Captain William Baines is a supporting character from the 1971 BBC television series The Onedin Line. The series revolves around James Onedin, the ruthless owner of a shipping line in early 1860s Liverpool. In the pilot episode Onedin is shown employed as a merchant captain for the Callon shipping line, with Baines as his first mate. The ambitious Onedin becomes frustrated as a servant to Mr. Callon and quits his employ, only to purchase his own ship and snatch a portuguese wine contract out from under him. Baines is then shown as Onedin's first mate aboard his own ship, the Charlotte Rhodes. Presumably Onedin hired Baines to work for him after buying his own ship. This would not have been unusual, since shipping lines in those days did not have permanent employees, and captains were responsible for recruiting their own crews for each voyage.
Baines is a gruff and rugged professional seaman who, despite his expertise in sailing, has never risen above the rank of first mate due to his inability to read. Onedin is taken ill during his maiden voyage as owner of the Charlotte Rhodes, and Baines is forced to take command of the ship at a critical time. He quickly falls into a dispute with Onedin's wife, Anne, over which course to set while her husband is incapacitated. Anne strikes a bargain with Baines, and agrees to teach him to read and write in exchange for him steering the ship on the course that she has charted, rather than the one he prefers.
Subsequent episodes show the gruff and craggy seaman sounding his way through children's books as he struggles with the written english language. Finally, after having learned to read and write with the help of Anne Onedin, Baines sits for the master's exam, and qualifies as a ship's captain himself. Onedin then gives him command of his best clipper, the Pampero, which Baines drives too hard in an effort to make a good first impression, and sinks on his first voyage as master. Onedin, while outraged by the loss, decides to keep Baines in his employ, feeling that his guilt over the incident will make him even more eager to please in the future.
Baines' first name, William, is rarely heard until the final episode when he assists Onedin's third wife, Margareta, in the birth of Onedin's only son aboard ship. Margareta asks the stunned and humbled sailor for his Christian name so that they can name the son and heir to the Onedin empire after him.
Baines is depicted as an unambitious seafaring man, who is loyal and deferent to his employer. As a simple-minded and honest sailor he is also used as a foil to contrast the character of the sharp, cunning, and ruthless Onedin. Occassionally, however, Baines is also shown rising above his station to tell Onedin when he is acting foolishly, or childishly.