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William Balfour Baikie


BAIKIE, WILLIAM BALFOUR, M.D. (1825-1864), naturalist, traveller, and philologist, eldest son of Captain John Baikie, R.N., was born at Kirlcwall, Orkney, on 27 Aug. 1825, and educated privately and at the grammar school there. After taking his degree in medicine at Edinburgh, he entered the royal navy in 1848 as assistant surgeon. He served on her majesty’s ships Volage, Vanguard, Ceylon, Medusa, and Hibernia in the Mediterranean, and then became assistant surgeon at the Haslar Hospital from 1851 to 1854, when the influence of Sir Roderick Murchison procured him the post of surgeon and naturalist to the Niger expedition of 1854, and on the death of the captain at Fernando Po, Baikie succeeded to the command of the Pleiad, the exploring vessel. This first successful voyage, penetrating 250 miles higher up the Niger than had before been reached, is described by Baikie in his ‘Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the Niger and Isadda,’ London, 1856. After spending some months in arranging his African collections, and again serving at the Haslar Hospital, Baikie left England in 1857 on a second expedition, in which the Pleiad was wrecked, and the other explorers returned to England, and left him to carry on the exploration alone. He bought a site—Lukoja—at the confluence of the Quorra and Benue, and soon collected a considerable native settlement, over which he held sway and where he officiated in every capacity. He explored the country around, entered into relations with the King of Nupe, the next powerful sovereign to the Sultan of Sokoto, and induced him to open out roads for the passage of caravans, traders, and canoes ’ to Lukoja. Before five years were over he had opened up the navigation of the Niger, made roads, established a regular market for native produce, collected vocabularies of numerous African dialects, and translated parts of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Hausa. He died on his way home, on a well-earned leave of absence, at Sierra Leone on 12 Dec. 1864, aged 30. A monument to his memory was erected in the cathedral of St. Magnus, Kirkwall. His earliest works related to Orkney: ‘Historia Naturalis Orcadensis: Zoology, Part I. Mammalia and Birds observed in the Orkney Islands,’ by W. B. Baikie, M.D., and 11. Heddle, Edinburgh, 1848; and ‘List of Books and Manuscripts relating to Orkney and Zetland,’ &c., by W. B. Baikie, Kirkwall, 1847. His ‘Observations on the Hausa and Fulfulde Languages’ were privately printed in 1861; his translation of the Psalms into Hausa (‘Letafi ta Zabura’) was posthumously published by the Bible Society in 1881; and other translations were incorporated in lleichardt’s ‘Grammar of the Fulde Language’ (1876). Dr. Baikie was also a contributor to the transactions of various learned societies.

[Information received (September 1883) from Miss Eleanor Baikie, of Kirkwall, sister of Dr. Baikie; Gent. Mag., March 1865.] S. L.-P.


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