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Sir Richard Burton

Sir Richard Burton

Explorer and word inventor

Captain Sir Richard Burton was a pioneer explorer in Africa. He's also the man who introduced the word pyjamas and translated the Kama Sutra.

Where do you start, when it comes to discussing the life of Captain Sir Richard Burton (no, not the actor from Wales).

This particular Richard Burton (1821-1890) was born in Torquay, and to say he got around is an understatement.

Capt Burton was brave to the point of stupidity almost, and he got to places other explorers failed to reach.

He was an explorer, adventurer, linguist, anthropological investigator, author, scholar - and an inventor of words. For example, he introduced the words pyjamas and safari to the English language.

The son of an army colonel, he was expelled from Oxford University in 1842.

Bananas in Pyjamas

Sir Richard introduced the word pyjamas

He was an officer of the East India Company and a member of the British foreign service. Among his claims to fame are that he discovered, translated and published the Kama Sutra. He also translated the Arabian Nights.

During his travels, Burton also co-discovered Lake Tanganyika in Africa - and he was also a pioneer in other parts of Africa, too.

Burton thrived on danger, and entered territory where there was plenty of it - including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

He even managed to get in and out of the forbidden East African city of Harar - where outsiders were not welcome and white men were banned.

To ensure safe passage in the more dangerous parts of the world, he became a master of disguise - dressing up like the locals. He also became fluent in dozens of languages.

While trying to discover the source of the Nile, Burton and his party were attacked - and the explorer was hit in the face by a spear. The attack left him scarred for life.

Illness denied him the honour of discovering the source of the Nile - but be paved the way for his one-time companion, John Hanning Speke, and Captain James Augustus Grant to do so in 1863.

Richard Burton was knighted for his daring exploits by Queen Victoria four years before his death. In his final years, he wrote his memoirs while living in Italy. He died in Trieste in 1890.

Captain Burton is one of several famous explorers who were born in Devon. Others are Sir Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, Percy Harrison Fawcett and Captain Robert Scott - all are featured in this series.

last updated: 30/01/2008 at 11:35
created: 30/01/2008

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