Baines had arrived in South Africa in 1842 and settled in Cape Town until 1848, moving up to Grahamstown which became his headquarters until 1853 and from where he set out on a series of expeditions into the interior, with Liddle to the Orange River in 1848, on his solitary journeys to Kafirland and Baviaans River in 1849 and with McCabe on the Vaal River Expedition in 1850-51 before joining Colonel Somerset and the British Forces in June 1851. Somerset 'asked the artist to join his staff to sketch 'the localities and events of the war' in return for rations for himself and his horse ... [Baines] accompanied the army in the field until January 1852 when he realized that far from covering his costs he was actually losing money. Involvement in his war gave Baines another new dimension: that of official war artist, probably the first in southern Africa. He spent his time with the soldiers, sharing their daily camp routine and joining their regular scouting patrols in the Amathole Mountains.' (J. Carruthers and M. Arnold, The Life and Work of Thomas Baines, Vlaeberg, 1995, p. 35)
The action in the present picture showing the 74th Regiment and Fingoes attacking Macomo (probably the figure mounted on the white horse or ox in the cover of the wood) and his rebels dates to October 1851 and is one of a series of war pictures, worked up from sketches made in the field, produced at Grahamstown from January 1852 until May 1853 and on his subsequent return to England. A number of 8th Frontier War pictures are in the MuseumAfrica including four (R.F. Kennedy, Catalogue of Pictures in the Africana Museum, Johannesburg 1966, I. B219-B222) which were probably originally companions to the present lot.
The 8th Frontier War pictures, and the above group in particular, were the subject of a paper given by Michael Stevenson ("The possible involvement of Henry Baines in his brother, Thomas's, oils of the Eighth Frontier War") at the Conference on Thomas Baines at the University of Cape Town in January 1997. See also M. Stevenson, M. Godby and L. Meltzer, John Thomas Baines (1820-1875): Works in the William Fehr Collection, Cape Town, 1997, p.13.
For Baines's own description of the actions he witnessed in the 8th Frontier War, see his Journal of Residence in Africa, Cape Town 1964, II, pp. 187-302.