Awesome people

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, January 03, 2011 , , ,

Tory Historian is aware that "awesome" has become one of the most fashionable slang words meaning, roughly speaking, "pretty good". This is rather a pity as the word should be used only when describing people like Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842 - 1885), modestly described by Wikipedia as a "traveller and soldier". And so he was, as well as a superb writer of two classics of travel literature: A Ride to Khiva and On Horseback Through Asia Minor.

His biography (which included unsuccessfully contesting a seat in Birmingham in the Tory-Democrat interest) is one that could not be invented. Only reality can produce so much activity in one person, who also found time to sit for a wonderful portrait by Tissot that is in the National Portrait Gallery. Who could possibly believe that the languid young man stretched out in that portrait could have achieved all that he had? Here is a little more about his literary work.

Thanks to one of Colonel Burnaby's admirers who is also a reader of this blog, Tory Historian has found out about Mrs Burnaby (1860 - 1934) who became later Mrs John Frederick Main and Mrs Aubrey Le Blond. She seems to have been as awesome (in the true sense of the word) as her first husband, becoming a leading mountain climber and the first President of the Ladies Alpine Club. She wrote about her mountain climbing under her different married names and made a number of films of snow sports in the Alps. She is generally considered to be the first woman film-maker.
Le Blond evidently did not think her filmmaking of any great significance as she fails to mention it in her autobiography, perhaps because her life encompassed so many other activities: as well as writing and photographing, she lectured, travelled widely, worked in the Service de Santé Militaire in the First World War, and was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1933.
Tory Historian can only regret that the lady did not turn her attention to British politics. She would undoubtedly have been a Tory like her first husband.


  1. Burnaby's entry from the Dictionary of National Biography.

    Incidentally, I am reading at the same time Burnaby's Travels by Horseback Across Asia Minor, and Andrew Roberts' life of Lord Salisbury. It is interesting to see the two distinct angles on the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1877.

  2. The DONB contains this odd statement: "He was a good disciplinarian and a humorous speaker; his voice was thin and piercing, his features Jewish and Italian, and his un-English appearance led him to resist attempts to procure portraits of him." Except, of course, the brilliant painting by Tissot, which is not mentioned.

  3. Well, he obviously sat for the Tissot. I think there are a few early photographs as well. I wonder what the explanation is for those dark features. Perhaps some family history he didn't want people to speculate about.

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