April 29, 2012

Effie Baker – the first Australian woman to become a Baha’i; one of Australia’s foremost woman photographers; her photographs were chosen by the Guardian for inclusion in Nabil’s narrative, ‘The Dawn-Breakers’


Euphemia Eleanor Baker was born the eldest of 11 children to parents John and Margaret, on March 25, 1880, at Goldsborough. Some of her grandparents had arrived in Australia in the great migrations of the 19th century. Her father’s father, Captain Henry Evans Baker, was born at White Hills, Kent, in England, in 1816, and had moved to New York. Captaining a sea-collier, Henry Baker was in the port of Melbourne in 1852 when gold fever struck his crew. The prospect of making one’s fortune on the gold fields was so enticing that Captain Baker could not find enough men willing to leave Melbourne, and thus form a new crew. He solved his dilemma by selling his boat and joining the rush to inland Victoria.

Ancestors

The captain was thick-set, dark-complexioned, portly and jolly in appearance. He was inventive and technically minded, and on the voyage to Australia had even constructed a dynamo to light his cabin. He is reported to have constructed in 1855 the first Chilean Mill on the Bendigo gold fields -- a system in which a horse pulled a stone wheel in a circular motion in order to crush rock in the quest for gold. He had an interest in astronomy, and won a silver medal in a Melbourne exhibition of 1873. He achieved some fame when he was selected to re-polish the mirror of the great Cassegrain telescope at the Melbourne observatory. In 1886 a telescope made by Captain Baker for the newly opened Oddie Observatory at Ballarat was used for the first time.

Captain Baker’s wife, Euphemia McLeash, came from Cooper Angus in Scotland, although the two were married in New York. A brother, William McLeash, went into partnership with Captain Baker on the gold fields. Captain Baker and his partners, Robert Dodd, William McLeash and Samuel Crozier, discovered and opened Bealiba Reef (the Queen’s Birthday Reef), taking a lease on the last day of 1863. They soon created a 4 horsepower engine on the site and the first crushing yielded 77 ounces of gold. At this time, the Bakers were probably squatting in a calico house next to the mine.

Another reef, the Goldsborough, was discovered in 1865, and Captain Baker bought a house near it in 1868. Goldsborough had only been established in 1854, and grew to be a thriving town of 70,000 people. But these were living mostly in semi-permanent calico huts, the prospectors shifting with the rumors of new gold fields. The streets were named “Pick,” “Shovel,” “Windlass” and the like, emphasizing the town’s functional nature.

Childhood and Youth