Descendant of explorer vows to get art returned

The oldest living descendant of a Norfolk explorer has vowed to write a letter to an African leader demanding the return of his relative's paintings and sketches to the county.

Retired farmer John Youngman is backing a bid by west Norfolk mayor Zipha Christopher to recover the pieces of artwork produced by his great-great-uncle Thomas Baines, who was born in King's Lynn, from Zimbabwe.

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.

Mr Youngman, 85, said: 'It would be great as a direct descendant of Thomas Baines to see the paintings return to King's Lynn and go on display.

'I would love to go along to the exhibition and see them and it would be a very proud moment for me. It would be wonderful.

'I think it is going to be an almost impossible task to bring any of the paintings and sketches back here, but whilst there is still a chance, I can only hope.

'I will write to Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwean president) and tell him that it is time these paintings were returned.'

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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.

West Norfolk mayor Zipha Christopher, who lived in Rhodesia as a child for a few years, is hoping to recover the paintings and sketches before her year as mayor concludes.

She said there would be national and international interest in the artwork and has asked the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies to help her in her quest.

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.

Mr Youngman, who lives with his wife Molly in Wicklewood, near Wymondham, also has a book of prints showing Baines' paintings of Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, which have been passed down the generations.

The original paintings of the famous African natural wonder by Baines were the first to be produced by a white European man and sparked international interest in the late 19th century.

Mr Youngman continued: 'The book was given to me by my mum and she was given it by her mum who was given it by Baines himself.

'As far as I know, that was probably the only thing that passed down the generations because I don't have his artistic talent – I can't even draw a straight line.

'He was a very talented man and I am always in awe when I see his work at how someone could paint these beautiful pictures and include so many details.'

As well as being part of expeditions across southern Africa, Baines was 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.