Florence Barbara Maria von Sass
6 August 1841
|Died||11 March 1916 (aged 74)|
Newton Abbot, Devon, England
|Other names||Barbara Szász; Maria Freiin von Sass; Barbara Szasz; Barbara Maria Szász; Barbara Maria Szasz|
|Known for||an orphan who became a slave, explored the Nile and died a lady|
|Spouse(s)||Sir Samuel Baker|
Florence, Lady Baker or Florica Maria Sas; Barbara Szász; Maria Freiin von Sass; Barbara Szasz; Barbara Maria Szász; Barbara Maria Szasz (Hungarian: Sass Flóra; 6 August 1841 – 11 March 1916) was a Hungarian-born British explorer. Born in Transylvania (then Kingdom of Hungary), she became an orphan and was sold as a slave to Samuel Baker. Together they went in search of the source of the River Nile and found Lake Albert. They journeyed to Samuel Baker's home in England where they were married and she became Lady Baker. She later returned to Africa with her husband to try and put down the slave trade. They both retired and died in Devon.
Some sources say that Florence Barbara Maria von Sass was born in Nagyenyed (today Aiud, Romania) in 1841. The story handed down in the Baker family is that she was the daughter of a Székely officer from a Hungarian noble family, who had estates in Transylvania, called von Sas (a branch of the von Sass family) and whilst she was young, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 "her father and brothers had been killed before her eyes" by Romanians. As an adolescent, she spoke Hungarian, German, Romanian and Turkish. She may have been fourteen when she was being sold as a slave in Vidin, a town and fortified port on the River Danube in what was then the Ottoman Empire and is now Bulgaria, in January 1859. According to certain accounts, she was destined to be owned by the Pasha of Vidin but she had been spotted by Samuel Baker. He and Maharaja Duleep Singh were both on a hunting trip. Samuel Baker bribed the guards and Florence was allowed to escape into his ownership.
Samuel Baker took her to Africa where he was leading an expedition to find the source of the River Nile. They travelled up the Nile to Gondokoro in present-day South Sudan where Florence saved the expedition. There was a dispute between her husband's inflexibility and the staff's disloyalty. Florence was able to intercede and find some common agreement. Gondokoro was a base for ivory and slaves, and the point where boats could go no further and where they would need to travel to the source on foot. There they met Speke and Grant who told them of their explorations. They suggested that they investigate another branch of the Nile. When Speke and Grant both later wrote down accounts of their voyages neither of them mentioned that Baker had Florence with him. This was in line with an agreement they made with Samuel Baker.
Arriving in England, they lived at Hedenham Hall in Norfolk. They were married on 4 November 1865 at St James's Church, Piccadilly and when Samuel Baker was knighted she became Lady Baker. The details of how they met was meant to be kept secret but the story circulated and this resulted in Queen Victoria deciding to exclude Baker from court.
In 1869 Samuel was invited by Isma'il Pasha, the Turkish Viceroy of Egypt, to return to Africa to help eliminate or reduce the trade in slaves around Gondokoro. Samuel was made Governor General of the Equatorial Nile. Accepting the invitation, they returned to Africa where they attempted to gain the upper hand. Florence served as the medic and when they were defeated at Bunyoro she was there carrying rifles and brandy in addition to two umbrellas and a pistol.
In 1873 she and her husband started living at their house, Sandford Orleigh, at Newton Abbot in Devon. General Gordon arrived in February 1883 and requested that Samuel assist him in evacuating people from the besieged Khartoum during the Mahdist War in Egypt. Florence would be required on such a journey. However, Florence would not go back to Africa and her husband would not travel without her. Sir Samuel Baker died in 1893. Florence Baker died in Devon more than twenty years later, but they were buried together.
The Bakers appear in a painting called "Samuel Baker (1821–93) and the Discovery of Lake Albert" by Severino Baraldi.
- Dorothy Middleton, 'Baker, Florence Barbara Maria, Lady Baker (1841–1916)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Sept 2015
- Baker, Anne; Baker, Lady Florence; White Baker, Sir Samuel; Baker, Julian (1972). Morning Star: Florence Baker's diary of the expedition to put down the slave trade on the Nile, 1870-1873. Kimber. p. 22.
- Hall, Richard (1981). Lovers on the Nile. Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0-7043-3365-9.
- Science historian chronicles true story of Lady Florence Baker, Penn State University, 3 February 2004, Retrieved 4 September 2015
- Journey up the Nile to go from a slave girl to an English lady, TES, 30 October 2004, Retrieved 11 September 2015
- Stanley and the White Heroes in Africa (etc.) (H. B. Scammel, 1890)
- Thomas Paul Ofcansky, 'Baker, Sir Samuel White (1821–1893)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 4 Sept 2015
- Wilson, Francis (29 March 2004). "What am I bid for this Lady?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
- Sir Samuel White Baker, Newton Abbot museum, Retrieved 11 September 2015
- Margo McLoone, Women explorers in Africa: Christina Dodwell, Delia Akeley, Mary Kingsley, Florence von Sass-Baker, and Alexandrine Tinne (Capstone Press, 1997)
- Media related to Florence Baker at Wikimedia Commons