Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Frederick Burnaby: the Bravest Man in England

"I have, unfortunately for my own interests, from my earlier childhood had what my old nurse used to call a most ‘contradictorious’ spirit” - Fred Burnaby

Caricature of Col Fred, 1876
BY JINGO, THEY DON’T MAKE CHAPS like Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby any more. Which is a shame, or possibly a relief, I can’t quite make up my mind.

In the Victorian age of larger-than-life heroes, the wildly eccentric colonel towered above the lot of them. He stood 6ft 4ins tall, weighed 15 stone, boasted a 47-inch chest - and had balls to match his enormous frame.

The son of a clergyman, Fred joined the army in 1859 – aged 17 – and quickly became recognised as the strongest man in its ranks. A first-rate boxer, swordsman, rider and runner, his party tricks included vaulting over billiard tables and twisting pokers into knots with his bare hands. He once carried two ponies downstairs at Windsor Castle for a prank, picking one up under each arm like they were cats.

You didn’t want to mess with Fred Burnaby, that was true. But he was more than just a meathead of mountainous proportions. Far more.

Fred was bright, friendly and jovial, always smiling by every account. He could speak seven languages, including Russian and Turkish. He was an insatiable traveller who wrote rip-roaring bestsellers about his adventures. And he was into hot-air ballooning – not exactly a normal hobby for a Victorian cavalry officer.

In 1882, our man packed some roast-beef sandwiches, climbed into his wicker basket at Dover gas works and flew off alone in the direction of the Channel. He landed in a field in Normandy later that day, terrifying some local chickens, and becoming the first person to make a hot-air balloon trip from England to France.

Fred was also into politics. An old-school Tory, he stood for Parliament in 1880 – pitching himself against Joseph Chamberlain in the latter’s Birmingham stronghold.

Chamberlain was one of the bigwigs of the day; Fred never really had a hope. But courage is when you know you’re beaten before you start and you throw yourself into it anyway. Fred was nothing if not courageous – courageous to the point of lunacy most of the time. He lost of course. But by God he gave Chamberlain a run for his money and no one who followed the campaigning in Birmingham that year ever forget Fred Burnaby.

At one meeting in Wolverhampton, for instance, Fred had his stewards bring two persistent hecklers up to the front. He went to the edge of the stage, leaned over and picked them both up by their collars, one in each hand. He then lifted them high for all to see and carried them at arm’s length to the back of the platform where he plonked them in two chairs.

“Sit there, little man. And you, little man, sit there,” he told them in his booming cavalry voice. The crowd was impressed. The heckling stopped. No one was left in any doubt that Colonel Burnaby was not an easy man to intimidate.

By this stage in his short life, Fred was already something of a popular hero in Britain, famous for a bizarre 1,000-mile journey he’d made into Central Asia several years earlier, accompanied by a dwarf. The mad trip was seen as a kind of one-man victory over the mighty Russian empire, which had tried to block his progress. And here’s how he did it.

Fred was attached to the Royal Horse Guards, the Blues, an elite regiment whose officers lived the life of riley and got no less than five months leave a year. Tempting though it must have been for Fred to spend that time carousing, leaping over pool tables and lugging ponies up and down the stairs, he had bigger ideas. Instead, he used those long holidays to travel the world and write about his adventures.

First he went to Moscow, in winter. Next he set off for war-torn Spain. Then it was Sudan, where on a roasting February day he found himself flicking through an old English newspaper in a Khartoum café, absently chatting to some mates about where they all fancied going next time their leave came around.

“At that moment my eye fell upon a paragraph in the paper,” Fred wrote later. “It was to the effect that the [Russian] government at St Petersburg had given an order that no foreigner was to be allowed to travel in Russian Asia, and that an Englishman who had recently attempted a journey in that direction had been turned back…”

As a stout-hearted patriot, Fred wasn’t at all keen on Russians at the best of times. For years the Tsarist empire had been expanding rapidly south, swallowing up vast areas of central Asia – today’s “Stan” lands: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. India lies just below the “Stans”, and Britain was getting twitchy. Was the jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown next on Russia’s hit-list?

Now those pesky Russians were trying to ban Englishmen from travelling in the region, too. Englishmen! You can imagine what Burnaby of the Blues thought of that. You can see him working himself up into a Basil Fawlty-style fit. How dare they! What was that rotten Tsar up to? More importantly, who was going to stop him?

Before he’d finished his coffee, Fred’s mind was made up. He would ignore the ban, travel to the heart of central Asia (somehow), and find out for himself exactly what was going on there. He saw it as his personal duty to open Britain’s eyes to the menace of the Russian bear. And, you never know, he might get a bestseller out of it too.

Fred’s friends in the café told him he’d never make it, that he might as well try for the moon. But he returned home to England determined and began making plans for the greatest adventure of his life

By the time he left London’s Victoria Station on 30 November, 1875, he had a bold plan. He’d simply go straight to St Petersburg, travel south-east to frontier city of Orenburg, and from there strike out over the steppes and deserts of Russian-controlled Central Asia. His goal was the mysterious caravan city of Khiva, closed to all travellers since the Tsar’s army seized it two years earlier.

It wasn’t going to be easy of course. Apart from the possibility of being arrested, Fred’s army leave inconveniently fell during winter – so it would be blizzards, snowdrifts and killer temperatures every step of the way. If the Russians didn’t get him, frostbite or exposure probably would.

He wasn’t exactly guaranteed a warm welcome if he made it to Khiva either. The Khivans were a fierce and independent lot who had been fighting Russian invaders for centuries, slaughtering the men and enslaving the women in harems. Their leader, the Khan of Khiva, had a reputation for cruelty. He will “very likely order his executioner to gouge out your eyes”, a friendly Russian warned Fred. Not that that put him off of course.

Fred’s account of his wild journey – “A Ride to Khiva” – turned him into a celebrity. The novelist Henry James enjoyed the book, calling its author a “jovial and enterprising officer”. It sold out. Queen Victoria invited Fred to dinner on the strength of it. Even today it’s a smashing, swashbuckling read.

Wrapped up like the Michelin man in a smelly sheepskin suit, his military moustache frozen stiff on his face, Fred writes with boyish enthusiasm of how he pressed on through the frozen wastelands of Central Asia in the face of the most savage winter in living memory.

He hires a “faithful little Tartar” servant, Nazar, who stands less than five foot tall and sticks with Fred through thick and thin. Later, the Little and Large pair are joined by a third man, a local guide who wears an enormous black sheepskin hat, a bright yellow “dressing gown”, exotic boots with upturned toes, and a scimitar tucked into his belt.

At one remote settlement, the unlikely trio find all the horses have either died or are starving to death. This one-horse town is rapidly becoming a no-horse town. So they hire three gigantic, shaggy camels instead, harnessing the unruly beasts to their tiny sleigh and pushing on through the snowdrifts in bizarre fashion.

On another occasion, the motley team run into six armed Khivans who insult the exotically attired guide, abusing him for working for “dogs and unbelievers” from abroad (ie Fred). The guide lashes out with his whip; a Khivan hits back with a camel-stick. Knives are drawn; Fred pulls out his pistol.

Then something odd happens. The guide “blew his nose with his fingers as a sign of contempt for his adversary, and squatted on his haunches on the ground,” reports the bemused Englishman. “His foe, not to be outdone, performed the same feat with his nasal organ, and sat down opposite him. Then they began a verbal battle, in which the reputations of their respective female relatives were much aspersed.”

On one typically freezing day Fred forgets to put on his gloves and then falls asleep on the sleigh. Forty below and he forgets to put on his gloves - quite a feat in itself when you think about it. It was a mistake that almost cost him his hands.

“In a few minutes I awoke;” he writes, “a feeling of intense pain had seized my extremities. It seemed as if they had been plunged in some corrosive acid which was gradually eating the flesh from the bones.” He was frostbitten. And it was only thanks to the efforts of some rough and ready Cossacks, who rubbed a spirit on his limbs and plunged them into icy water, that circulation was restored and his fingers saved.

Yet despite these hardships, Fred’s pluck and bravery wins the day. He avoids the Russian soldiers and passport officials who would turn him back. And after two months of hard travelling he rocks up outside the ancient city walls of Khiva. First things first, he needs a shave. It simply won’t do for an English gentleman to be seen walking round town like a homeless. So he goes off to find a barber’s, attracting a crowd of three to four hundred fascinated onlookers in the process.

Staring through the window of the barber’s shop, the throng is further amazed when Fred asks for his beard to be removed - it’s heads, not chins, that are traditionally kept clean-shaven in these parts (men’s scalps, our man notes, are “as devoid of hair as a block of marble”). Everyone is then heartily amused when the nervous and bewildered barber accidentally takes a divot out of the Englishman’s face with his blunt razor.

With characteristic optimism, Fred had already sent a messenger ahead to request an audience with the mighty Khan of Khiva, old eye-gouger himself, enslaver of Russian woman, enemy of the Tsar. To his surprise, this is granted. So, after the spruce-up, Fred finds himself being led into the ruler’s palace under the gaze of 40 guards in long silk robes and a curious group of “good-looking boys of an effeminate appearance, with long hair streaming down their shoulders”.

A curtain is pulled back and Fred is face to face with a powerfully built guy in his late twenties, with irregular teeth and a coal-black beard and moustache: the Khan. The main man is seated on a handsome Persian carpet, propped up by cushions. He raises his hand to his forehead in greeting; Fred touches his cap.

And what does our dashing adventurer make of this most feared of Asian rulers? Well, he rather likes him. “[The Khan] had a pleasant, genial smile, and a merry twinkle in his eye…” writes Fred. “I must say I was greatly surprised… to find him such a cheery sort of fellow.”

Fred had gone to Khiva without the permission of his army superiors – there was no point even asking for it, refusal being a certainty. So when word reached Britain via telegraph of Burnaby’s daring one-man bid to upset the Russians, not to mention his jolly chat with the Khan of Khiva, he was immediately ordered home by his commander-in-chief, the Duke of Cambridge.

The intrepid cavalry man dutifully returned to his regiment and got cracking writing his book. But the following year, when leave came round once more, he was off again on another strictly unofficial do-or-die mission.

This time Fred rode 1,000 miles from Constantinople into eastern Turkey, a wild and unstable region where the Tsar and the Sultan shared a frontier. War between the two powers was imminent. Fred wanted to see for himself what the Russians were up to there and whether the Turks could hold their own if fighting started.

Again he travelled through a savage winter. Again Russian agents tried to stop him. Again he had a bestseller on his hands when he returned – “On Horseback Through Asia Minor” – not to mention an even greater reputation for extravagant heroics.

Fred’s hot-air balloon trip across the Channel came next and only served to raise his stock further. His superiors weren’t impressed of course – once again he’d left the country without permission. But Fred just couldn’t help himself. Despite his loyalty, he had an unruly streak that no amount of army discipline could contain.

“I have, unfortunately for my own interests, from my earlier childhood had what my old nurse used to call a most “contradictorious” spirit,” he writes in “A Ride to Khiva”. It was this “contradictorious” streak – this fierce independence - that led him to an early grave in the vast, hot, emptiness of Sudan.

One of the most extraordinary men Sudan has ever seen was on the rise at the time. Muhammad Ahmad had gathered around him an army of desert tribesmen and called out for holy war. He was a nineteenth-century Osama bin Laden. He wanted to drive the Egyptians and British out of his country and convert the world to Islam. They called him the Mahdi, “the expected one”. And he wasn’t a man to argue with.

The Mahdi’s followers were a fanatical and ferocious lot. They had God on their side and a terrifyingly impressive record of massacring their enemies. In 1883, a 10,000-strong Egyptian force led by a British officer, William Hicks, was sent against them. It was completely destroyed; just a few hundred men returned alive. Hicks’s head was cut off and taken to the Mahdi.

The following year, Fred – yet again travelling without permission - was among more than 4,000 British troops who had another crack at the rebels at the second battle of El Teb. It was a brutal clash fought at close quarters. And the mighty figure of Fred Burnaby was in the thick of it, doing dire work with a characteristically unorthodox weapon: a double-barrelled shotgun.

Fred used the butt as well both barrels to fearsome effect – a tactic that got his liberal opponents in a lather (killing Arabs with a shotgun: not the done thing at all, old chap). But this time the British won. Fred was mentioned in despatches. He returned home a hero, to most.

The Mahdi army wasn’t finished though. Far from it. Now General Gordon found himself besieged at Khartoum - and, after much dithering, the British government sent a relief expedition under General Wolseley to save him (too late, as things turned out).

Fred, naturally, wanted a piece of the action and Wolseley was happy to have him on board. But bad-boy Burnaby had by now upset so many people at the top his request to go back to the Sudan was turned down.

Who needs permission when you’re Fred Burnaby though? So, true to form, he simply waited for his leave to come around again. Then off he sailed, arriving in Africa against orders and catching up with the British force as it advanced towards Khartoum.

Welcomed by Wolseley, Fred immediately pushed up to the front. When a vanguard of 1,500 British troops ran into about 12,000 Sudanese a few weeks later, he was with them. And it was here, at a dusty desert watering hole called Abu Klea, that his luck finally ran out.

The rebels charged, unexpectedly and ferociously. The British formed into their usual fighting square and fired off a volley. But it failed to check the onslaught and the Mahdists kept coming at them.

The evening before Fred had told the Daily Telegraph’s war correspondent, a Mr Burleigh, he’d left his shotgun behind because of the fuss it’d created when he last used it in battle. Fuss or no fuss, it would have come in handy now.

The Sudanese smashed into the British, piercing their lines in a wild attack. A bloody free-for-all of hacking, slashing and shooting ensued. Burleigh reports seeing Fred riding out, sword in hand, to help a handful of comrades caught stranded outside the square by the sudden charge.

A Mahdi rebel lunged at him with an 8ft spear, but he saw it coming. “Burnaby fenced smartly… and there was a smile on his features as he drove off the man’s awkward points,” writes the Telegraph reporter.

As the struggle continued, a second spearman came up behind Fred and jabbed him in the shoulder. It wasn’t a serious wound but it made him glance back, just for a second. And in that brief moment, the first guy seized his chance and ran his javelin into Fred’s throat.

The force pushed the huge soldier out of his saddle and dumped him on the ground. Burleigh saw what happened next: “Half a dozen Arabs were now about him. With the blood gushing in streams from his gashed throat, the dauntless Guardsman leapt to his feet, sword in hand, and slashed at the ferocious group. They were the wild strokes of a proud, brave man dying hard and he was quickly overborne, and left helpless and dying.”

Dying, but not yet dead. The Mahdi army’s attack ended as swiftly as it started and Fred was still clinging to life when another officer, Lord Binning, found him lying on the ground, his head in the lap of a young private. The lad was crying. “Oh sir,” he said to Binning, “here is the bravest man in England, dying and no one to help him.”

Fred tried to speak but couldn’t. By now, he had a bullet wound in the forehead as well as the hole in his throat. Part of his head had also been cut away. Despite all this, the story goes that Fred died with his familiar smile on his face. Not sure if I believe it, mind. But I want to.

You can see a painting of Colonel Frederick Burnaby in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He’s not smiling in that. But he is looking relaxed and splendid in his cavalry uniform – cocksure even - his long legs stretched out in front of him, a map of Asia and east Africa on the wall behind, a pile of books at his side.

He’s holding a cigarette aloft in his left hand in a rather grand fashion. His gleaming helmet and breastplate are at his feet. That mighty moustache, once frozen solid on the steppes of central Asia, has been waxed at the tips.

There’s enough room on the settee beside Fred to sit down for a chat, perhaps about those dastardly Russians, his faithful Tartar friend Nazar, or the joys of hot-air ballooning. “Sit there, little man,” he looks like he could be saying to us, “and you, little man, sit there.”

* Thanks for visiting Great British Nutters. I hope you have enjoyed what you've read. I no longer post on this blog, but have started a new one called History Nuts. It's along similar lines but with shorter posts. Please take a look. You can also follow me on Twitter @historynuts or at Thanks again!

Burnaby, Frederick Gustavus, A Ride to Khiva introduced by David Williams (London, 1972)
Burnaby, Frederick Gustavus, A Ride Across the Channel, and other adventures in the air (London, 1882)
Ware, J Redding & R K Mann, The Life and Times of Col Fred Burnaby (London, 1885)
Mann, R K, The Life, Adventures and Political Opinions of F G Burnaby (London, 1882)
Duff, Louis Blake, Burnaby (Welland, 1926)
Ferguson, Niall, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2003)


natbas said...

In case your are interested, there Burnaby is mentioned by Jonty Oliff-Cooper in New Statesman.

This are the relevant words:
"...Prince Charles recently demonstrated with his 60th birthday portrait, modelled on Victorian hero Frederick Burnaby (1842-85). Burnaby is almost totally forgotten, but in his day he was so famous that the Queen reportedly fainted at news of his death. The Times gave him a 5000-word obituary. Grown men broke down and wept in the street.

It is easy to see why. Burnaby’s exploits make Rambo look wet. Few people have survived frostbite, typhus, an exploding air balloon, and poisoning with arsenic; explored Uzbekistan (where it was so cold, his beard froze solid and snapped off), led the household cavalry, stood for parliament, could speak seven languages, crossed the channel by air, written a string of bestsellers, commanded the Turkish army, and founded Vanity Fair; all before his early death aged 42.

Immensely strong, with a 48-inch chest, Burnaby could break a horseshoe apart with his bare hands. His party trick was to bend a poker double round a dull dinner guest’s neck. Most famously, when fellow officers coaxed a pair of ponies into his room for a jape, Burnaby simply picked them up—one under each arm—and carried them downstairs "as if they had been cats."

I liked this especially: ( Burnably)explored Uzbekistan (where it was so cold, his beard froze solid and snapped off)...


cfollis said...

This was extremely interesting for me to read, as i am actually a relation of Fred Burnaby. My Gran was a Burnaby before she married my Grandad, she was daughter of Davy Burnaby, the actor. I think I am correct in believing that Fred is in fact my great great great Grandad. I have actually grown up with the national portrait gallery portrait on the wall in my living room.

JMAB said...

Dear cfollis,
I believe we are related and that your gran was my Aunt. I am a granddaughter of Davy Burnaby and we are related to Fred, but not so directly. Fred and our common ancestor is Andrew Burnaby, more correctly the Venerable Andrew Burnaby, my great great great great grandfather. Our line goes via Andrew's son John Dick, his son Thomas Fowke Andrew, his son Rev. Henry Fowke and his son George Davy Burnaby, and you know the rest. Fred's line goes via Ven. Andrew's son Edwyn Andrew, his son Rev. Gustavus Andrew was Fred's father. I have the Vanity Fair print of Fred in my hallway - a great ancestor for us to celebrate indeed! 'The True Blue' by Michael Alexander gives an interesting account of Fred, but I enjoyed reading Fred's own work more - especially 'Ride to Khiva' - if you have not read any of his writing I would strongly recommend it. Copies of his work are easy to get hold of as they have been reprinted an incredible number of times and it is not difficult to find them for sale online.Kind regards to your family.

Benjamin of Wight said...

Come listen to my story boys,
There's news from overseas,
The Camel Corps has held their own
And gained a victory.

Weep not my boys for those who fell,
They did not flinch nor fear,
They stood their ground like Englishmen,
And died at Abu Klea.

No more our colonel's form we'll see,
His foes have struck him down.
His life on earth alas is o'er
But not his great reknown.

No more his merry voice we'll hear,
Nor words of stern command,
He died as he had often wished,
His sabre in his hand.

Weep not me boys for those who fell,
They did not flinch nor fear,
They stood their ground like Englishmen,
And died at Abu Klea.

Now Horseguards Blue both old and young,
Each man from front to rear,
Remember Col Burnaby at sandy Abu Klea.
And when Old England calls her Blues to battle soon or late,
We shan't forget how soldierly the Colonel met his fate.

Weep not me boys for those who fell,
They did not flinch nor fear,
They stood their ground like Englishmen,
And died at Abu Klea.

Chris Hunt said...

Colonel Burnaby's death is described by William McGonagall (another "great British nutter" of a different sort) in his poem The Battle of Abu Klea.

Simon Bendle said...

ZZZ, cfollis, JMAB, Benjamin and Chris – thanks so much for taking the time to read my piece, for your kind feedback and for the great links – all really appreciated. Apologies for taking so long to respond!

By way of explanation, I reluctantly abandoned this blog four years ago when, in one fell swoop, the birth of our first son put paid to all my hobbies. At the time there were no comments posted. I didn’t expect that to change.

I’m now hoping to either revive it or perhaps start a new, easier-to-digest version along similar lines. So I returned to Great British Nutters. And when I stumbled upon your comments I was surprised and delighted. Thank you.

Finally, JMAB – were you right in thinking cfollis is your distant relative? I hope so!

All the best,


Great Game said...

Thank you for this. I once read an intresting thing about Fred leaving a note to his servant before his death. Something along the lines of "I don't mean to return. I don't know why you want to go on living. Thanks for all your help." Do you know about about this and where I might find it again? Many thanks.

JMAB said...

Within the text of 'Heroes of modern Africa',

'When Lord Wolseley was chosen to lead the expedition
in aid of Gordon at Khartoum, Burnaby applied for per-
mission to take part in rescuing the hero he so much
admired, and whom he had so passionately pressed the
Government to succour in many platform speeches.

But the authorities threw cold water on his schemes ;
so he pretended he was about to spend his three months''
leave in South Africa.

Then he said good-bye to his kinsfolk and little Harry,
his son ; and turning to the footman, said, " Good-bye,
Robert ; I shan't come back."

A sense of coming death seemed to be over him ; for
liver troubles and regimental worries were making him feel
very melancholy.

To his old friend, J. Gibson Bowles, he said, " I am very
unhappy. I can't imagine why you care about life. I do
not mean to come back."

However, he left Victoria Station with his servant
Buchanan in a merrier mood, and made first for Maloja in
the Engadine, to bid adieu to his wife. A few days later
he arrived at Alexandria and met Lord Wolseley, who
placed him on the Intelligence Staff and gave him work
as inspecting staff-officer to superintend the moving of the
boats up the Nile. He had to ride over a long stretch
of white sandy desert on camels that broke down several
times ; but he did not tell his wife how he had chosen a
wild, half-broken animal for his own mount.

Colonel Lord Binning has recorded that this wild brute
began by kicking himself clean out of the saddle, " throwing
Burnaby from a great height to the ground. It was a
wonder he was not killed ; as it was he was severely shaken,
and it was some time before he recovered sufficiently to

It was hard work when he got to the part appointed him,
for the boats had to be carried sometimes two miles or more
across the desert on men's shoulders. Each boat weighed
eleven hundredweight, and her stores three and a half tons.
He slept on the ground in a waterproof bag, and was up before
daylight getting boats and soldiers across the cataracts. He
writes to Mrs. Burnaby : " There is a strange mixture of
people here — Arab camel-drivers, black Dongalese porters,
Red Indians, Canadian boatmen, Greek interpreters ; soldiers
of Egypt, Scotland, and Ireland — a babel of many tongues.

The nights are cold, but on the whole I feel well. . . . The
men have very hard work . . . yet you never hear a grumble,
and they deserve the greatest praise. It is a responsible post
which Lord Wolseley has given me here, with forty miles
of the most difficult part of the river. I am very grateful
to him for letting me have it, but I must say I shall be better
pleased if he sends for me when the troops advance upon

The last letter Burnaby ever wrote was dated Dal,
December 28, 1884 :—

"My darling Lizzie, — Have just received orders to
move on to Korti . . . am very well : cold and cough dis-
appeared — thanks to the Arab bedstead, which keeps my
middle-aged bones off the ground. Buchanan very well and
very useful. Lord Charles Beresford left this for Korti the
day before yesterday : I hope to catch him up. . . . Jam
three shillings a pot ! "

He is said to have suffered worsened health in his later days and it would seem that he perhaps made certain conscious choices which helped to bring about his heroic end on the battlefield. A quiet retirement would never have suited this larger than life man.

Michael said...

I had a reoccurring dream last night. In it I was told to contact Fredricka Bunray, by a scientist named Rick, who drove a large black SUV of some sort, for information about Egyptian sciences. I am once again amazed at the workings of God. Happy birthday to this hero I just now learned about here. Amazing. If one of his relations is willing to talk with me, I would be extremely grateful. Thanks and God bless.

JMAB said...

Dear Michael, I found it interesting to hear how you found our Fred, and if not for your comment I would have not realised it was his birthday - Happy Birthday Fred! I am not aware of him being involved in Egyptian science. I am not closely related to Fred - a distant cousin as I explained in an earlier post, but thank you for bringing his birthday to my attention. Regards,

Michael said...

I had never heard of him before this dream, usually I watch, but this time was participatory. This huge Egyptian god made of metal walked away from its post, and a concrete wall opened up behind where it had been guarding to reveal a driveway. Someone drives out, and before the wall closes, I stroll in. It was very top secret looking. I made it to a parking garage on my left, when a handsome confident man popped out of a door and I just joined him on his walk to his, what seemed to be a black Hummer. He mentally shined light into my mind about sciences of ancient Egypt and then smiled and started his vehicle.He was such a nice man, named Rick he said when I asked. Before he made off, as if he forgot the most important thing to tell me, he created a scene for me to proceed to, smiled, and drove off. Next I was in the shared scene, only briefly. It was him in the facility, which was bustling with people in long white lab coats, but not him, he was in a black leather bomber it seemed. He walked past some windows on the left, and as he faded around the corner of them a female seemed to sprout out of his back, then made her way to me. She told me to find what I was seeking to search for Fredricka Bunray, but I was realizing it was lucid and very hastily tried to wake up to write it down. The name was given as an impression, so I wrote down how the words felt, as it was around 2am, I excitedly used the bathroom and went back to sleep. I have been asking God how I could have the faith and strength to leave a bad situation I got myself into. I am in San Diego CA, and have been debating whether or not to head into Mexico with nothing but my faith, or return to the materialistic world of slow decay. When I read this blog, and saw that it was his birthday today I was so warm with joy. What an awesome man. He wanted to show me how to be courageous, which is exactly what I lack. I am very grateful, and fortunate to have found such an inspiration. I will be ordering his books at my library tomorrow. If I can ever repay your family in any way, please let me know. I don't use the internet much these days, but if you want to stay in touch please take my email. Its: drone8888at gm ale. Com..:) I will pray for your family. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Fred was related to Robert Burnaby in Canada, if so was he a cousin, they seem like the same spirited adventurers.R

JMAB said...

Hi R., yes, Robert Burnaby of Canada, namesake of Burnaby City, was a Victorian cousin of Fred's. Burnaby City have a large Burnaby family tree which shows exactly how they were related. There is also a William Burnaby, playwright, buried in Westminster Abbey, London.
Fred's wife was also a spirited soul who wrote books on her mountaineering adventures in her later married name of Mrs Aubrey Le Blond.

There is a book available by Anne Burnaby-Mcleod and Pixie McGeachie, 'Land of Promise, Robert Burnaby's Letters from Colonial British Columbia 1858-1863' which is published by Burnaby City. When I was looking up family history online and ordered a copy of this book I had a reply to my email from Colin McGregor Stevens, the then curator of Burnaby Village Museum, a living museum of Burnaby as it was when first settled, who was most helpful in informing me of my family connection to Robert, and sent me a family tree, the latest version of which is held in Burnaby City Hall.

Another famous Burnaby, better known to American history, is the Venerable Andrew Burnaby, Archdeacon of Leicestershire and Vicar of Greenwich who wrote 'Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North America, In the Years 1759 and 1760', which was published in 1775. He also wrote letters to George Washington prior to the American Civil War, and was against the slave trade and American Independence, writing prophetically that '“Were they left to themselves there would soon be a civil war, ...'.

The family tree also shows how, via the Ven Andrew, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was the granddaughter of Caroline Louisa Burnaby and also related to our dear Fred.

Joe said...


Col Burnaby was mentioned in "Dispatches" that during the Battle of El Teb, he used his Heavy 12 GA SxS Shotgun during the battle, rather than his rifle. Eh...what? He was so fond of his Assistant Nazar throughout his RIDE TO KHIVA he traveled for days to sit beside his death bed.

Quite the Chap... I first read his RIDE to KHIVA while stationed in Afghanistan in 2004.
Sadly his life came to end, during the "Battle of Abu Klea" where the British Square was broken by the Dervishes.

What a life he had led. Sadly, young Churchill was not present at that battle, but was with the 21st Lancers in a later engagement, although he and his mother enjoyed personally knowing COL Burnaby back in London.


Anthony said...

Hi there. I am a relative of Burnaby - my grandfather was (he passed a few years ago now) Robert Burnaby. He lived in Southern England and had fought in Burma during WW2. as a young lad, I would play chess with him and every now and again he would share stories with me of his times.
He has a surviving Son - Mike Burnaby - who is married and lives in Australia. He is my uncle (obviously). I also live in Australia - however moved here from the UK a few years ago.

I read 'Ride to Khiva' and loved it.
Its wonderful to read of other distant relatives, such as myself, here.
What a man Fred was, and I still take such pride in enjoying his stories and reputation.

Simon Bendle said...

Hi Joe and Anthony - belated thanks for your comments. Great to see there are so many people out there who are as enthusiastic about Fred Burnaby as myself!
Joe - I didn't realise young Churchill was acquainted with Fred… good to know!
Anthony - I'm not surprised you're proud of being related to the great man.
Thanks to you both for reading my blog and commenting. Simon

Unknown said...

Very interesting, thanks for writing this!

Simon Bendle said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Reynier - thanks for the feedback!

Unknown said...

Burnaby is only forgotten by some but not by me and not by Julian Barnes who, in his 2013 book "Levels of Life", gives Burnaby and his exploits including his affair with the Divine Sarah a thorough airing. I've had the painting of Burnaby and his long, long legs as part of my personal computer gallery for years and always think of him in terms of "the strongest man in the British Army". Not many like him about these days - a few but then they were always rara avis. Thanks for the marvellus account. A keeper.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Bendle said...

So glad you enjoyed the piece, Margaret - thanks for the feedback. I'll definitely dig out that Julian Barnes book you recommend

Simon Bendle said...

So glad you enjoyed the piece, Margaret - thanks for the feedback. I will definitely dig out that Julian Barnes book you recommend.

JMAB said...

Margaret - I was very interested to read your comment and went googling to find out more abut the book by Julian Barnes as an affair with Sarah Bernhardt was something I had never heard about and was interested as Davy Burnaby was in Lily Langtry's theatre company and this was a link with the theatre that I had missed! However, although interesting I quickly found it was a fictional account as stated here by Sarah Allen on the website Quote "In the central section, ‘On the Level’, Barnes creates a fictional relationship between two of these balloonists: ‘the divine Sarah’, Sarah Bernhardt, the beautiful and notorious actress, and Fred Burnaby, an awkward cavalryman. It is a slight story, with some pathos and humour, which makes the brutal last section, ‘The loss of depth’, all the more painful." An interesting subject to include in a work of fiction but his real life exploits were fascinating in their own right - and his wife, Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed, who wrote, amongst other books on the subject - "True Tales of Mountain Adventure" in her later name of Mrs Aubrey Le Blond may have been a little less glamorous than the Divine Sarah, but possibly rather braver. She was a mountaineering woman in an age when this was quite a rarity, and she was also among the worlds first three female film makers. She made at least 10 films of alpine activities. Her films were praised by the film pioneer Cecil Hepworth and the writer E. F. Benson.

RML said...

For thopse interested in this larger than life Victorian, in the grounds of St. Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham is a very large obelisk to commemerate him. One side of the obelisk has a portrait of his face complete with facial growth; a second just a plain word -Kiva and on a third just the words Abu Klea.

Anonymous said...

Quoted from above:

"A sense of coming death seemed to be over him ; for
liver troubles and regimental worries were making him feel
very melancholy.

To his old friend, J. Gibson Bowles, he said, " I am very
unhappy. I can't imagine why you care about life. I do
not mean to come back."

Liver ailments can induce severe depression. Years ago, I found a collection
of stories written by physicians describing their own illnesses.

One medical man suffered hepatitis A and was in a ward with other hepatitis sufferers. He realized that his depression was, 'The melancholy of the ancients."

One of the other men in the ward, a missionary, said, "I thought I had lost my faith until my eyes turned yellow."

Colonel Burnaby was clearly someone who craved freedom, stimulation, and who would have been driven to despair at the prospect of becoming disabled, whether by old age or illness.

Perhaps Burnaby received a medical diagnosis that warned him that sand was
running down in the hourglass. Or suffered some accident such as heart pain
or a stroke.

His superiors would have pounced upon any mention of illness to force this
maverick into retirement.

Perhaps Burnaby kept all this to himself, and opted for one more adventure.

Joe said...

One must seek out opportunities to burn their candle brighter; especially so Burnley. Do you realize in Egyptian conflict he used a double barrel shotgun when the fighting was close? My dear one doesn't see such things or individuals such as his calaber.

Simon Bendle said...

Thanks Joe!

Amanda said...

I live in Bedford and, as a WI speaker, give a talk on Fred Burnaby which is much enjoyed. Despite Bedford being his birthplace he has been almost forgotten. The one question I am often asked but cannot answer is what happened to his son. We know his grave is in USA but no further detail. Does anyone know?

Bootlebarth said...

Frank Harris, in My Life and Loves Vol. 2, gives an account of why Burnaby went to the Sudan, where he was killed. According to Harris, who has the reputation of being an unreliable narrator, Burnaby became persona non grata among his military chums as the suspected source of a story about the amorous adventures of a fellow officer.

Harris claims that the now-isolated Burnaby lost the will to live, and was determined not to return alive from the Sudan. All efforts to persuade him otherwise failed.

Whether the Harris version is true is not for me to judge. I offer it in case others find it of interest.