REGINALD L. ‘SNOWY’ BAKER, BOXER, SPORTSMAN, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR
This advertising cover has a printed advert ‘Improve Your Health and Strength. By undergoing my course of Physical Culture you have the advantage of an instructor whose methods are substantiated by his own physique. You can also learn Scientific Boxing, Wrestling, Fencing, Swimming, Diving, &c., privately or in classes, and enjoy the benefits of the Finsen Electric light Bath, Vapor Bath and Electrical Massage Vibrator, attached to my up-to-date Gymnasium, which you are cordially invited to inspect. R.L. (SNOWY) BAKER Belmont Chambers, 15 Castlereagh Street, City (Sydney). The red 1d ‘Shield’ stamp of New South Wales is cancelled with a roller Sydney postmark in 1910. It is addressed to Harry Schaiem( ),Wasa, Finland. There are 2 Finnish postal markings, a round postmark showing a reception date of 7.IV. 10 6am, as well as an oval handstamp. There is a boxed 2-line taxing handstamp ‘DEF 5/ FINE 5/ 10 CENTIMES. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
Reginald Leslie (Snowy) Baker, sportsman and showman, was born on 8 February 1884 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of George Baker, an Irish-born Sydney Municipal Council clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Jane. Very blond, he was called 'Snowy' from childhood; he was educated at Crown Street Public School and, reputedly, learned horsemanship at dawn work-outs on Randwick Racecourse. In 1897-99 he won a series of swimming championships for his school, swam and played water polo for the East Sydney Swimming Club. He played Rugby Union for Eastern Suburbs and represented New South Wales at half-back against both Queensland and touring Great Britain side in 1904. As an oarsman, he rowed for the Mercantile Rowing Club in championship maiden and junior fours and eights in 1905-06, and he was also a capable cricketer.
Baker served as a trooper with the New South Wales Lancers from about 1902, gaining the rank of sergeant and excelling in a variety of military sports. Over the years he won many prizes in such activities as fencing (with the sword and bayonet), wrestling on horseback and tent-pegging. In 1902 he took up boxing and for many years he weighed 11 st. 7 lb. (73 kg). In 1905 he became New South Wales amateur middleweight champion and the following year retained his title, won the same belt in Victoria, and became the heavyweight champion of both States.
In December 1906, Baker left for England to compete in the Amateur Boxing Association's championships, but contracted enteric fever and pneumonia. However, he boxed in the 1908 Olympic tournament held in London in October, three months after the games proper. As a middleweight he won three fights in the one day, two of them by knockouts, to reach the final which he lost narrowly on points to J. W. H. T. Douglas. He visited Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and Europe and performed at both exhibition and competition level, mainly in aquatic sports. He was welcomed as a distinguished athlete at gentlemen's sporting clubs wherever he went.
Returning to a considerable welcome in Sydney in December 1908, Baker began to capitalize on his athletic and boxing fame and opened a physical culture establishment, with mail-order courses, in Castlereagh Street, as shown on the cover. On 31 March 1909 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married 37-year-old Ethel Rose Mackay, daughter of a squatter and widow of Augustus Daniel Kearney, a Victorian physician. A journalist of skill, Baker contributed to the Sydney Evening News in 1908-10, published a book, General Physical Culture (Melbourne, 1910), and in 1912 began Snowy Baker's Magazine, a penny monthly that attained a circulation of over 3000 in its two years of existence. The cover of his book, published by G. Robertson and Co., Melbourne. is seen in Figure 2.
He became involved in a Stadiums boxing organization, mainly as a referee; at times controversial, Baker wore green trousers and a felt hat, and later evening dress. In December 1912 he arranged the purchase of the Rushcutters Bay Stadium for £30,000 and soon had Baker’s stadiums in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. He tried three times to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, but was prevented by a spinal injury; instead he devoted himself to fund-raising concerts. Boxing declined in popularity and he put on shows and film-nights at the stadium. Baker moved into the film business in 1918, and played a secret agent in The Enemy Within and a stationhand in The Lure of the Bush. In 1919 he was co-producer and also starred as a boxing parson in The Man from Kangaroo, as a bushranger in The Shadow of Lightning Ridge, and as a jackeroo in The Jackeroo of Coolabong (1920). All his roles featured his horsemanship, with his famous grey, Boomerang.
In August 1920 Baker left for the United States of America to further his film career, but although he did appear in some movies, he succeeded rather as a coach and instructor in athletic feats and as a businessman. In 1933 he became a director and major operating partner of the Riviera Country Club, near Santa Monica, California, and spent an active life largely as a riding instructor to Hollywood stars and as a polo player. In the early 1930s he contributed a column to the Sydney Referee. He re-visited Australia briefly in 1925, 1932 and 1952.
Survived by his wife and a step-daughter, Baker died of cerebrovascular disease on 2 December 1953 at Los Angeles, and was cremated. His estate in New South Wales was valued for probate at £39,111. His stature as an athlete depends largely upon the enormous range rather than the outstanding excellence of his activities; it was as an entrepreneur-showman, publicist and businessman that he seems in retrospect to have been most important. A picture of Snowy Baker in a boxing pose is seen in Figure 3.
This paper was extracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.