- Burton, Captain Sir Richard Francis
- (1821–1890)British soldier, explorer, master linguist, and diplomat, Sir Richard Burton was best known for his dispute with John Hanning Speke about the source of the Nile River. While serving in the Indian Army, Burton became an expert in local languages, customs, and political affairs, skills that led to his assignment as an intelligence officer. After his military career ended in a cloud of scandal over his explicit report on the brothels of Karachi, Burton returned to Europe and began writing the first in a series of books and articles about Indian customs, religion, and his own adventures.Burton’s career as an explorer began with an 1853 visit to Mecca and Medina disguised as an Afghan Muslim, a ploy that enabled him to write a highly detailed and accurate description of contemporary Muslim life and culture. Later that same year, he became the first European to visit the east African city of Harar and began planning an expedition to find the source of the Nile river by traveling overland through Somalia. His first Nile expedition, which included John Hanning Speke, ended in disaster when his party was attacked by Somali tribesmen. After recuperating from their wounds and serving in the Crimean War, Burton and Speke returned to Africa in 1857 and spent two years marching inland in search of the Nile. Their quarrel over Speke’s claims to have discovered the source of the Nile while on a solo side trip began immediately after their return to Britain in 1860 and lasted until Speke’s death four years later.Shortly after his 1860 marriage, Burton began a diplomatic career that was to last for the remainder of his life. His postings, which included Fernando Po, Rio de Janeiro, Damascus, and Trieste, enabled him to continue indulging in his twin passions of travel and publication of translations, erotica, and travelogues. Burton’s health began to decline shortly after receipt of his 1886 knighthood for service to the crown. On his death, his devoutly Catholic wife burned the bulk of his papers to protect his reputation.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Brodie, Fawn. The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967;Carnochan, W. B. The Sad Story of Burton, Speke and the Nile, or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005;Jutzi, Alan H. In Search of Richard Burton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993;Rice, Edward. Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1990.KENNETH J. OROSZ
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.