Photo of the Day

Vanity Fair caricature, 2 December 1876. Lieut-Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, unsuccessfully stood for Parliament as a Tory in 1880, crossed the Channel on a solo balloon flight two years later, and helped to found the Primrose League, a Conservative group in 1883. Disappointed not to be sent to Egypt in command of his regiment in 1884, Burnaby joined the forces independently and was wounded at the second battle of El Teb. This did not deter him from a similar course when a fresh expedition started up the Nile as part of the British Desert Column on a mission to go to the aid of General Gordon at Khartoum.

Colonel Frederick Burnaby

Traveller, man of letters, adventurer, soldier, almost politician, national hero and adopted Brummie!

“I have, unfortunately for my own interests, from my earlier childhood had what my old nurse used to call a most ?contradictorious? spirit?

– Fred Burnaby

If you think that celebrity is a modern notion. It?s not! Lieut-Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, to give him his full name and title was in every way the biggest celebrity of his day. A larger than life character who was known by many across the country. No mean feat considering the lack of modern communication methods.

Afghanistan is in turmoil. The Russians are waiting in the wings. British officers in local dress spy out the battle-scarred landscape, while violence threatens on the border.

Sounds familiar? But this isn’t 2017. It is 1839, and Captain Fred Burnaby is on ‘shooting leave’. Shooting leave was what British Army officers and diplomats abroad were awarded to give them a break from their mundane duties far from home. It was a chance to relax for a few weeks and fire double-barrelled volleys at every game bird and wild animal that came into their sights.

The more promising young officers were encouraged to travel and make contact with local chiefs, picking up whatever useful gossip might come their way.

So-called ‘shooting leaves’ were pretexts for perilous spying missions, sometimes in literally uncharted territory.

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Photo of the Day

Gertrude Bell, third from left, was flanked by Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence on a visit to the Pyramids in 1921. Credit The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.

‘Queen of the Desert’

Gertrude Bell Scaled the Alps, Mapped Arabia, and Midwifed the Modern Middle East

In a picture taken to mark the Cairo Conference of 1921,?Gertrude Bell?- characteristically elegant in a fur stole and floppy hat, despite being on camel back – sits right at the heart of the action. To one side is Winston Churchill, on her other TE Lawrence.

Bell was his equal in every sense: the first woman to achieve a first (in modern history) from Oxford, an archaeologist, linguist, Arabist, adventurer and, possibly, spy. In her day, she was arguably the most powerful woman in the British Empire?- central to the decisions that created the modern Middle East and reverberate still on the nightly news.

Yet while Lawrence is still celebrated, she has largely been forgotten.

Newspaper articles of the time show she was known all over the world. The minutes of the Cairo Conference record her presence at every key discussion but not one of the men mentions her in their memoirs. It?s as if she never existed

How to chart the life of an Englishwoman ? an explorer, spy, Mountaineer, translator, and archaeologist ? who?s been all but written out of colonial Middle Eastern history? Luckily Gertrude Bell was a prolific letter writer? and ?early photography enthusiast and? she left behind some 1,600 letters and over 7,000 photographs.?It was an interest in archaeology that helped propel Bell?s many trips into the desert, beginning in 1900 to Palmyra. She nurtured the ambition of being the first to discover and document a site. Early in her travels, she recognised the importance of photographic documentation, along with notes, drawings, rubbings and casts. Bell was a complex, fascinating woman who was pivotal in the tangled history of the modern state of Iraq.

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Photo of the Day

In his later years, most documented sightings of the Leatherman would reference the growth on his lip (seen here), which turned out to be cancerous. Photo: Courtesy Westchester Historical Society

The Legendary Leatherman

If you lived in Westchester County in southern New York, or in western Connecticut during the later half of the 19th century, you might know who this mysterious man is. He was a hulking figure that would amble through towns, walking with the aid of a stick and a few worldly possessions, and all dressed in a strange patchwork outfit of leather scraps. He was known only as the Leatherman.

He was a man that was difficult to miss and his arrival was always anticipated by many townsfolk. Various towns and villages constructed along the Hudson and Connecticut rivers could almost set their clocks with his impending arrival approximately every 34 days or so. Whenever he appeared he would stroll through the town, relying heavily on his walking stick. Other than that, he had very little in the way of personal possessions, but was always dressed in the same style all of his own.

Who was this man? Nobody knew. He was only ever referred to by his rather unique appearance. His entire outfit consisted of scraps of leather that had been stitched together by hand. He came to be known simply as Leatherman.

This curious vagabond was actually quite the beloved figure in the small towns that dotted the countryside between the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers, even though his description is a little alarming.

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Photo Of The Day

Photo: Rogues Gallery. Cheer up you boring chicken livers, it?s only a Bear?

Photo: Rogues Gallery.
Cheer up you boring chicken livers, it?s only a Bear?

John ?Mad Jack? Mytton

?The Epic Story Of An English Eccentric

Jack Mytton is probably Britain?s greatest all round Bon Viveur, Country Squire, Traveller, Thrill Seeker, Sportsman, Soldier, Huntsman, Houndsman, Race Horse Owner, Gambler, Highwayman, Philanthropist, Boxer, Bear Rider, Politician, and Practical Joker.

It is fairly safe to say Mytton did nothing useful in his life but to enjoy it and seek to amuse others.

In general mental healthcare was rudimentary in the 19th?century, for the poor, it was either begging or being put into some horrific facility like Bedlam. These asylums were where a person would in essence be incarcerated to be kept out of the way of ?decent people?. If however you were wealthy, wildly inappropriate behaviour was shrugged off as ?quirks.? Mytton was the very pinnacle of this type of insane, I mean eccentric, aristocrat. The signs were there pretty early on. He went to the exclusive Westminster School, but was expelled after one year for fighting a master, on school grounds. He was then sent to the equally prestigious Harrow School, but lasted only 3 terms before expulsion. It was then decided it was safest to have him schooled by tutors, but he tormented them with practical jokes that included leaving a horse in one tutor?s bedroom.

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