WORCESTER HERO SIR SAMUEL BAKER SUPPRESSING THE SLAVE TRADE 150 YEARS AGO
My admiration for my great, great Grandfather, Sir Samuel Baker, grew and grew the more I researched his extraordinary history. I was introduced to his adventures by my mother, Anne Baker, who wrote a book about his indomitable wife, Florence. Since then I have read all I could find about Sam and Florence, their exploration and their campaign to supress the slave trade. Sam and Florence’s romance started when Samuel rescued her from a slave market. Florence then travelled with him deep into the heart of Africa in the 1860s and 1870s, experiencing starvation, illness, treachery and villainous attacks as well as triumph and acclaim.
It is now one hundred and fifty years ago since Sir Samuel Baker was appointed Governor General of the Nile Basin by the Khedive of Egypt, with specific responsibility to stop the terrible slave trade along that river. At that time the slavery was endemic, and, all along the Nile, the authorities profited from taxing slavers for each pitiable slave they transported. Almost as far south as the equator slaves were captured in raids on unsuspecting tribes. Those who could not make the journey, or were unlikely to be sold at a profit, were massacred. Those fit enough to travel were shackled, made to walk miles and miles in suffocating heat and then crammed into boats where many died of fever, smallpox or thirst. Samuel and Florence hated this inhuman trade but faced opposition at almost every level.
In the 1860s Samuel and Florence had been in the southern part the river Nile before. They had explored the sources of that mighty river, naming Lake Albert, “the Great Basin of the Nile”, and the Murchison Falls. Seeing the cruelty of the slave trade with their own eyes, they were determined to oppose it.
In 1869, Sam was making extensive preparations for his expedition to put down the slave trade. He commissioned steamers to be constructed. These were to be transported in pieces up the Nile and across the desert. He commandeered 1500 camels for this task. He ordered seeds for planting, uniforms and rifles for his troops, medicines, axes, saws and tools, beads and trinkets to barter, and even a magic lantern to display images! I still have his inventory showing these in precise detail even down to the colours of the many different beads.
In December, Sir Samuel and Lady Baker finally left Cairo on their mission. The slave trade had ravaged the peoples along the Nile, destroying trust between tribes and causing horrible suffering. The Bakers spent the next four years training ex-convicts into a force to be reckoned with, overcoming well-armed and determined slavers, freeing slaves and establishing relative peace and stability along the Nile all the way to Fort Patiko, now in northern Uganda. When they were attacked by the slavers at Fort Patiko, Sam’s “40 Thieves” routed the enemy even though they were vastly outnumbered. Later Sam could write “The close of the year finds us, thank God, at peace in this country with every prospect of prosperity.” They had created fields where crops grew, sturdy fortifications dominated the land and the people could now sleep peacefully in their huts. Samuel and Florence had faced danger and disease, betrayal and extraordinary personal hardship, but through determination, detailed planning and most loyal support, they achieved their aim. The slave trade along the southern part of the Nile had been suppressed.
As part of the commemoration of this early attempt to put down slavery, David Baker is to lead a tour to Uganda to visit scenes of the exploration by the Bakers and to explore Baker’s historic fort at Patiko in Northern Uganda. Led by Worcestershire based Uganda Partnership, more details can be found at www.BakerTourUganda.com