Sir Richard Francis Burton Collection

Scope and Content

The collection includes some original letters from and to Richard Burton, as well as photographs of Richard and Isabel, and publications about their life and work. Much of the collection, however, consists of research material and display panels created for various exhibitions (DC 16/7). Most, but not all, of the documents relate to Richard's time in Trieste.

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was an explorer, writer, linguist, anthropologist, soldier and diplomat. He was in the army of the East India Company under the command of General Charles James Napier, where he became a proficient speaker in Arabic and other regional languages and expert in the Arabic culture. After his period in the army, he undertook several years of exploration and travels with the Royal Geographical Society, such as expeditions to Mecca and East Africa. In 1861, he married Isabel Arundell and his diplomatic career began; he served as consul to Fernando Po, Santos, Damascus and Trieste, where he died in 1890. Burton wrote a huge variety of books about his explorations and journeys, habits and traditions of other cultures, as well as translations of other works, originally written in Portuguese, Arabic and other languages from India and the Middle East. In 1829 Richard attended the Delafosse school on Richmond Green, and lived with his family in nearby Maids of Honour Row. Richard and Isabel fell in love in 1851, but did not get married until 10 years later because her family disapproved of Richard, partly because he was not Catholic. Eventually they married in secret (see DC16/3/1). They are buried together in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, Mortlake.


The Sir Richard Francis Burton Collection is arranged in seven series:

  • DC16/1 Sir Richard Francis Burton's works, c 1859-1888
  • DC16/2 Publications, 1874-1976
  • DC16/3 Letters from Burton, 1861-1876
  • DC16/4 Letters to Burton, 1863-1877
  • DC16/5 Letters, 1923
  • DC16/6 Photographs and negatives, 1860-1890
  • DC16/7 Exhibition material, 1853-c 1990

Access Information

This collection is open for access and can be viewed at Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library and Archive.
The opening times and address for Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library and Archive can be found online at:
If you would like further information about accessing this collection or have any other queries, please contact Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library and Archive through any of the contact methods listed at:

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed catalogue of this collection can be found online at

Related Material

There are some letters, publications and notes from Richard Burton which are kept in other institutions:

  • Papers of Sir Richard Burton, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (ref: 2667/26)
  • Some correspondence files, travel books, etc., Royal Geographical Society (ref: RFB, RGS/CB)
  • Notes on Sir Richard Burton and his work on The Kama Sutra, British Library: Asian and African Studies (previously Oriental and India Office Library), (ref: Mss Eur F236/188)
  • The publication of "Human sacrifice among the Sephardine" by Sir Richard Burton, London Metropolitan Archives (unknown reference)
  • Letters to Sir Francis Galton (1864-1881), London University: University College London (UCL) Special Collection (unknown reference)
  • Letters to Lord Houghton (1855-1856), Cambridge University: Trinity College Library (ref: 228:11-50)
  • Letters to JJ Fahie (c.1884-1890), Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections (ref: MS Eng misc d 187
  • Correspondence and literary MSS (62 items), 1865-1890, Syracuse University Libraries (ref: NUC MS 66-1956)
  • Correspondence and other papers sent to William Henry Wylde (1861-1876), Durham University Library, Special Collections (ref: WYL)
  • Letters (13) to Sir William Stirling-Maxwell (1864-1876), Glasgow City Archives (ref: T-SK 29.14-26)
  • Some files with papers and correspondence, British Library, Manuscript Collections (reference unknown)
  • Some files with letters and papers from Richard Burton, Huntington Library (reference unknown)


Richmond Local Studies Library holds a large collection of books by, and about, Richard and Isabel Burton. The book collection includes the novel that Richard was reading at the time of his death.