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The British Auxiliary Legion of Spain  & Early Settler of New Zealand- Major Richard Baker, 1837
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The British Auxiliary Legion of Spain & Early Settler of New Zealand- Major Richard Baker, 1837

Measurements: Overall: 22cm (8.5in) x 18.5cm (7.25in)



Watercolour on paper. Three-quarter length portrait of Major Baker in the uniform of the 1st (Reina Isabel) Lancers, and wearing 1st and 2nd class breast badges of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword, together with the 1st class breast badge of the Spanish Military Order of St. Ferdinand. Inscribed verso in pencil ‘Major Richard Baker / 1810-1854 - British Legion in Spain / father of / Fredk Arnold Baker / grandfather of / Arthur B.A. Baker. Contained in period glazed frame.

Major Richard Baker (1810-54) first saw service on the Iberian Peninsula in the Portuguese Civil War of 1828-34, on the side of the British-backed Liberals under Pedro IV against the Spanish-backed Absolutist faction of Dom Miguel - being present at the Battle of Asseiceira, the last and decisive engagement of the war. The son of the Middlesex coroner, William Baker of Church Row, Limehouse, Richard afterwards volunteered his services as an officer with the cavalry arm of the 10,000-strong British mercenary force La Legión Británica, or Westminster Legion, that served the cause of the Spanish Liberals and the child Queen Isabella against the ultra conservative Carlists between 1835-37. Many of the volunteers were ex-British Army and their presence was not well received by the Carlists, as one soldier recorded:

‘To our foes, we of the British Legion were the most odious of all; strangers, mercenaries, heretics, scoffers, polluters of their sacred soil; so they did term us. For us there was no quarter; in the heat of battle, or by cold judicial form, it was all the same: to fall into their hands was certainly a tortured death.’

The British force under the command of the Waterloo veteran General Sir George De Lacey Evans concentrated at San Sebastian; fought near Hermani and Vitoria, but were pushed back and only just prevented the Carlists from taking the city. In November 1836 they helped to lift the siege of Bilbao, but in 1837 suffered a serious defeat in the Battle of Oriamend, before leading a successful offensive against the Expedición Real, an attempt by the Carlists main force to march on Madrid..

The British volunteers signed on for a tour of two years but after a year many had had enough. In Baker’s 1st Lancers an application to quit by a number of men was interpreted as mutiny, and punished accordingly. The mistreatment of a lancer, with an exemplary record in the British service, by a sadistic officer was so shaming to Baker that he pleaded with the defendant with whom he was on good terms never to mention at home his presence on the court-martial that handed down a sentence of 200 lashes.

Baker looked further afield for his next adventure and joined the New Zealand Company’s first settler ship Aurora, that arrived at Petone in 1840 to found the settlement that would become Wellington. The New Zealand pioneer William Deans described Baker as a gentlemanly young man for whom he acted as second in duels. As the magistrate appointed under the settlers' provisional constitution in 1840, Baker presided at the trial of the violent Captain Pearson, of the ship Integrity. Unfortunately the authority given to Baker by the New Zealand Company was held to be illegal and the disbandment of the settlers’ council followed. Moreover Baker had to proceed to Sydney to defend himself in an action brought by Pearson for damages for false imprisonment. Baker was also the Major in the militia when the Wellington settlers enrolled for defence after so-called Wairau massacre of 1843. Similarly he held the same rank in the Thorndon militia at the time of the Maori disturbances in 1845. He married Jane Emily Morgan in 1840 and had issue as detailed verso.