Pierre Henri Joseph Baume (1797-1875) was a French benefactor, eccentric and recluse who lived on the Isle of Man in the nineteenth century. He was the son of Henri Joseph Baume (1770-1831), a periwig-maker and Marie Claire née Merlat (1780-1837). Baume’s parents ran a wig-making shop in Marseilles and both had a notorious reputation for supporting anti-clericalism and committing adultery.
In the early 1800s the family moved to Naples and Pierre was placed in a military college. During his time in Naples he joined the Diplomatic Service and secured a secretary’s position to Prince Castelcicala (1763-1832), the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris. In 1820 he became the secretary to the future Francis I (1777-1830). However in 1821 the Naples court discovered Baume’s father was a member of the anti-monarchist society Carbonari and he was dismissed. By then Baume had amassed considerable wealth and on his return to Paris he sought to add to it by involving himself in various suspect business ventures, several of which took him to London.
While Baume was employed by Castelcicala he had been involved in selling confidential diplomatic documents to the French secret police. He also dealt in stocks, bonds and property which brought him further under police surveillance. Baume led a double life, on the one hand he regularly mixed with high society in London and Paris and on the other he traded insider information to the enemies of the elite. Baume had a troubled relationship with his family and conducted various illicit sexual liaisons; these, combined with the need to climb the social ladder led to feelings of paranoia. By 1824 he had retreated to the estate of his ‘spiritual adviser’ the Duc de Rohan (1788-1833), one of the most powerful men in the Catholic hierarchy in France.
During his time on the Duke’s estate Baume became increasingly pious and this next stage of his life culminated in a pilgrimage to Rome in March 1827 with an audience with Pope Leo XII (1760-1829). In July of the same year Baume moved to London where he was actively involved in the republican, socialist, atheist, democratic ferment of pre-Reform Bill London. In 1829 Baume established the Universalist or ‘Optimist’ Chapel in Finsbury Square, one of the first meeting centres in London for those not believing in religion.
Another venture of Baume’s occurred in 1831 when he took a lease of several acres in Islington. His aim was to conduct a social experiment by building cottages and allotments and receiving tenants. It was a quasi-socialist scheme named by Baume his ‘Experimental Gardens’. Baume’s life became increasingly difficult when in December 1832 his sister Charlotte died in childbirth. He was labelled the ‘Islington Monster’ by the press which accused him of cohabiting with his sister, selling her body for science and of somehow being involved in the death of poet George Petrie (d.1836). In May 1837 he was sentenced to Fleet Prison for a year after one of his tenants from the ‘Experimental Gardens’ claimed damages.
By the 1840s Baume re-entered London society and was elected to the Corps of the Gentlemen at Arms and to the British and Foreign Institute. Baume was also owner of several London properties in places such as Lower Edmonton and Judd Street. In 1832 he acquired land at Friern Barnet in Middlesex and in 1846 he purchased the Dibdin Hill Estate at Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.
Baume’s connection to the Isle of Man began in the 1850s and some say it was because of its profile in publishing temperance and health journals. This may well have appealed to Baume because since the 1830s he had experimented with various diets, for example preaching the virtues of Jerusalem artichokes, dried peas, raw cabbage and local snails. Another reason why Baume may have become a Manx resident was his belief that Manx laws on mortmain would protect his wealth from outside claims after his death. He was also an advocate for the Temperance Movement and supported the United Kingdom Temperance Alliance.
Baume’s Manx property portfolio consisted of Knocksharry Farm in the parish of German and Doarlish Cashen Farm in the parish of Patrick. Baume rarely lived in his properties, preferring to rent them out and lodge elsewhere in cheap accommodation. Properties Baume lived in were Crane’s Lodging House on the North Quay (Douglas), Arch House on the South Quay (Douglas) and a lodging house in Union Mills. Baume died a bachelor in 1875, aged 78 with a personal estate valued at over £50,000.
Whilst unmarried, Baume was known to have had several illegitimate children. He informally adopted Julian Hibbert, the illegitimate son of his sister Charlotte. Hibbert arrived on the Island after Baume's death and based on the striking resemblance he acquired a portion of Baume’s estate.
The original estate trustees were Deemsters William Leece Drinkwater (1812-1909) and John Clowes Stephen (1806-1880), High Bailiff of Douglas Samuel Harris (c.1816-1905), Members of the House of Keys William Dalrymple (1815-1890), Richard Sherwood (1828-1883), Robert Corrin (c.1824-1899), Dalrymple Maitland (1848-1919, John Joughin (1831-1901) and businessmen Thomas Cubbon (c.1833-1893) and Donald McGregor (c.1805-1879). It was their duty to use Baume’s estate as a charitable fund for the benefit and relief of the poor of the Isle of Man. It was also meant to assist in the secular education of the children of the poor and not to be applied or connected with any religious purpose. It was desired that a portion of the fund be used towards the support, purchase or erection of an insular hospital and towards the teaching of navigation in the Island.
Baume had a reputation as a miser and eccentric. Over the following twenty-five years several of his trustees were embroiled in public scandals and political disputes over the proper application of the Baume funds in line with Baume’s directions. Eventually Baume’s English real estate was sold, one-fifth of the proceeds was agreed to be distributed among certain relatives of Baume and the rest would be allocated to causes the trustees saw fit.
By late 1897 the trustees had set up nine scholarships to King William’s College, awarded £3,000 to the School of Navigation, Peel, £300 was given to the School of Art and a debt of £2,000 was paid off on the Industrial Home. In 1904 it was agreed that £50 per annum would be awarded to the Manx Music Festival to fund the Baume Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music London. In 1908 £1,000 was given for the Ramsey Cottage Hospital and the rest of the Baume funds were distributed to small Manx charities for the poor, blind and deaf.
Baume is buried in St George’s Churchyard, Douglas where his trustees erected a granite monument in his memory.