George Baxter Biography

George Baxter (1804 - 1867) is regarded as the "Inventor" of colour printing. The Baxter process, which he patented in 1835, involved an initial metal keyplate and up to 20 wood or metal blocks to apply each individual colour, and all this on hand presses! What stood out about George Baxter was the overall quality he endeavoured to achieve. He only used the best quality paper and mixed all his own oil inks. To gain perfect registration, alignment of all the blocks, was an art in itself. Each colour or layer of oil ink was built up to achieve what was a miniature oil painting, art for the masses. Apart from the sale of 'Oil Pictures' his prints were used to illustrate books, his 'Cabinet of Paintings' was the first to be published in full colour, as well as music sheets, needleboxes, boxes for handkerchiefs, playing cards etc.

The following notes are from Anthony Massey, who is writing a biography of the Reverend Williams:  "I can offer some information of my own.  I have a particular interest in Rev Williams, who is a distant ancestor of mine. As you no doubt know, John Williams (1796-1839) was an English Protestant Missionary who worked for many years in Polynesia. In 1837, while on furlough in England, he published a bestselling autobiography called "A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Seas", which was illustrated by George Baxter. Williams then returned to the South Seas, this time to Melanesia, a region with which he was not familiar. And there he was killed.

The title of your second picture in fact contains a mistake. It should be titled "The Massacre of the Rev J Williams at Erromanga in the South Seas". Williams first visited Tanna in what was then the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). The reception by the islanders of Tanna was guarded but not hostile, as illustrated in your first picture, and Williams took encouragement from this. The next day he went on to the nearby island of Erromanga (now Erromango), where on November 20th 1839 he was murdered on the beach and later eaten by cannibals. As John Williams was the most famous missionary of his age, his violent death at the age of 43 caused a sensation in Great Britain, and indeed in the United States, where his book had been well received.

You suggest a date of around 1839. In fact, while Williams was killed in November 1839, word did not reach England until April 1840. Baxter's prints marking his death were published together in 1841. So it's probable that the original watercolours were painted in the second half of 1840 or early 1841."

"George Baxter knew Williams personally, and painted him while he was in England. Baxter himself never visited the Pacific. But his picture of the massacre at Erromanga is based on a sketch by a crew member on Williams's ship, the "Camden", who had witnessed Williams's death. That original sketch, with annotations by Baxter, survives in the National Library of Australia in Canberra. As you point out, Baxter went on to publish colour prints of both these scenes, and they were much in demand in the wake of Williams's death.  (I am in the early stages of writing a biography of Rev John Williams, which will be the first for 35 years, and the fullest since a friend of Williams published a memoir of "the Martyr of Erromanga", as he was known, in 1843.)"  Source: James  Massey, anecdote.