Sir Samuel White Baker

Sir Samuel White Baker, KCB, FRGS, FRS, born on June 8th of 1821 and died on December 30th of 1893, was a British explorer, naturalist, big game hunter, officer, engineer, writer, and abolitionist. He held the titles of Pasha and Major-General in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt as well. He served as the Governor-General of the Equatorial Nile Basin between April of 1869 and August of 1873, which he established as the Province of Equatoria. He is mainly remembered as the discoverer of Lake Albert, as an explorer of the Nile and the interior of central Africa, and for his achievements as a big game hunter in Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. Baker wrote a significant number of books and articles that got published. He was a friend of King Edward VII, who, as the Prince of Wales, visited Baker with Queen Alexandra in Egypt. His other friendships included explorers Henry Morton Stanley, Roderick Murchison, John H. Speke, and James A. Grant, with the ruler of Egypt Pasha Ismail the Magnificent, Major-General Charles George Gordon, and Maharaja Duleep Singh.

Baker was born on June 8th of 1821 in London, as the child of a wealthy commercial family. His father, Samuel Baker Sr., was a merchant for sugar, banker, and ship owner from Thorngrove, Worcestershire with mercantile ties within the West Indies. His younger brother, Col. Valentine Baker, also known as “Baker Pasha”, was first a British hero of the African Cape Colony, the Crimean War, Ceylon, and the Balkans, later dishonored by a civilian scandal. Valentine had successfully pursued fame in the Ottoman Empire, notably the Russian-Turkish War within the Caucasus and the War of Sudan from Egypt. Samuel’s other siblings were named John, Mary “Min”, Ellen, James, and Anna Eliza Baker.

He was educated in a private school at Rottingdean, near the College School, Gloucester, then privately at Tottenham, prior to finishing his studies in Frankfurt, Germany in 1841. He studied and graduated MA as Civil Engineer. While commissioned, at Constanta, Romania, where, as a Royal Superintendent, he designed and planned railways, bridges, and some other structures across the Deobrogea area, from the Danube to the Black Sea.

On August 3rd of 1843 he married his first wife, Henrietta Ann Bidgood Martin, the daughter of the rector of Maisemore, Gloucestershire. Together, they had seven children named Charles Martin, Constance, Edith, Ethel, Jane, Agnes, and John Lindsay Sloan. His brother John Garland Baker married Henrietta’s sister named Eliza Heberden Martin and after a double wedding, the four of them moved to Mauritius, overseeing the family’s plantation. After spending two years there, the craving for travel took them to Ceylon in 1846, where in the following year he founded an agricultural settlement at Nuwara Eliya, a mountain health-resort.

As he was aided by his family, he brought emigrants from England, together with some choice breeds of cattle, and before long the new settlement was a success. During his time living in Ceylon, he wrote and published “The Rifle and the Hound in Ceylon” and two years later “Eight Years’ Wanderings in Ceylon.” After twelve years of marriage, his wife, Henrietta, contracted typhoid fever and died in 1855, leaving Samuel a widower at the age of 34. His two sons and one daughter also died at a young age. Baker left his four surviving daughters in the care of his non-married sister Mary.

After a journey to Constantinople and the Crimea in the year 1856, he went to Constanta, Romania and acted as Royal Superintendent for the making of a railway and bridges across the Dobrogea, connecting the Danube with the Black Sea. After that project was finished, he spent some months on a tour of south-eastern Asia Minor.

In March of 1861, he began his first tour of exploration in central Africa. This was to discover the sources of the Nile River, with the hope of meeting the East African expedition under Captains Speke and Grant somewhere around Lake Victoria. After a year, he spent on the Sudan-Ethiopian frontier, during which time he learned Arabic, exploring the Atbara River and other Nile tributaries, and proved that the Nile sediment came from Ethiopia, he arrived at Khartoum, leaving that city in December of 1862 to follow up the course of the White Nile.

Two months later at Gondokoro, he met Speke and Grant, who, after discovering the source of the Nile, were following the river to Egypt. Their success made Baker fear that there was nothing left for his own expedition to accomplish; but the two explorers gave him some information which enabled him, after separating from them, to achieve the discovery of Albert Kyanza (Lake Albert), of whose existence credible assurance had already been given to Speke and Grant. He first sighted the lake on March 14th of 1864. After some time spent in the exploration of the neighborhood, Baker demonstrated that the Nile flowed through the Albert Nyanza. He created an exaggerated idea of the relative importance of the Albert and Victoria lake sources in contributing to the Nile flow rate.

In the following October, he returned to England with his wife, who had accompanied him throughout the dangerous and hard journeys through Africa. In recognition of the achievements, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him the gold medal, and a similar distinction was bestowed upon him by the Paris Geographical Society. In August of 1866, he was knighted. In that same year he published The Albert N’yanza, Great Basin of the Nile, and Explorations of the Nile Sources, and in the year 1867 The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia, both books rapidly turned into several editions. In 1868 he published a well-known story called Cast up by the Sea. In 1869 he traveled with the future King Edward VII through Egypt.

Image Caption: Sir Samuel White Baker. Credit: LeonisRugitur/Wikipedia