Sir Samuel White Baker was the kind of man the world does not produce any longer. A hardcore, bearded, globe-trotting 19th-century colonial badass adventurer with safari gear and a large-caliber rifle, hailing from a time when men were Men with a capital M and they sat around in wood-paneled clubs smoking pipes, sipping whiskey, singing old regimental marches and calling people “old chap” without even a whiff of faux-ironic hipster douchebag undertone behind it. A time when death-defying adventure lurked behind every corner in the darkest unexplored corners of the world, and a man who didn’t give a crap about working some stupid day job could just pack up a suitcase full of ammunition and food and set off to the wilderness and discover a river or some shit. A magical time when memoirs and pulp fiction novels were one part fantasy, one part marginally-offensive colonial social Darwinist bullshit, and one part based on actual human experience knife-fighting man-eating lions in single combat and then leading brave soldiers into an epic battle against endless onslaughts of ferocious enemy warriors.
Samuel White Baker, a contemporary of guys like Richard Francis Burton and Abraham Lincoln, was the perfect man for his time. A hardcore civil engineer (nerds ftw?) who experienced more life-threatening heroic adventure on his way to take a piss in the morning than your typical Red Bull-slamming mostly-delusional “adrenaline junkie” has when he lights himself on fire (with a fire-proof suit on) and skateboards out of an airplane (with two state-of-the-art parachutes, a radio comm-link to a rescue team, and a spotter following him down).
Plus he totally looks like Drunk Robert Baratheon, and if you follow me on Facebook (and you should), Drunk Robert Baratheon is easily one of the ten best characters in A Game of Ice and Fire.
The official Badass of the Week list of Game of Thrones characters, ranked
by a guy who doesn’t really watch the show and never read the books:
1. Barristan Selmy
3. Tywin Lannister
4. Khal Drogo (beast mode)
5. Robert Baratheon (drunk)
6. Valar Morghulis guy
9. The Onion Knight
10. Who cares, Sir Pounce or something
He just looks like it’d be fun as hell to get drunk with him and shoot things with an elephant gun that shoots a bullet the size of an 80mm mortar round.
Like all good colonial-era British Empire heroes, Sir Samuel White Baker was born in London to a super-rich family, and used his endless Lord Greystoke / Lara Croft fortune to fund his endless adventures into the middle of goddamn nowhere. He was trained in civil engineering and math in England and Germany during the 1830s and eventually took a shitty office job in London, but when that wasn’t exactly tickling his balls he quit his job (presumably in an amazingly-badass fashion), married a priest’s daughter, and ran off to Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa that I only know about because I once had to watch a really shitty HR video about how people in Mauritius are totally cool and chill and like each other and goddamn it Ben if you send any more Frank Frazetta paintings all-office email we’re writing you up for sexual harassment.
Well, like I said, Samuel Baker was a badass engineer, and in 1840 at the age of 21 he invented a fucking twenty-pound, three-foot-long rifle designed to bring down elephants and rhinos with one shot. A few years later he developed a type of cone-shaped bullet very much like the Minie ball, basically making Baker one of the first guys to come up with the idea of firing a rifle projectile that looked like a modern-day bullet.
Baker with his rifle.
And the severed head of a gigantic rhinoceros.
Ok, based on my limited exposure to it (via boring video while drinking shitty sludge coffee in an unlit conference room) Mauritius fucking sucks, so Samuel Baker decided to get the hell outta there and build his own city in the middle of nowhere. At the age of 24 Baker, his wife, his brother’s family and some friends moved to Sri Lanka – an island that was rarely if ever visited by Europeans at this time. They established the city of Ceylon, the first English settlement on the island of Sri Lanka, and the small group of pioneer colonials spent the next eight years on the island fishing for pearls, writing books, and shooting elephants and tigers in the face with Baker’s homemade rifles.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of hunting wild game, but it should also be mentioned that this is back in the Carl Ackley / Teddy Roosevelt days, when hunting looked like this:
Note: These are illustrations from books Baker wrote about his adventures.
Any idiot with a functional index finger can spray the Serengeti with full-auto thermal-scoped G3A3 assault rifle while calling down satellite-deployed NSA drone strikes on a giraffe from fifteen miles away, but in the old days you were just a couple guys with a single-shot black powder rifle that took thirty seconds to reload and had an effective range of 200 yards. These are the days when one miss meant certain impalement and gruesome, bloody death by stomach wound because nobody was around to helicopter-lift you outta there with a vial of penicillin and enough morphine to put a pop diva back into rehab. When Baker hunted man-eating tigers on Sri Lanka, he was literally taking his life into his hands every time. Which is something to consider.
Baker’s wife died in 1855, and with her passing he just couldn’t bear to be in Ceylon any longer. The next year he was in Turkey of all places, working for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and using his badass engineering skills to help build a railroad that connected the Danube River to the Black Sea. During his breaks he went tiger-hunting in Central Asia with the Sikh Maharaja of Punjab (awesome), and toured Bulgaria as a personal friend of the Ottoman Sultan.
While in Bulgaria, the Sultan took Baker to a slave auction, which bugged the hell out of Samuel White Baker because he really fucking hated slavery. Not really able to do much to help, Baker did purchase a recently-enslaved twenty year-old Hungarian girl at the auction, set her free immediately, and offer to help her get out of the country to freedom. The two snuck away from the Sultan’s entourage, caught a rail line to Romania, and got the hell out of there, presumably with Baker quitting his engineering job in one of the most badass ways possible in the process. The two were married a few years later.
In 1861 Baker headed to Ethiopia, where he met with the King of Ethiopia and taught himself how to speak perfect Arabic. In 1862 he was in the Sudan, hanging out at fancy parties with British colonials in Khartoum, but when that got too boring he and his wife decided they’d head out and discover the source of the fucking Nile River.
So they did.
Let’s go, babes.
The Bakers departed in 1862 with 3 ships and 98 people, determined to become the first people to map the source of the Nile River. The expedition was a pain in the ass, with men deserting, being attacked by bandit slave traders, and having a tough gun battle with a Sudanese warlord who demanded Baker hand over his wife as tribute (Baker did not do this), and then when that wasn’t bad enough they ran into two British explorers who’d already just come back from… discovering the source of the Nile.
So instead Samuel and Florence Baker took a detour and discovered this place – Lake Albert – which they named after an English King or Prince or something.
When the Bakers returned to England, he wrote three more books (his wife Florence helped - she was a badass intellectually-gifted, ultra-fearless explorer herself), drew maps and charts of his travels, and was knighted and given medals by the Royal Geographical Society and the Paris Geographical Society for his service to the field of geography and badass exploration of uncharted worlds.
Before long, Sir Samuel was back in action again, heading to Egypt to perform some hardcore front-line military dictatorship work in the service of his old buddies in the Ottoman Empire. Working out of southern Egypt, Baker was made a Major-General in the Ottoman Army (despite, as far as I can tell, having no real prior military experience), and given free rein to serve as military governor for a particularly bandit-infested region of North Africa. He spent the next four years leading Egyptian troops in gunfights against bandits and slave traders, hunting them out and crushing them wherever he could find them. One time he didn’t have enough troops for a mission, so Baker opened the doors of the local prison and went into combat at the head of an army of 1,700 Egyptian convicts.
Which is awesome.
Sir Samuel White Baker and his wife lived in Egypt for another four years, but despite being an over-the-top badass he wasn’t particularly beloved by his people, mostly on account of his being English and not Egyptian and also because he started a lot of fights with his neighbors and wasn’t really a great governor. So Lady Florence and Sir Samuel bailed on Africa, and retired to a fabulous English manor where they lived out the rest of their days sitting atop piles of money and pounding brandy in parlors filled with the stuffed heads of dangerous animals they’d shot between the eyes at fifty yards. He eventually died in 1893 at the age of 72.
Adventurer, explorer, soldier, engineer, colonial, writer, and hunter, Sir Samuel White Baker never settled for a boring fucking life and always went out of his way to push himself, his skills, and his endurance as far as it could possibly go, all just for the sake of being awesome. He may have been a relic of times gone by, but he’s also a testament to how badass a human being can possibly be.