Captain John Franklin Baker

Captain John Franklin Baker of Ventnor Fire Brigade died as the result of a bizarre shotgun accident on 31 May 1897 aged 30.

 

When Ventnor's Captain Frank Rennick passed away unexpectedly in May 1896, the post was quickly filled by Baker who arrived in Ventnor from Alresford in Hampshire six years before aged 24 and bought into a partnership at John Williams and Co., ironmongery. He was a driven and energetic young captain who's first controversial move was to recommend the appointment of twelve new firemen, effectively dismissing nearly all of Rennick's remaining Ventnor brigade.

In the end it took a 'drill-off' between two teams of four in October 1896, one headed by Baker who drilled alongside his chosen men and the other selected from Rennick's remnants by an opposing Councillor. Baker's team won the triple-drills with some panache and his way was cleared to appoint and command the men as he saw fit.

Despite his gung-ho brigade beginnings he was remarked on as a open-hearted and courteous young townsman.

On 31 May he and a friend decided to spend a day shooting on St Boniface Down and ascended in the thick mist of the early morning. Separating at the top of the hill they intended to meet up at an agreed location. Baker never arrived as planned and a short while later a local teenager stumbled across his body. Evidently as he'd attempted to scale a gate he'd slipped, sheared his ankle as his foot became entrapped in the bars, and in the fall his own shotgun blew a hole through his abdomen. For a while evidence from a person in the locality that referred to a third gun-wielding individual stalking about in the poor visibility raised suspicion but the Police were quick to rule out foul play.

Baker's remains were conveyed back to his family's mainland home and laid to rest in the family vault at Alresford's Old Churchyard. Baker's departure from this life and captaincy of Ventnor Fire Brigade ended as explosively as he entered it barely twelve months earlier.

Rest in peace Captain Baker.