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Bid to recover King's Lynn-born Thomas Baines' artwork from Zimbabwe gathers momentum

PUBLISHED: 16:48 02 February 2011 | UPDATED: 16:17 04 February 2011

One of the collection of sketches by Thomas Baines of boatmen in the rapids of Victoria Falls.

One of the collection of sketches by Thomas Baines of boatmen in the rapids of Victoria Falls.

Archant

A bid to recover the paintings and sketches by a Norfolk explorer that have been "on loan" to an African country for decades is gathering momentum.

West Norfolk mayor Zipha Christopher began her quest to recover the artwork produced by King’s Lynn-born Thomas Baines from Zimbabwe last year.

The 40-plus items were sent out “on loan” in 1947 by King’s Lynn Council to the government of Southern Rhodesia, now part of Zimbabwe, but have never been returned to the UK.

There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to recover them over the years and Mrs Christopher has found the task of re-patronising the items difficult.

But a recent twist has led her to become hopeful Baines’s paintings could be returned to the county before her term as mayor ends in May.

She said: “I have been contacted by a company in London about the artwork and we are now in the middle of trying to organise a meeting with these people.

“They have told me they were successful in a very similar case recently so I am really hopeful they will be able to help.

“Getting these paintings back from Zimbabwe was one of the many goals I set myself on becoming mayor and I am so determined to make sure I achieve this.”

This latest twist in the saga comes after the oldest living descendant of Baines, John Youngman, vowed to personally write to President Mugabe demanding the artwork be returned to the county.

It also follows Prince Charles joining a campaign to save Lynn’s Hanse House – a venue where the paintings, if recovered, could go on show.

The future of the building remains unclear now Norfolk County Council is looking to relocate the register office, which the building houses, and sell it off.

“I would love to see the ballroom at the Hanse House become a borough art gallery and it would be fantastic if the Baines’s paintings were part of the first exhibition,” Mrs Christopher said.

The majority of the paintings sent to the government of Southern Rhodesia show off South Africa’s stunning scenery like Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Mrs Christopher, who lived in Rhodesia as a child for a few years, added there would be national and international interest in the artwork should they return to the county.

However, relations between Zimbabwe and its former colonial ruler have been strained for years with President Mugabe denouncing Britain on many occasions and blaming it as the source of Zimbabwe’s woes.

As well as being part of expeditions across southern Africa, Baines was also sent to northern Australia to join a quest to find suitable colonial settlement in the 1850s. He was also presented with the Freedom of the Borough of King’s Lynn in 1857 and died on May 8, 1875 from dysentery in Durban, South Africa.

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