Fred. Volume 1: 1842-1878

The Collected Letters and Speeches of Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby

Date Published :
November 2013
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Editor :
John W. Hawkins
Illustration :
22 b/w illustrations, 7 maps, 2 tables
Format Available    QuantityPrice
ISBN : 9781909384514
Pages : 416
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
In stock


Colonel Fred Burnaby of the Blues, six feet four inches tall and with a riding weight of over twenty stone, was one of the most recognizable soldier/adventurers of the late Victorian period. As a young officer, he became famous as an athlete, gymnast, swordsman and pugilist, reputed to be the strongest man in the British army. In working his way to the command of the Blues, the country's most prestigious cavalry regiment, he made some notable friends and not a few enemies. He also found time for numerous journeys involving considerable hardship. He was a brilliant modern linguist and spoke seven languages fluently. Born into the landed gentry, he increased his financial independence by marrying a young heiress, who produced an heir and promptly decamped to climb mountains in Switzerland. In 1882 he became the first person to make a solo balloon crossing of the English Channel. As his army career approached its close, he stood unsuccessfully for Birmingham as a Conservative. His regimental seniority at the time of the Egyptian Campaign of 1882 precluded him joining the newly formed Camel Corps, but he was determined not to leave the army without facing action. In 1884, he traveled to Egypt and participated in both battles of El Teb. Returning to England with his arm in a sling, his popularity with the public became greater than ever. This was not echoed at the War Office, where he was increasingly regarded as a loose cannon. On the Gordon Relief Expedition of 1884, he was denied attachment to the staff of his hero, General Wolseley, but traveled to Egypt anyway and eventually found himself second in command on the desert march to Metemmeh. He never arrived, killed by a spear through the throat in hand-to-hand fighting at the battle of Abu Klea. Even his death was controversial, with songs in his memory being sung in the music halls at the same time as his fellow officers criticized orders he had given during the battle.

Two of Burnaby's books have barely been out or print since they were first published, but his other works are much more difficult to find. His biographers have often included excerpts from his letters and speeches in their works, but none comprehensively. This is intended to provide both. It also includes a new biography of Burnaby, the first to have been written for almost sixty years. Volume 1 covers his early life, including his journeys to Spain as a special correspondent during the Third Carlist War, Khartoum, Khiva and Asia Minor and his place at the side of Baker Pasha at the battle of Tashkessan in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78. Volume 2 will cover his political career and his participation in the Egyptian Campaigns of 1883/4 and 1884/5, culminating in his death.


"Not only is it already the definitive work on the great man, but for many it will be a great introduction to the incredible events he lived through leading, I am sure, to re-assessment of all sorts of chapters and characters in his life. Roll on volume 2!”

- Martyn Downer, author of Nelson’s Purse and Queen’s Knight, December 2013

"He has tracked down an impressive amount of material, including a short fragment of a letter from Disraeli, who wrote in 1877 to tell Burnaby that "I am reading your book with much interest, and I think everybody will do the same”. That goes for this book too, which brings us a vivid account of an extraordinary Victorian in his own words.”

- Lord Lexden in The House, the weekly magazine of the Houses Of Parliament, February 2014

"Fred is informative, readable, and a treat in store for all who are interested in Burnaby and the wider Victorian world. We look forward to Dr Hawkins' second volume. Presumably the two volumes will be the definitive ‘Burnaby' for years to come.”

- Soldiers of the Queen (Journal of the Victorian Military Society), February 2014

here we have part one of what I believe will be the definitive work on Colonel Burnaby

- Guards Magazine , February 2014

"Hawkins' book is a welcome addition to Victorian historiography. Not only does Fred come alive through the astonishing collection of sources, but we are left in no doubt that he has been terribly overlooked. We encounter a man who was far more than just a soldier, traveller and controversialist. Hawkins reveals Burnaby to be nothing if not complex - he used his pen to both record the number he had killed in Sudan in a ‘game book', and craft riveting and colourful memoirs about his expeditions. Burnaby was an exceptionally well-connected man whose life that bled into the wider themes of the age.  In Hawkins, Burnaby has found an historian to do him justice. I look forward to Volume 2.”

- History Vault , March 2014

" … the publisher should be congratulated for undertaking such an ambitious project. This excellent, well-edited volume opens a window and provides a glimpse into the life and times of a well-known and courageous nineteenth-century British Army officer and adventurer. Fred Burnaby and his legacy live on through his own interesting and entertaining letters, speeches, and other writings.”

- Journal of Military History, November 2014

These two volumes succeed hugely as a biography of a figure renowned in his time … the rigor of the research and the presentation provide something much wider; a work of insight into the social workings of the Victorian Army. It is unlikely to be surpassed. The volumes themselves are also a delight to hold as produced books, sustaining Helion's record for a quality product in every sense.”

- Society of Friends of the National Army Museum Book Review Supplement, April 2015

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