One of the most noble characters in this collection is Commander the Reverend Thomas Baker, R.N. 1796-1887. [He was] an upright and efficient officer and Christian gentleman. (CMQPW 9-13)1
Naval Service and Education
Rev. Thomas Baker was the father of Mary (Jane) Baker McQuesten and he was the maternal grandfather to the six children of the last generation of McQuestens at Whitehern.
Thomas Baker was born in Portsea, England on January 24, 1795/6, son of a sea captain in the British Merchant Marines and his wife Ann Montford. He died on March 29, 1887 in Hamilton, Ontario.
Thomas Baker entered his name on the role of applicants for commission in the Royal Navy in 1805. At the age of eleven he went to sea as a midshipman on board the HMS Antelope where he also continued his education while on board. For his service during the Napoleonic Wars, he was awarded with successive promotions. He served during the war of 1812 as midshipman on the frigate HMS St. Lawrence. The ship weighed 3200 tons, wielded 120 guns and sailed out of Kingston, where it had been launched on October 15, 1814, under Commander-in-chief, James Yeo. At the time it was the largest freshwater sailing vessel. In 1815 Thomas Baker received his lieutenant's commission. In 1870 the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty were pleased to sign a commission promoting him to the rank of Commander in H. M. Fleet, pursuant to an order of January 1816, and granted him a pension of eight shillings per day (W3038).
Baker's Ministry in the Congregational Church
Thomas Baker withdrew from active service in 1817 to train for the ministry in the Congregational Church. In 1835 he resigned his pastorate of a congregation in Leatherhead, [or Letherhead] Surrey, to accept an appointment from the London Missionary Society in Canada and closed his Boarding Academy (W-MCP1-1.028a). He brought his wife, Sarah Hampson, and his eight children to Canada, settling at Kingston, Ontario. By 1846 they had moved to Brantford, where Mrs. Baker and their eldest daughter, Mrs. Harriett Baker Wilkes died in 1847.
In the following year (1848) Baker married Mary-Jane McIlwaine (1809/10-1882) of Brantford, and she became the mother of their daughter Mary-Jane Baker (later, Mary B. McQuesten) in October 1849. Mary-Jane became the precious child of a late marriage (Baker was 53 and his wife was 40).
After a few years in the ministry in Brantford, Baker accepted a call to Newmarket, Ontario, where his declining health forced him to resign in 1858. In 1867 he moved from Newmarket to 34 Gloucester Street in Toronto.
Rev. Baker was a very strict Congregational Church minister in which he combined his military training with his religious convictions. He demanded a strong code of discipline, morality and social responsibility from himself and from his congregation. He was also a model of Calvinist rectitude in his pastoral dealings and he demanded a very high moral standard from all of his associates and from his congregation. His letters demonstrate his patriarchal expectations regarding his congregation. For instance, in his letter of August 1841, to his congregation in Paris, Ontario, he tendered his resignation because they had not fulfilled their promise to erect "a comfortable and commodious Place of Worship" (W4126). The chastising and judgmental tone of the letter justifies his stance with a legalistic thoroughness. It bears noting that the flawless form and flourish of his penmanship is also a reflection of his fastidious nature.
Rev. Baker's writings also contain a lengthy account of dissension within the church which is significant for two reasons. First, it discloses that his subsequent ministry in Brantford was also riddled with discipline problems which he proceeded to rectify with similar stern measures. The lengthy account for the years 1841 to 1848 concludes that members were "most pertinaciously adhering to their opinions" and the matter was finally resolved in 1849 with "resolutions . . . and names of church members expelled and suspended" (W4129, W4142). It is evident from the form and content of these accounts that Rev. Baker was a highly principled and inflexible pastor, and meted out disciplinary measures with an Old Testament justice and a military rigour.
Rev. Baker also defended women's rights. Although he was rigidly patriarchal in dealing with his flock, he openly defended the rights of women to participate in church meetings and politics. His account relates that a member of the congregation "objected to females speaking in the church." At the next meeting, one month later, he "spoke at some length to the right of females to take part in transacting church business, showing that their being forbidden to speak related to the Worshiping Assemblies and not to meetings for the transacting of church affairs." In his lengthy sermonical reply he quoted extensively from the New Testament (some of his quotation is in Latin), and then abruptly concluded that he hoped he had now "set the matter to rest" (W4129e).
Family Life - Troubles and Joys
For many years after the death of his first wife, Rev. Baker had trouble with his first family and with his grandchildren. His son, David Bogue Baker, died of tuberculosis in Mankato, Minnesota in 1856, while prospecting. Rev. Baker's letters also record that in 1847 he became greatly alarmed over the relations between Mary-Anne, his third daughter, and her brother-in-law, Frederick F. Wilkes, the widowed husband of her deceased sister Harriett. At that time marriage to a deceased wife's sister was unlawful. Mary-Anne was very young, and Rev. Baker did his utmost to save his "poor, misguided, motherless child from the improper course she has been pursuing" (W2864). In 1858 Rev. Baker broke off all communications with F. F. Wilkes and with his daughter. However, Mary-Anne did marry Wilkes, and in 1858 like her sister, she also died in childbirth. Rev. Baker, the stern Calvinist, is reported to have refused to see his daughter, Mary-Anne even when she was asking his forgiveness on her deathbed (W2971 to W2986). Baker was criticized by members of his flock and by other ministers for his legalistic sternness in this rejection of his daughter's pleas and, in this regard, and in the following section, Rev. Baker is possibly a little less than "noble" in his rigidity.
In 1864 another son James Alfred ran into financial difficulties. James Alfred was Baker's favourite son and had become a successful farmer, but lost heart when his wife died, leaving him with seven children, and the farm went down-hill. James Alfred married for a second time to Maria Mudge; and then he died in 1876 at the age of fifty-one, leaving Maria Mudge to care for his seven children. They were very poor, and had nothing except what Rev. Baker could send them, and "the unfortunate Maria Mudge knew of only one way to augment her income" (Farmer 12). Baker's son John Puckridge Baker, reported the scandal to Rev. Baker and, when Baker made inquiries of Henry Hart, a watchful neighbour, Hart confirmed the rumour that "male visitors go to the house and stay undue periods" (W3155, W3156). There is some evidence in the letters that Maria Mudge may have been maligned, and several of the children expressed both their gratitude to Maria and their distress at having to leave their "mother" (W3168, W3038). In any case Rev. Baker did what his stern Puritan nature prescribed, and he immediately undertook the difficult task of separating his grandchildren and placing them in suitable quarters elsewhere, or providing for their education (CMQPW 12). There are many letters between 1877 and 1881 describing these circumstances.
Although Baker was often disappointed in his children by his first marriage, his only child by his second marriage, his daughter Mary Jane, proved to be an apt pupil. He lavished his attention on her, and devoted himself to her education and training, which proved to be gratifying to both. It is likely that his care, affection and religious instruction during Mary's childhood provided the stability and security that sustained her in later life, and this would include her faith in a personal and loving God. Baker was proud of Mary's progress in school, and was delighted in her choice of partner when she became engaged to Isaac Baldwin McQuesten. He and Isaac formed a good relationship and when Isaac found a house for his in-laws, they came to live in the second part of the double house where Isaac and Mary had taken up residence, at 1 and 3 Bold Street in Hamilton.
It is evident that Baker's daughter, Mary Baker McQuesten, as a woman, gained the courage from her father's example and teaching, and was able to voice her opinions and criticisms at church meetings and in missionary circles. Mary particularly deplored the fact that women were not allowed to vote in church politics (DHB3.6, W0127-April 24,1923).
Rev. Baker was a collector of books and engravings, many of which are in the library and on the walls of Whitehern today. He also corresponded regularly with many people, including his sister, Mrs. Sarah Pike, of London, England, and her letters are models of good composition and literary excellence. He was generous to Sarah Pike and she always stated her gratitude for his financial contributions.
Following his second wife's death in 1882, Rev. Baker spent a great deal of time at Whitehern with his daughter's family and came to live there for a time before he died in 1887. He and his second wife Mary-Jane McIlwaine are buried in the McQuesten family plot in the Hamilton Cemetery.
1 We are indebted to Mary Harrington Farmer, and Georgina Minnes a Whitehern researcher, for much of the information in this biographical sketch (CMQPW 9-13) (Minnes, "Reverend Thomas Baker" 1-7).