Great Bedfordians: New biography of swashbuckling Col Frederick Burnaby

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Great Bedfordian: Colonel Frederick Burnaby by David Litchfield (by kind permission of the Higgins Bedford)

One of the country’s most remarkable Victorian adventurers has been brought back to life in a thrilling new biography.

Tales of swashbuckling courage made Colonel Frederick Burnaby a household name during the late 19th century.

Not only was Burnaby the hero of many military conflicts, but he also mastered ballooning, learned seven languages, published several books, and helped reform the Tory party.

It is also rumoured that when officers of the Household Cavalry shut two small ponies in his bedroom for a joke, Colonel Frederick Burnaby, a hero of the regiment and standing at 6′ 4″, carried them downstairs from his room, one under each arm.

An illustration of Colonel Burnaby, with a pony under his arm, is displayed in the Great Bedfordians gallery of the Higgins Bedford. The image, by David Litchfield, was originally commissioned by The Bedford Clanger in July 2016.

Although memorials to the golden boy of imperialist Britain can be found in Windsor, Birmingham, and his hometown of Bedford, retired teacher Tim Machin is making sure the full thrilling story of Burnaby is not forgotten.

Tim, who himself is a celebrated academic, has just published Colonel Frederick Burnaby 1842-85, A Great Victorian Eccentric to critical acclaim.

The idea for researching and writing the biography came from Tim’s days as Boarding Housemaster of the house named after Burnaby at Bedford School.

He explained: “I was needing a project when I retired.

“Frederick Burnaby only lived 42 years, but in that space of time he achieved a great deal.

“He was a soldier in the Blues – killed in the Sudan fighting against the Mahdi – he was an author, and his two main books are still in print.

“He was the first man to balloon to France solo, he was a war correspondent for The Times, spoke seven languages, and was an important influence in the modernising of the Tory party.”

Since the publication of Colonel Frederick Burnaby 1842-85, A Great Victorian Eccentric it has reached number three in Amazon’s biography charts.

Tim’s latest book has also earned rave reviews, described as being ‘packed with incident and adventure’ and ‘a canter through late Victorian Britain on the shoulders of … a truly fearless and heroic figure’.

Following Burnaby’s death in 1885 there was a 5,000-word obituary to him published in The Times amidst wide public grief.

An obelisk in the grounds of St Philips Cathedral in Birmingham, paid for by public subscription, was erected to commemorate his life.

Tim, who was granted an Open Scholarship to read Modern History at Oxford when he was only 17, has delved beneath the acts of bravery in his authoritative and hugely enjoyable biography.

The 73-year-old grandfather added: “A friend of Burnaby said that he knew no other man who was so devoid of fear.

“He couldn’t resist a challenge as the book shows.

“He bordered onto to controversy and in many ways, he was unorthodox – above all he was optimistic that he could overcome any problems he faced.”

Tim has previously published well-received historical books, Coward’s War and From Bedford to the Somme.

For more details, visit Amazon and search for Tim Machin, where the paperback and Kindle formats of Colonel Frederick Burnaby 1842-85, A Great Victoria Eccentric are both available.

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