SA Painter John Thomas Baines was born on 27 November 1820 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England (often reffered to as Thomas Baines). His father was a master mariner and Baines was educated at Horatio Nelson’s Classical and Commercial Academy. In 1836 he began an apprenticeship with a coachbuilder. However, he soon rejected this profession in favour of painting, a craft he had learnt from the painter William Carr.
Baines left England for South Africa and arrived in Cape Town on 23 November 1842. He worked first as a painter for a cabinet-maker in Cape Town, and later as a marine and portrait painter. Baines based himself in the Eastern Cape between 1848 and 1853 and from there he undertook three journeys to the interior. His first journey was beyond the Orange River (1848), beyond the Kei River and over the Winterberg (1849) and an attempt to reach the Okavango Swamps (1850). He became South Africa’s first official war artist and recorded the Eighth Frontier War (1850-1853).
In 1852 Baines returned to England and published Scenery and Events in South Africa. In March 1855 he left England for Australia as official artist to A.C. Gregory’s north Australian expedition. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and received its gold medal in 1858.
Later he was artist to David Livingstone's 1858 expedition to the Zambezi. Baines quarreled with Livingstone on this trip and he was unfairly dismissed for theft. He traveled to South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1862, and on 23 July of that year he reached Victoria Falls. It was on this expedition that Baines painted many of his famous scenes which were reproduced in the album of prints, The Victoria Falls, Zambezi River was published by Day in London 1865.He went to Victoria Falls primarily to meet Livingstone and clear his name, but he arrived too late - Livingstone had already left the area.
A bout of fever forced him to return to Cape Town, and in 1864 he returned to England. He returned to South Africa in 1868 and led an adventurous expedition to the Matabele King Mzilikazi, on behalf of the South African Goldfields Exploration Company. Mzilikazi, however, died before Baines reached him. Baines’s Journal of residence in Africa spanning the period 1842-1853 was published in two volumes, in 1961 and 1964 respectively, for the Jan Van Riebeeck society. In 1873 he visited the Injembe district of Natal to investigate gold deposits and attended King Cetshwayo’s coronation. He was busy writing an account of his expeditions when he fell ill and died in Durban on 8 May 1875.