Journal Volume 3 2000
A Brief Summary of the Life of Colonel Fred Burnaby (continued/2)
It was a sad marriage. Mrs Fred was found to be suffering from lung trouble, of which there was a long history in her mother’s family. That winter they travelled down to North Africa for the warm climate, the train was snowed up in France and by the time they reached their hotel at Algiers she was suffering with a bad attack. She was able to return home to Greystones in May, for the birth of her first and only child, Harry St Vincent Augustus. But the damp spring brought on a further relapse and the doctor ordered her to Switzerland, then the latest cure for consumption. She continued to live there for some years, and became a familiar figure among the English who were beginning to take up winter sports. Her unfortunate complaint did not prevent her from skating, skiing and scaling mountains with the best of them. She herself did much to popularise the Alps, being the author of a number of enthusiastic descriptive works – The High Alps in Winter, My Home in the Alps, Hints on Snow Photography – and a novel entitled The Story of an Alpine Winter.
Master Harry St Vincent Augustus was left in the care of his maternal grandmother, and Fred was left all alone in his bachelor chambers in Charles Street, London. He continued however, to interest himself in politics, and on 23 July 1884, at the annual conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations, was elected third on the list of the council.
He was now approaching the period of compulsory retirement form the army. He was suffering severely with heart and lung disease. In 1882 he was much disappointed that he did not receive the command of the detachment of the Blues which went to Egypt. However, on 10 Jan. 1884, he started without leave for Egypt as a volunteer, joined General Baker at Suakim, and commanded a detachment at Trinkitat. He served also with the intelligence department under General Graham, and on 21 February was wounded at El Teb, where he engaged in so much activity, "clearing out a stone building with his double-barrelled shot-gun" as to provoke an indignant criticism in the House of Commons. For this service the Khedive of Egypt gave him the Soudan [Sudan] medal and clasp and the Khedivial star.
He was very anxious to join the Khartoum relief expedition to rescue General Gordon, having decided, in case no expedition had gone out, to penetrate to Khartoum himself; but, knowing that if his plan became known, he would be forbidden by headquarters to go, he indicated that he was going to Bechuanaland, and with great secrecy and despatch made his way to Korti on the Nile, which he reached on 9 Jan. 1885. He was sent up in charge of a convoy to Gadkul, and joined the intelligence department.
On the 17th, at Abu Klea, he was in command of the left rear of the square, performing a brigadier-general’s duty, and while rallying he men he was killed by a spear-wound in the throat. It was said, but perhaps without foundation, that he was the cause of the great hazard in which at one time the square was placed, by incautiously and impetuously calling on the "heavies" to charge. It was also said that Sir Herbert Stewart named him as first in command in the event of his own death, but this has not been confirmed.
Besides his travels Burnaby published a lecture on "Practical Instruction of Staff Offices in Foreign Armies", delivered on 8 July 1872, and was keenly interested in the development of military ballooning. He had made nineteen balloon ascents, often alone, and was a member of the council of the Aeronautical Society. His first ascent was with M. Godard in a Montgolfier balloon of novel form, which burst in mid air, but acting as a parachute fortunately broke his ascent; and prompted by the failure of Wright, the aeronaut, he attempted, on 23 March 1882, to cross the Channel alone in the balloon Eclipse from Dover, and succeeded after considerable perils and an ascent to the height of 10,000 feet. He landed at the Chateau de Montigny, Envermeu, Normandy. He published an account of this under the title ‘A Ride across the Channel’.
He was lord of the manor of Somerby, Leicestershire. A window to his memory has been placed in St. Mary’s Church, Bedford, and an obelisk with a medallion portrait in St. Philip’s churchyard, Birmingham.
Dictionary of National Biography
The True Blue – The Life and Adventures of Col. Fred Burnaby 1842/8 Michael Alexander
On Horseback through Asia Minor by Fred Burnaby