Richard Burton
- Favourite Briton.

Born in Torquay, Devon
Born on 19th of March 1821
Died in 1900

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'A man that hoards up riches an'... More

The great explorer, author, orientalist and linguist Sir Richard Burton was born in Torquay on March 19 1821. His life was full of adventure and incident, invariably attracting controversy not least because of his candid writings on sexuality. Burton spoke over 25 languages fluently and is most famous for his translations of The Arabian Nights and The Kama Sutra.

In 1840 he enrolled at Trinity College Oxford, but was expelled two years later. He then enlisted in the army in his words: “To be shot at for six pence a day”. Posted to the Bombay Native Infantry he worked undercover to investigate homosexual brothels in Karachi, and his rather too explicit report did not help his army career.

In 1853 he became the first European to visit Mecca, a dangerous journey during which he disguised himself and used his mastery of language and knowledge of Muslim culture to avoid detection. His next exploit was to try and discover the source of the Nile. His two expeditions to Africa in 1855 and 1857 were arduous and dangerous undertakings - in the first Burton was impaled by a javelin. But on the second attempt, after an intervening spell serving in the Crimean war, Burton with his fellow explorer John Speke in 1858 reached Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. Speke pushed on to discover the source of the Nile although Burton erroneously disputed his findings.

Burton became a foreign office diplomat, posted as consul to the Spanish colony of Fernando Po off the West African coast, a posting that gave him chance to observe and some think participate in various tribal rituals. Time in Brazil and Damascus followed this, end finally Trieste.

His literary fame is based on several strands of study: he wrote many travelogues; he translated brilliantly from original classical texts – Greek and Latin, and rather less conventionally Arabic, with his celebrated version of the Arabian Nights in 1883; and he was an avid collector of erotica, rendering too the Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden into English, much to the chagrin of the Victorian establishment. In spite of his independent nature he was knighted in 1886. Burton died in Trieste four years later, his remains returned to England to be buried in a fittingly ornate tomb in Mortlake, Surrey.

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He was one of those men who possess almost every gift, except the gift of the power to use them. - Charles Kingsley
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