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St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

William Balfour Baikie lived from 21 August 1824 to 30 November 1864. He was a naturalist and an explorer. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

William Balfour Baikie was born in Kirkwall on Orkney, the eldest son of a captain in the Royal Navy. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and after becoming a doctor joined the navy in 1848. On the recommended of Sir Roderick Murchison he was appointed as surgeon and naturalist on the expedition sent in 1854 by Macgregor Laird to explore the basin of the River Niger on board the steamer Pleiad. Baikie assumed command after the death of the expedition's leader and achieved some of the objectives of the trip without further loss of life. In 1856 he published his Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the Rivers Kwora and Binue.

In March 1857, Baikie was appointed a British Consul and again set off up the Niger on board the Pleiad. The expedition spent two years exploring the area before the Pleiad was wrecked while passing rapids. Surviving members of the expedition were scattered. Baikie went on to single-handedly establishing a base at the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers. This grew rapidly into a trading post and a market and then a town, and is now the site of the city of Lokoja in central Nigeria. In 1900 Lokoja became the capital of the British Northern Nigeria Protectorate remaining an administrative centre after the foundation of Nigeria in 1914. Baikie had a number of roles in the growing settlement he had founded, including doctor and teacher as well as British Consul.

While in Africa, Baikie collected detailed information on nearly fifty African dialects, and his translation of the Psalms into Hausa was published by the Bible Society in 1881. He died in Sierra Leone while returning to Britain on leave in 1864. He left three sons and five daughters and is remembered by a monument in the nave of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.

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