with Chapman.
Among those paintings was this view of The Rapids of the Victoria Falls, Zambezi River from 1864, the year that his book was published. That was followed by an album of lithographs which were sought-after by the more affluent in Britain. I show here four plates from that album of 1865.
Herd of Buffaloes Driven to the Edge of the Chasm, Opposite Garden Island (1865) shows a buffalo hunt in progress at Victoria Falls, with men attacking the animals with a mixture of spears and rifles.
The Falls from the East End of the Chasm to Garden Island (1865) is another view of Victoria Falls.
Zanjueelah, the Boatman of the Rapids (1865) may show Baines’ party on the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls.
The Falls by Sunrise, with the ‘Spray Cloud’ Rising 1,200 Feet (1865) was based on one of Baines’ more spectacular views of his expedition taking breakfast near Victoria Falls, with its famous cloud of spray reaching high into the air.
Tomorrow I look at Baines’ later paintings.