History of King’s Lynn in 100 Objects: No 28

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This week’s object is a painting of the Red Mount Chapel by artist, Thomas Baines. Although this is a local scene Thomas is pehaps best known for his depictions of distant lands.

John Thomas Baines was born in King’s Lynn in 1820. He was the eldest son of John Baines, a master mariner in the NBaines avy, and his grandfather had been the captain of a whaling ship. His mother’s father was a Lynn painter and decorator who taught Thomas to carve and draw.

Thomas showed a love of painting and sketching from an early age. His parents apprenticed him to a coach-making firm to paint the coat of arms on newly made coaches and he developed considerable artistic skills.

At the age of 22 his apprenticeship ended and he had a marriage proposal rejected.

He then chose to follow an aunt who had moved to Durban, South Africa, and in 1842 he established himself there as a portrait painter. Baines’ adventurous spirit soon led him away from his Durban studio. He sketched scenes during wars with African tribes in 1846, and he went on his first expedition into the African interior in 1848. In 1850 Baines went on a scientific expedition to map the location of Lake Ngam, and from 1850 to 1853 he worked as a war artist. Everywhere he went Baines made sketches of the peoples and lands he saw. Baines returned to England in 1853 and his war sketches were published. His reputation as an artist led to the Royal Geographical Society sending him on Augustus Gregory’s expedition to Northern Australia in 1854.

In 1858 Baines was again in Africa as the artist and storekeeper on David Livingstone’s Zambesi expedition. He used a piece of canvas from the expedition stores to paint the portrait of a Portuguese official in whose house he had recovered from malaria. This led to him being accused by Livingstone’s brother of stealing and Baines was dismissed from the expedition.

Baines returned to England and lectured widely in the 1860s.

He returned to Africa in 1869 and travelled to present day Zimbabwe to search for gold. Loss of financial backing resulted in him returning to Durban in 1870 and living as an artist. In 1875 he was preparing to return to the gold fields when he was struck with an attack of dysentery. He died at his cousin’s home in Durban on 8th May.