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BURTON, Sir Richard (1821-1890)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 RFB
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: BURTON, Sir Richard (1821-1890)
Date(s): 1852-1880
Level of description: Collection level
Extent: 1 box and three files
Name of creator(s): Burton | Sir | Richard Francis | 1821-1890 | Knight | explorer and diplomat


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Richard Francis Burton was born 19 March 1821; he matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford in 1840. Colonel Burton purchased a commission for Burton in the Bombay army and he arrived in India in October 1842, serving as a staff interpreter, surveyor, and intelligence officer as well as carrying out infantry duties. Burton demonstrated proficiency in the East India Company's language examinations and during his life mastered more than forty languages and dialects. Burton also mastered cultures, enabling him to 'pass among native peoples in disguise'. Following a bout of cholera Burton returned to England and began to write, publishing dozens of books.

In 1852 Burton proposed to the Royal Geographical Society that he make the hajj, or pilgrimage, to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Forbidden to non-Muslims, Burton intended to make the pilgrimage in complete disguise as a Muslim native of the Middle East. With the RGS's support, Burton set off in 1854, taking notes and A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, 1855-1856 became a classic piece of travel literature. Following this on 29 October 1854, disguised as a Turkish merchant, Burton began an expedition to Harar, an area no European had ever entered. On his return to England Burton was awarded the RGS's gold medal. Burton continued to travel to places including Damascus and North America and to write and died 20 October 1890.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1852-1880, comprise 'Proposed Somali expedition' 1855; Field notebook, east coast to Ujiji, 1858; Observations made at Ujiji, 1858; 'The Ukara or Ukerewe Lake', 1872; Log book containing entries made at Santos, Brazil, March to October 1868 and RGS Correspondence files: 61 letters written to the Society by Burton,1852-1880.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged as in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

Accessible via The Foyle Reading Room. Free of charge for Fellows, Members and those with valid academic identification. All other users pay a charge and must bring identification in order to register on arrival.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying at Archivist's discretion, and subject to completion of 'application for copies' form. No reproduction or publication without permission of the RGS-IBG Archivist.

Finding aids:

A detailed catalogue can be found online at Access to Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:


Allied Materials

Related material:

JMS/9/176, RGS/CB4/292 and RGS/CB6/350 .

Related material can be found at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre; Huntington Library; British Library Manuscript Collections; Syracuse University Libraries; Harvard University: Houghton Library; Orleans House Gallery, Richmond Local Studies Library; Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts; London University: University College London (UCL) Special Collections; Cambridge University: Trinity College Library; and Glasgow City Archives.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online.
Prepared by Archives Volunteer using existing finding aids and edited by Samantha Velumyl, AIM25 cataloguer.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
7th June, 2001 and modified May 2008.

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