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Series Two: Imperial Adventurers and Explorers

Part 1: Papers of Richard Burton (1821-1890) from the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office

This second series of Colonial Discourses looks at the role played by imperial adventurers and explorers in defining Masculinity and Empire. We start with the papers of Richard Burton (1821-1890), soldier, explorer, erotologist, swordsman, author, linguist and diplomat.

His papers, in the Arundel Collection at the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, have only recently been drawn to the attention of scholars. There are seven boxes of material in total, covering all aspects of Burton’s life and work. They include:

  • An African Scrapbook, 1856-1864, describing his Nile expeditions;
  • Important surviving sections of Burton's notebooks and sketchbooks;
  • A scrapbook on Arabia, Egypt, India, Trieste, Spiritualism and Vivisection compiled by Isabel Burton;
  • Much good material on Burton's consular activities in Damascus, 1870-1871;
  • A fine series of letters to Burton from Edward Freeman detailing affairs in the Balkans, an affray in Nazareth and the Midian Expedition;
  • Letters describing his mining interests on the Gold Coast;
  • Isabel Burton's manuscript of Iracema;
  • Details of the Burtons’ financial circumstances and material relating to her will and the destruction of many of the manuscripts;
  • Publishing correspondence regarding the Arabian Nights and The History of the Sword;
  • Burtons' own copies of First Footsteps in East Africa, Lusiadas, and The Kasidah.
  • There are also a large number of photographs.

This material helps us to understand the public impression and reception of Burton and to see how he was woven into the fabric of heroic imperialism despite his best efforts to upset the system and to preserve local culture. They highlight both the political value of African Exploration and the personal forces that drove Burton.


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