Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol I (1901).djvu/164

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Baker
Baker
102

of observation. His father at first intended that he should be his successor in business, but a very short experience of office work was enough to show that such a career would be unsuitable. Probably the only reason which kept Baker from engaging in travel sooner than he did was his early marriage (3 Aug. 1842) to Henrietta Biddulph, daughter of Charles Martin, rector of Maisemore. He now spent some months in 'Mauritius, assisting his brother, John Baker, in the management of his father's estate, but it was not till 1845 that the 'spirit of wandering' seized on him in a fashion not to be denied (Baker, Eight Years in Ceylon, p. 374). Possessed of moderate independent means, his ardour for sport led him first to direct his attention to Ceylon. His first visit in 1846, in which he was accompanied by his wife, was mainly spent in big game hunting, but he was so fascinated by the fine country and the joys of a hunter's life that he went home in 1847 determined to return as a colonist. Persuading his brothers John and Valentine to follow his lead, he set about the establishment of an English colony at Newera Eliya, a station 6,000 feet above sea level and 115 miles distant from Colombo by road. He purchased land from the government, and chartered a vessel for the convoy of his party, consisting of eighteen adults, who sailed from London in September 1848 en route for the new settlement. Initial difficulties were overcome by the spirit of the leader, a somewhat barren soil was in course of time rendered fertile, and some of the original settlers still (1901) remain on what is now a flourishing estate.

During nine years spent in Ceylon Baker explored, in the course of most adventurous hunting expeditions, many of the more difficult and unknown tracts of the island, and established for himself a remarkable reputation as a hunter of big game. His first book, entitled 'The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon,' which appeared in 1853, is a vivid narrative of incidents in the sport in which he was so constantly engaged. Fever from exposure in the jungle began, however, in 1854 seriously to affect his health, and was the immediate cause of his return with his family to England in 1855. After the shock occasioned by the sudden death of his wife from typhus fever at Bagneres-de-Bigorre (29 Dec. 1855), Baker sought to lighten his trouble by travelling to Constantinople and the east of Europe.

In March 1859 he undertook the management of the construction of a railway connecting the Danube with the Black Sea across the Dobrudsha, and threw himself with all his energy into the task (letter from Baker to Lord Wharncliffe, 30 March 1859, quoted in 'Sir S. Baker: a Memoir'). About this period, when travelling in Hungary, he first met Florence, daughter of Herr Finian von Saas, whom he married in 1860, and who became his devoted fellow-traveller. On the completion of the Black Sea railway he for a time travelled in Asia Minor, spending several months in the neighbourhood of Sabanga at the end of 1860 and beginning of 1861 mainly for purposes of sport.

Stimulated, doubtless, by the example of John Hanning Speke [q. v.] with whom he was acquainted, he now determined on travel of more ambitious nature. In a letter to his sister, 26 Jan. 1861 (ib. p. 41), he stated his project, which was to push on into Central Africa from Khartoum, making for the high ranges from which he believed the Nile to derive its source. 'For the last few years,' he wrote, 'my dreams have been of Africa.' Love of adventure and the shooting of big game impelled him on his course, and without seeking it Baker may be said to have stumbled on his mission in life (Sir Samuel Baker: a Memoir, p. 41). His first object was to meet Speke and James Augustus Grant [q. v. Suppl.], who were expected to reach the White Nile some time in 1863, As Baker arrived at Cairo 21 March 1861, he decided to occupy his time and fit himself for his task by a preliminary expedition in exploration of the Nile tributaries of Abyssinia. Starting from Berber with his wife and but a small following, he made for Kassala, where he engaged camels and carriers. He crossed the Atbara at Korrasi and fixed his headquarters at Sofi, just above the confluence of that river and the Setit. Here he made a stay of five months, and explored the Setit river, but most of the time was spent in big game hunting. His prowess in the field won for him the friendship and admiration of the Hamran Arabs, themselves mighty hunters. He explored other tributaries of the Atbara, including the Bahr-er-Salam and the Angareb, and followed up the course of the Rehad to its confluence with the Blue Nile. Thence he marched to Khartoum, where he arrived on 11 June 1862. The value of the work of exploration during this fourteen months' journey and of the observations proving the Nile sediment to be due to the Abyssinian tributaries was publicly recognised by Sir Roderick Murchison [q. v.], president of the Royal Geographical Society. Baker had also during the period gained for himself experience as