FREDERICK GUSTAVUS BURNABY
Frederick Gustavus Burnaby was born 3rd March 1842 at Bedford, the son
of the Rev. Gustavus Andrew Burnaby of Somersby Hall, Leicestershire,
and canon of Middleham in Yorkshire and his wife Harriet, sister of Mr.
Henry Villebois of Marham House, Norfolk. He was educated at Harrow
and Oswestry School and in Germany. He entered the Royal Horse Guards
in 1859 as a cornet, in which regiment a lieutenant in 1861, a captain in
1866, a major and lieutenant-colonel (in the Army) in 1880 and a
lieutenant-colonel (in his Regiment) in 1881. At the time of his death
he was in command of the Regiment. 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 as
correspondent of The Times, where he was in the thick of at least one
battle, 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
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 travelers. His accomplishment of this arduous and
dangerous trek, in the winter of 1875-1876, described in his book A
Ride to Khiva, brought him immediate and widespread 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 traveling agent to the
Stafford House (Red Cross) Committee, but had to return to England
before the campaign was over. At this point began his active interest in
politics, and in 1880 he unsuccessfully contested a seat at Birmingham in
the Tory-Democrat interest. At the time of his death, he and Lord
Randolph Churchill were the recognized candidates in the Conservative
interest for that borough.
In 1882, he crossed the English Channel alone in the
Eclipse hot air balloon, ascending at Dover and after a
perilous voyage descending at Envermeau, France,
becoming the first balloonist to cross the channel. 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
severely wounded at El Teb and mentioned in despatches
and received the Khedive’s Star 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 on the 17th of
January, 1885, where he was killed by a spear thrust.
Following the news of his death, a debate followed in
the House of Commons with several indignant members
demanding to know why a non-combatant was involved
in the battle.
The Times of the 8th May, 1885 noted that Colonel
Burnaby left a personal estate amounting to £17,000 to
his widow, Elizabeth Alice Frances Hawkins Burnaby. A
marble memorial was erected by HRH the Prince of
Wales, Colonel Milne-Home and the officers of the
Royal Horse Guards in Holy Trinity Church, Windsor
(reported in the Times 18th December 1885).
A memorial window was also placed in the Bedford Church
of St. Peter de Merton with St. Cuthbert which was
financed by public subscription.
The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait of Burnaby
painted by James Tissot in 1870.