Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Baker, Valentine

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1413804Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 1 — Baker, Valentine1901William Carr

BAKER, VALENTINE, afterwards known as Baker Pacha (1827–1887), cavalry officer, a younger brother of Sir Samuel Baker [q. v.], was born on 1 April 1827 at Enfield. He was educated at the college school, Gloucester, and afterwards under a private tutor and abroad, and sailed with his brother's party for Newera Eliya in Ceylon in September 1848. He entered the army as an ensign in the Ceylon rifles in 1848, but was transferred to the 12th lancers in 1852, and took part in the Kaffir war (1852-3) with his regiment, when he distinguished himself for gallantry in action at Berea. During the Crimean war he was present at the battle of Tchernaya and at the siege and fall of Sevastopol. On obtaining his majority in 1859 he exchanged into the 10th hussars, and was appointed to command the regiment in 1860. During his command, which lasted for thirteen years, he succeeded in developing an extraordinary degree of efficiency in his men. In 1858 he had published a pamphlet on the British cavalry, with remarks on its practical organisation, and in 1860 he wrote on the national defences. His writings and the excellent condition of his regiment gained for him a reputation as an authority on cavalry tactics. During the Austro-Prussian and Franco-German wars he was present as a spectator, and during the latter was for a short time imprisoned on the suspicion of being a German spy. In 1873 he travelled through the Persian province of Khorasan, starting in April and arriving on his return at St. Petersburg in December. He failed in his attempt to reach Khiva, but collected a quantity of valuable military information, which he published in a volume entitled 'Clouds in the East' (London, 1876, 8vo), to which was added a political and strategical report on Central Asia. This work was one of the first successful attempts of its kind to draw public attention to the advance of Russia in Central Asia. In 1874 he was given the appointment of assistant quartermaster-general at Aldershot.

Baker's promising career in the English army came to a regrettable close in 1875 when he was convicted (2 Aug. 1875) at the Croydon assizes of indecently assaulting a young lady in a railway carriage on the preceding 17 June. He was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment and a fine of 500l. {Times, 3 Aug. 1875). He was consequently dismissed the army, 'her majesty having no further occasion for his services.'

On the occasion of the Russo-Turkish war (1877-8) Baker took service under the sultan, in the first instance as major-general of gendarmerie. But in August 1877, at the request of Mehemet Ali Pasha, he was appointed staff military adviser at the Turkish entrenched camp of Shumla. Subsequently he was given command of a division in the Balkans. With extraordinary skill, in the face of an immensely superior Russian force, he fought at Tashkessan one of the most brilliant and successful rearguard actions on record. In command of little more than two thousand effective troops he maintained an all-important position for ten hours and a half against the Russian guards under General Gourko. During this unequal conflict the heroic Prizrend and Touzla battalions lost more than half their strength. By this stubborn resistance Shakir Pasha was enabled to retreat in safety from his position at Kamarli, In recognition of this success Baker was promoted by telegram from the porte to the rank of ferik or lieutenant-general. During the retreat of Suleiman's army he commanded the rearguard, and it fell to him to burn the bridge at Bazardjik over the Maritza. Later, however, in the war, becoming disgusted at the unaccountable abandonment of strong positions by the Turkish generals, he requested permission to return to England. Baker published in 1879 his book entitled 'War in Bulgaria : a Narrative of Personal Experience' (London, 2 vols. 8vo), in which he confined himself to describing the operations in which he assisted. He continued in the Turkish service, and after the conclusion of the war was commissioned to superintend the carrying out of the proposed Turkish reforms in Armenia. In 1882 he entered the Egyptian service on the offer being made to him of the command of the newly organised Egyptian army; but on his arrival at Cairo this offer was withdrawn, and he was given the command of the police. Baker was convinced that the police would sooner or later be wanted as a military reserve, and concentrated his attention rather on the semi-military gendarmerie than the police proper (Milner, Egypt, p. 332). His desperate endeavour to relieve Tokar with 3,500 Egyptian troops and gendarmerie, little better than rabble in discipline, met with complete defeat at El Teb on 5 Feb. 1884. His own account of the action was that, on the square being threatened by a force of the enemy less than one thousand strong, the Egyptian troops threw down their arms and ran, allowing themselves to be killed without the slightest resistance (ib. p. 169). He acted on the intelligence staff of the force under Sir Gerald Graham [q. v. Suppl.], and guided the advance of the army to the second battle of El Teb on 29 Feb. 1884, on which occasion he was wounded.

Baker remained in command of the Egyptian police till his death, which took place at Tel-el-kebir from angina pectoris on 17 Nov. 1887. He was buried with military honours in the English cemetery at Cairo.

In a despatch from Lord Salisbury to Sir Evelyn Baring (now Lord Cromer), dated 5 Dec. 1887, the great regret of her majesty's government was expressed at his death, and acknowledgment was made of the important services he had rendered to the Egyptian government. His great military abilities were, however, wasted in the command of a civil force; they were such that 'his career might have been among the most brilliant in our military service'(Times, 18 Nov. 1887).

He married, on 13 Dec. 1865, Fanny, only child of Frank Wormald of Potterton Hall, Aberford, by which marriage there were two daughters, the younger of whom only survived her father and married Sir John Carden, bart.

Besides the works mentioned in the text Baker wrote a pamphlet on army reform (1869, 8vo) and 'Organisation of Cavalry' for the 'Journal of the Royal United Services Institution.'

[Times, 18 Nov. 1887; Annual Register, 1887; Sir Samuel Baker, a Memoir, by Murray and White, 1895; Baker's works; private information.]

W. C.-r.