Baines, Frederick Ebenezer (DNB12)

BAINES, FREDERICK EBENEZER (1832–1911), promoter of the post-office telegraph system, born on 10 Nov. 1832 and baptised at Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, on 19 Jan. 1834, was younger son of Edward May Baines, surgeon, of Hendon and Chipping Barnet, by Fanny, his wife.

Educated at private schools Baines early showed interest in practical applications of electricity, and helped by his uncle, Edward Cowper [q. v.], and an elder brother, G. L. Baines, mastered, when fourteen, the principles of telegraphy, constructing and manipulating telegraphic apparatus. Two years later, through the influence of Frederick Hill, an uncle by marriage, and Rowland, afterwards Sir Rowland Hill [q. v.], he obtained an appointment under the Electric Telegraph Company, in whose service he remained seven years, having charge for the first three years of a small office established by the company in 1848, within the buildings of the general post-office.

In April 1855, on the nomination of Rowland Hill, Baines was made a clerk in the general correspondence branch of the general post-office, being transferred after a few months, on account of his knowledge of railways, to the home mails branch. His leisure was devoted to schemes for telegraphic extension. He planned the laying of a cable to the Canary Islands, across the South Atlantic to Barbados, and along the chain of West India Islands; and he also proposed a cable to connect England with Australia by way of the Canary Islands, Ascension Islands, St. Helena, and the Cape of Good Hope. In a letter to ‘The Times’ (14 Sept. 1858) he further advocated the connection of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by a line across Canada. His most important scheme, which he drew up in 1856, was for the government acquisition of existing telegraph systems. This proposal, with the permission of the duke of Argyll, then postmaster-general, he forwarded to the lords of the treasury. After a long interval, in 1865 Frank Ives Scudamore [q. v.], a post-office official, was instructed by Lord Stanley, then postmaster-general, to report on the advisability of post-office control of the telegraphic systems. In his report Scudamore acknowledged Baines's responsibility for the first practical suggestion. In the result, control of existing telegraph systems was transferred to the post-office on 5 Feb. 1870. Baines's knowledge of telegraphy was helpful in bringing the new public service into operation, and all the main features of his original scheme—free delivery within a mile, the creation of a legal monopoly, a uniform sixpenny rate irrespective of distance—are now in operation.

In 1875 Baines was made surveyor-general for telegraph business, and in 1878, with a view to decreasing the danger of invasion and increasing the efficiency of the coastguard service, he proposed the establishment of telegraphic communication around the sea-coast of the British Isles, to be worked by the coastguard under the control and supervision of the post-office. The proposal, renewed in 1881 and again in 1888, was adopted by the government in 1892.

In 1882 Baines was made inspector-general of mails and assistant secretary in the post-office under Sir Arthur Blackwood. He organised the parcel post service, introduced by Mr. Fawcett in 1883, extending the system subsequently to all British colonies and most European countries. Different views and systems of postal administration on the continent made his task difficult. He became C.B. in 1885 and retired through ill-health on 1 Aug. 1893.

Baines lived for the greater part of his life at Hampstead, where he took an active interest in parochial work. He assisted in the acquisition of Parliament Hill Fields for the public use, was a member of the Hampstead select vestry, and in 1890 edited ‘Records of Hampstead.’ He was also an enthusiastic volunteer, serving both as a non-commissioned and commissioned officer. His latter years he devoted to literature. His main work, ‘Forty Years at the Post Office’ (2 vols. 1895), reminiscences written in an agreeable style, contains valuable details of reforms at the post-office both before and during Baines's connection with it. He also published ‘On the Track of the Mail Coach’ (1896), and contributed an article on the post-office to J. Samuelson's ‘The Civilisation of Our Day’ (1896).

Baines died on 4 July 1911 at Hampstead, and was cremated at Golder's Green. He married in 1887 Laura, eldest daughter of Walter Baily, M.A., of Hampstead.

[The Times, 7 July 1911; Forty Years at the Post Office, 1895; Athenæum, 20 Jan. 1896, and 4 Feb. 1895; Frank Ives Scudamore, Reports on the Proposed Government Acquisition of Telegraphs, 1866 and 1868; Kelly's Handbook; St. Martin's-le-Grand, vols. iii. and xxi.]

S. E. F.