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5(a). Connected to Christchurch
Charles (Charlie) Baker was born on the 8th December 1830 in Noacolly, India. He was the son of Lydia and John Baker of Suffolk. John Baker was a doctor in the medical service of the Honourable East India Company Service (HEICS) and stationed at Noacolly, between Calcutta and Chittagong in Northern India.
Charlie was sent home to be educated, in Halesworth Suffolk and Lowestoft. He began his career as a midshipman in the EICS Maritime Service, hoping later to transfer to the Military Service. Before that was possible, however, he transferred from EICS marine to the P&O on their Eastern Route. By 1855 he was Chief Officer.
As Second Officer of the P&O Mail Steamer “Doura”, he was involved in a shipwreck and as officer in charge of the small boat sent to find help, must have had a very arduous and memorable experience. He “successfully performed as Officer in Command of the small open boat despatched from the Doura for assistance, the difficult and perilous duty of navigating the boat a distance of more than five hundred miles, occupying nearly eight days in a boisterous sea, and returning with two steamships of the company, rescued the passengers and crew, and saved HM Mails, the Doura breaking up the same night” [see note 1 below] A long and very interesting and exciting account of the shipwreck and rescue mission, which included an escape from pirates, written by Charlie Baker himself, still exists.
In 1856 he was back in Calcutta, in the Military Police Corps, apparently commanding a Cavalry unit of four hundred men. He had found on his arrival in Calcutta that he had been reported dead of smallpox, “my untimely end was lamented by a numerous circle of credulous friends.” The Indian Mutiny was building up and he was soon on the march with his company, under the command of Captain Rattray. By February 1857 they were at Sooree-“a long halt at Sooree, under canvas ever since the end of August.” [see note 2 below]
In April they marched again, hoping to go into barracks. In letters home he mentions the “unsettled state of the Army, mutinies in several regiments” Again in a letter of May 17th “Yesterday’s papers give startling accounts of further mutinies; it is said the villagers are joining in too so much for half-measures and a C-in-C in Simlah when the whole Army requires active measures through Reform and decisive discipline. If one-third of the reports are true, matters are becoming serious & nothing but vigorous and rigorous steps will check the evil spirit abroad. The N.W. is by all accounts considerably disturbed. Should our fellows remain staunch, as I hope they will, the Bengal Police Battalion may do good service to the State ‘ere long”.
By June Delhi had been taken over by the Mutineers. “You will be disgusted at the wholesale mutinies & murders.” However in July he writes “All well here, Sikhs’ active fidelity. No news from Simla but I do not apprehend danger now Delhi has fallen” and “Sooree is all serene and quiet as if it were Suffolk.” It would appear that the Bengal Police Battalion under the command of a Captain Rattray did indeed do good service, none more so than Charlie Baker. A Memorandum of his services quotes incidents in 1857 and 1858 of his good operations. The most memorable took place in 1858, on 27th of September.
“At Suhejnee, near Peroo, in Shahabad, with one hundred and twenty-three horsemen of all ranks, partly belonging to his own corps. and partly to the 3rd Sikh Cavalry, and with Lieut. Broughton, of the latter Corps, Lt Nolan of the 2nd Police Battn., with Messrs Chicken and Blake, volunteers under him, he charged and routed a body of more than one thousand rebels, infantry and cavalry, killing ninety and wounding many others, with a loss on our side of only one killed and seventeen wounded. For his gallant conduct in this brilliant charge Mr Baker was rewarded by the Victoria Cross.”
The action was not reported in the London Gazette until 25th of February 1862. The official account stated :- “For gallant conduct on the occasion of an attack on the rebels at Suhejnee near Peroo on the 27th September 1858, which is thus described in this officer’s (Charles Baker) own words :- "The enemy, at the time supposed to have mustered nine hundred or a thousand strong in Infantry with fifty Cavalry advanced. Without exchanging a shot, I at once retired slowly, followed up steadily by the rebel line, for a hundred yards clear of the village or jungle, when, suddenly wheeling about my divisions into line, with a hearty cheer we charged into and through the centre of the enemy’s line. Lt. Broughton, with his detachment, immediately following up the movement with excellent effect from his position on the enemy’s left. The rebel right wing of about 300 men broke at once but the centre and left observing the great labour of the horses in crossing the heavy ground, stood and receiving the charge with repeated volleys were cut down or broke only a few yards ahead of the cavalry.
“From this moment the pursuit was limited to the strongest and best horses of the force, numbering some sixty of all ranks who, dashing into and swimming a deep and wide mullah, followed the flying enemy through the village of Russowlee and its sugar cane fields over two miles of swamp and five hundred yards into the thick jungle near Peroo when both men and horses being completely exhausted, I sounded the halt and assembly, and collecting my wounded, returned to camp at Munjhaen at 6pm.”
In addition to being awarded the Victoria Cross for this action, he was appointed Commandant 1st Battalion. as a reward for his services. Although this was not actually confirmed he did however rise in rank in Bengal and later in the Turkish and Egyptian Gendarmeries.
It would seem that the rest of Charlie Baker’s life continued to be pretty full of excitement. He spent time in America where members of his family had settled; he was taken prisoner by the Russians in the Russo-Turkish war and in 1877 was appointed Inspector of Brigade, Imperial Ottoman Gendarmerie. This is where he earned his title of “Pasha.”
He had found time to marry and have five children during his eventful life and he and his wife Charlotte eventually retired to Southbourne. In the 1901 Census he is listed as a retired military officer aged 70 with his wife Charlotte, 64, at Southcliffe Hotel, Belle Vue Road, Southbourne. He died on February 19th 1906 and is buried in Christchurch Cemetery. His grave stone reads :-
Major General Charles George Baker Pasha VC
Feb 19th 1906
Aged 76 years
“There is no death”
1 From the Egyptian Gazette, November 17th 1884, biographies.
2 From a letter home.
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