William Erskine Baker

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Sir William Baker
Born (1808-11-29)29 November 1808
Leith, Scotland
Died 16 December 1881(1881-12-16) (aged 73)
Banwell Castle, Somerset
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Indian Army
Rank General
Battles/wars First Anglo-Sikh War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

General Sir William Erskine Baker KCB (29 November 1808 – 16 December 1881) was a senior British Indian Army officer who went on to be Military Secretary to the India Office.

Military career[edit]

William Erskine Baker was born in Leith near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 29 November 1808 and was the fourth son of Elizabeth and Captain Joseph Baker R.N.[1] Williams father died in 1817 and in 1821 he, his mother and 8 siblings went to live with his mother’s uncle, Admiral James Vashon, in Ludlow, Shropshire.[1] He was educated at King Edward VI’s Grammar School in Ludlow where he received a good classical education.[1] He was also interested in mathematics which he studied privately. In 1825 he went on to study at the East India Military College at Addiscombe near Croydon where his mathematical studies continued under the guidance of Jonathan Cape a tutor at the college who was also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[1] Baker was born with a speech impediment and left Addiscombe for six months to receive specialist treatment in Edinburgh. He returned to Addiscombe in January 1826, caught up with his studies and passed his exams in December 1826 which was recognised as an exceptionally short time in which to complete this studies.[1] He left the college at the end of 1826 and went on to do field instruction at Chatham but left after a short time due to ill health. In 1828 went to India as a Lieutenant in the Bengal Engineers.[2] After his arrival in India he was placed in the Irrigation Department in the North- West Provinces under the command of Colonel Colvin;[1] a post sought after by many officers. Here he worked with engineers, Charles Napier and Henry Durand on the Jumna Canals.[1] When Colvin returned home to England in 1836, Lieutenant Baker succeeded him and was put in charge of the Jumna Canals, a position he held until 1843.[3]

In 1843 following the annexation of the Sindh for British India, Baker was appointed Superintendent of Canals and Forests in Sindh.[4] He served in the First Anglo-Sikh War and fought at the Battle of Sobraon in 1846.[2] He transferred to the Public Works Department and was latterly consulting engineer on railways as well as an authority on irrigation to the Government of India.[2] He became Military Secretary to the India Office in 1859 and became a member of the Council of India in 1861.[2] He was appointed KCB in 1870 and retired in 1875.[2] He died at his home at Banwell Castle in Somerset in 1881.[2]

Siwalik Fossils[edit]

Baker first became acquainted with the fossils from the Siwalik Hills in India after he received a fossil of an elephants tooth from the Raja of Nahan in November 1834.[5]


In 1837 he married Frances Gertrude Duncan, third daughter of Major-General A. Duncan, on 29 June 1837.[2] They were married for 44 years but had no children.[2] On 27 February the following year Baker’s sister Josephine married Colonel John Colvin in Ludlow, Shropshire.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yule, H. (1882). Memoir of General Sir William Erskine Baker K.C.B. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h William Baker at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ Thackeray, Edward. Biographical notices of officers of the Royal (Bengal) engineers. 
  4. ^ Baker and his section through, and map of, the Allah Bund
  5. ^ Kochhar, R.K. Science in British India. 

Further reading[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Philip Melvill
Military Secretary to the India Office
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Pears