A Tent for Sir Richard Burton’s Tomb

by MSO
Mausoleum of Sir Richard Burton made from sandstone in the shape of a tent

Sir Richard Burton and his wife Lady Isabel rest for eternity in their mausoleum built to resemble a middle eastern tent.

Sir Richard Burton began his travels as a young boy as he travelled with his parents, his father was a British army officer, to posts in Asia and Africa. It was then that he began mastering different languages – at his death he was fluent in 25 different languages , 40 if you counted distinct dialects.

In 1853, at the age of 21 he joined the army of the East India Company. In 1853 he began work for the Royal Geographical Society and began exploring east Africa hoping to find the source of the Nile River. He ended his career working for the British Foreign Office travelling to Brazil, West Africa, Syria and finally Trieste, Italy.

During breaks in exploration and his work in the foreign service, Burton wrote many books on his travels and detailed historical and cultural backgrounds of the people who lived in the different regions he visited. He also translated classical and Renaissance literature and had a particular interest in erotica – his translation brought the ‘Kama Sutra’ to English bookshelves and bedsides.

A photo of Sir Richard Burton sitting and reading a book.

Sir Richard Burton was a Victorian explorer, translator and writer.

He died on October 20, 1890 at the age of 69 years. The tomb was built according to the instructions Sir Richard had given his wife Isabel shortly before his death. He wanted to “lie side by side in a tent” with his wife for eternity. The design of the tent was modelled on the one that Sir Richard and Lady Isobel had made for them on one of their trips to Syria. The sandstone walls with a floor of Carrara marble were carved to resemble the cloth of a tent fluttering in a breeze. Sir Richard apparently disliked the dark so there was a window at the back of the mausoleum. Though he had already had 3 funerals in Trieste, Italy where he died of a heart attack Lady Burton wanted to hold a funeral for him in England. UponĀ  her return home, she asked the public for help in raising enough money to pay for the mausoleum. Almost 700 British Pounds was raised (the equivalent of about $70,000 today).

Sir Richard’s English funeral was held on June 15, 1891 and he was laid to rest in the tomb which was built in the graveyard at St. Mary Magdalen’s Church in Mortlake which is in southwest London, England. An altar was built inside the tomb adorned with icons, vases and other religious symbols of both the Christian and Islamic faiths. Sir Richard rests on the left, his wife,Lady Burton, who died on March 22, 1896, on the right. Above their coffins, chains of camel bells are strung but no longer moving in the stillness of the tomb.

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