Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Man, the Legend, the Title Banner!

I think it only right and proper to spend just a little time to acknowledge the inspiration for the new ‘28mm Victorian Warfare’ title banner.  I had been planning to spruce up the title for some time and then when I saw Pete Barfield’s wonderful illustration over at ‘Pazerkaput’s Painted Review’ I was finally stirred into action.  I had an inkling as to what I wanted but no fixed image and so the process of racking my brains and trawling around the infoweb began in earnest.  

James Tissot, 1870 Oil on panel

It wasn’t too long before I came across James Tissot’s painting of the then Captain Frederick Burnaby.  An officer of the Royal Horse Guards, Burnaby is said to have been a huge man, nearly six feet four inches tall, and reputed to be the strongest man in the British army; legend has it that he once carried a pony under one arm!  Burnaby was educated amongst other places at Oswestry School in Shropshire, probably about the only thing we have in common.  The School, founded in 1407, has one of its academic houses named after this archetypal Victorian hero and the organ in the school chapel was provided by donations in his memory by fellow pupils and members of the Oswestry School community.  

Burnaby had a penchant for travel and exploration and during 1875 travelled with General Gordon in the Sudan.  That same winter saw him he crossing the Russian Steppes on horseback. An extremely hazardous and dangerous venture which ultimately saw the publication of his first book, 'A Ride to Khiva' bringing him immediate fame. This was closely followed by 'On Horseback Through Asia Minor', detailing his exploits there, which included fighting on behalf of the Turks against the Russians.   In 1882 he became the first balloonist to cross the English Channel solo, resulting in another book 'A Ride Across The Channel And Other Adventures In The Air'.

Burnaby was desperate to see active service and as a result participated in the Suakin campaign of 1884 without official leave, and was wounded at El Teb when acting as an intelligence officer under General Valentine Baker. It is perhaps not surprising to hear that he followed a similar course of action when he heard of the relief expedition up the Nile to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum.  A spear wound to the neck during the vicious hand-to-hand fighting of the Battle of Abu Klea on 17th January 1885 finally put paid to Burnaby’s thrill seeking.  Henry Newbolt's poem "Vitaï Lampada" is often quoted as referring to Burnaby's death during this battle; although it was a Gardner machine gun that jammed not a Gatling.

Here is to Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, March 1842 to January 1885, English soldier, adventurer, novelist, politician and pony wrangler, a true Victorian hero.

Vitaï Lampada

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote —
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red —
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the Regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks —
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind —
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)


  1. What an amazing story, I'm afraid this is the first I've heard of Burnaby, but I'll definitely try and find out more!! How come they've never made a film about this fine fellow??

  2. A real man's man, good history lesson.

  3. I love Tissot painting, an under rated painter, but I love love. Fitting that your header is the fellow.

  4. I agree, sounds like the stuff of a great film!

  5. Very nice title - I like it a lot!!


  6. I thought I'd heard of him before, but it was the reference to his ballooning exploits that made the memory click. He belongs in a Boys' Own Annual or at least as a character from Michael Palin's 'Ripping Yarns'!

  7. Nice picture and nice history lesson thanks for sharing that :oD


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