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Portrait of Burnaby in his uniform as a captain in the Royal Horse Guards by James Tissot (1870)

Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (3 March 1842 – 17 January 1885) was an English traveller and soldier.

Life[edit | edit source]

Vanity Fair caricature, 2 December 1876

He was born in Bedford, the son of the Rev. Gustavus Andrew Burnaby of Somerby Hall, Leicestershire, and canon of Middleham in Yorkshire (died 15 July 1872), by Harriet, sister of Henry Villebois of Marham House, Norfolk (d. 1883). His sister Mary married John Manners-Sutton. He was educated at Bedford School, Harrow, Oswestry School (where he was a contemporary with William Archibald Spooner), and in Germany.

He entered the Royal Horse Guards in 1859. Finding no chance for active service, his spirit of adventure sought outlets in balloon ascents and in travels through Spain and Russia. In the summer of 1874 he accompanied the Carlist forces in Spain as correspondent of The Times, but before the end of the war he was transferred to Africa to report on Gordon's expedition to the Sudan. This took Burnaby as far as Khartoum.

Returning to England in March 1875, he matured his plans for a journey on horseback to the Khanate of Khiva through Russian Asia, which had just been closed to travellers. His accomplishment of this task, in the winter of 1875–1876, described in his book A Ride to Khiva, brought him immediate fame. His next leave of absence was spent in another adventurous journey on horseback, through Asia Minor, from Scutari to Erzerum, with the object of observing the Russian frontier, an account of which he afterwards published. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, Burnaby (who soon afterwards became lieutenant-colonel) acted as travelling agent to the Stafford House (Red Cross) Committee, but had to return to England before the campaign was over.

In 1879 he married Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed, who had inherited her father's lands at Greystones, Ireland. The previously-named Hawkins-Whitshed estate at Greystones is known as The Burnaby to this day. At this point began his active interest in politics, and in 1880 he unsuccessfully contested Birmingham in the Tory-Democrat interest.

In 1882 he crossed the English Channel in a hot air balloon. Having been disappointed in his hope of seeing active service in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882, he participated in the Suakin campaign of 1884 without official leave, and was wounded at El Teb when acting as an intelligence officer under General Valentine Baker. This did not deter him from a similar course when a fresh expedition started up the Nile. He was given a post by Lord Wolseley, and met his death in the hand-to-hand fighting of the Battle of Abu Klea. Henry Newbolt's poem "Vitaï Lampada" is often quoted as referring to Burnaby's death at Abu Klea; "The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel's dead...", (although it was a Gardner machine gun which jammed).[1]

Works[edit | edit source]

Memorial obelisk in churchyard of St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham

  • A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia ISBN 978-0-19-288050-5
  • On Horseback Through Asia Minor ISBN 978-0-19-282500-1

(both with an introduction by Peter Hopkirk)

  • Practical Instruction of Staff Officers in Foreign Armies, published 1872
  • A Ride across the Channel, published 1882
  • Our Radicals: a tale of love and politics, published 1886
  • Regular contributions to The Times, Vanity Fair and Punch from 1872 onwards

Legacy[edit | edit source]

A tall memorial obelisk was erected in the churchyard of St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham. There is a memorial window to Burnaby at St Peter's Church, Bedford.[2] There is also a public house, The Burnaby Arms, located in the Black Tom area of Bedford.

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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