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East India Company - Portrait Miniature of of John Valentine Baker
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East India Company - Portrait Miniature of of John Valentine Baker

Circa 1810

Measurements: Overall: 13cm (5.2in) x 11cm (4.5in)



Watercolour probably on ivory. The sitter wears a black stock with the full dress due uniform coat of the H.E.I.C. Maritime Service, with black velvet lapels, cuffs and collar, and gilt buttons bearing the H.E.I.C. crest. Contained in period ebonised frame with gilt metal oak and acorn suspension loop.

Captain John Valentine Baker (1776-1847) was the scion of an ancient family that numbered among its forebears a Chancellor of the Exchequer to Henry VIII. He was further descended from a long line of seafarers that commenced with Admiral John Baker, R.N. (1660-1716), and included Hercules Baker, an early treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, and Captain Valentine Baker of Bristol (b.1737) who sailing under a letter of marque in 1782 in the Caesar, 18 guns, captured a French 32 gun frigate. In future generations J.V.B.’s family was to boast the explorer and discoverer of Lake Nyansa Sir Samuel Baker and his brother Valentine Baker of the 10th Hussars who famously disgraced the house of Baker by molesting a young lady on train in 1875.

John Valentine Baker followed family tradition and most probably first went to sea as a ‘Master’s Servant’ before becoming a midshipman in East India Company’s armed merchant service just as war was declared with Revolutionary France. The advent of war of course added death or mutiliation by enemy action, and capture to the standard occupational hazards of storms, shipwreck and piracy. Baker made his first voyage to the East as the Fourth Officer of the Rodney, 772 tons, in the sailing season of 1794-95, departing Portsmouth in July 1795 and returning home August 1796.

Completing return voyages to the east were, together with minimum age requirements, were the qualifying factors for officers aspiring to promotion. A Commander under the rules of 1818, for instance, had to be 25 years of age and to have completed a voyage to India or China as a Second Officer. In 1797 John Valentine Baker was sworn in as Third Officer of the Ceres  under the command of Captain George Stevens (q.v.) for the year and half long voyage to the Bay of Bengal and China, that departed Portsmouth on 6 April 1797 and returned to moorings on 22 October 1798. In 1799-1800 sailing season he was Second Officer of the Brunswick and made a round trip voyage to China between March 1800 and June 1801.

In 1802 John Valentine Baker was sworn in as commander of the Bristol built 542-ton armed merchantman Fame. Though originally intended for the Jamaica trade, Fame was chartered by the East India Company as an ‘Extra Ship’. Baker made two voyages to the east for the Company in Fame. The first was to Bengal and Bencoolen in Sumatra. For the second he was issued with a letter of marque wth Fame being described as 520 tons, 19 guns and 50 men. Fame was nonetheless one of the smallest vessels in the East India Company's fleet, and was either lucky and or skilfully handled under Baker on the voyage from Plymouth that took in Madras and Bengal via Madeira and returned to Blackwall via St Helena. After relinquishing command, Fame was captured on her next voyage by the French 40-gun Consolante-class frigate Pi√©montaise.

In London in 1818 Baker helped arrest a shoplifter in a jeweller’s shop in Cornhill. At the ensuing trial at the Old Bailey, Baker’s evidence as the captain of an East Indiaman appears to have carried particular weight. The perpetrator was given seven years transportation for the theft of a seal valued at thirty-nine shillings. Cornhill interestingly enough provided the meeting place of the Society of East India Commanders who gathered at the Jerusalem Coffee House in Fleece Passage, Cornhill.

In later life Baker was appointed Master Attendant of East India Company in England. In 1833 the year in which the Company’s monopolies ceased altogether, and with just under twenty years service to his credit, he was awarded 800 in compensation on top of his substantial salary of 1200 a year.


‘Allen’s Indian Mail and Register of Intelligence’

Grazebrook, H.S. (1873) ‘The heraldry of Worcestershire’, Volume , John Russell, London

Hardy, C. (1835) ‘A Register of Ships Employed in the Service of the Honorable the United  East India Company’, Parbury, London

Farr, G.E. (1950) ‘Records of Bristol Ships, 1800-1838 (vessels Over 150 Tons)’, Bristol Records Society

‘Home accounts of the East India Company’, 1 May 1835

https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t18181202-39 (accessed 10.10.16)

‘Sea Breezes’, Volume 15, 1932