3808 - Sir Richard F. Burton and His Quest for El Dorado

During the nineteenth century Britain enjoyed an unprecedented increase in its access to the rest of the world. Its empire was rapidly expanding, and at a time when other great world empires such as that of Spain were collapsing or weakening; its economic and industrial power was unmatched; its military and merchant fleets were without rival; its intrepid explorers were filling in the blank spots on the map, opening new areas to exploitation. That provided Britain with unequaled access, directly or indirectly, to a large proportion of the world’s resources, including its mineral wealth. There the nation held a particular advantage with its long experience in mining, scientific and industrial innovation, industrial applications, sources of financing, and its shipping, marketing, and distribution capabilities. Lured by prospects of bonanzas, many British individuals and associations took to the field. Some found wealth beyond their wildest dreams, but most experienced only disappointment, disillusionment, and loss after fruitless quests. From the historian’s standpoint, however, the experiences of the latter group are often at least as interesting and sometimes even more informative than the former.  

As a case study, this paper examines the mining exploits of one of the most famous of Victorians, Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-90), who repeatedly used his expertise as an explorer and his entrees as a consul in the diplomatic service to seek mineral wealth over several decades and in many different parts of the world ranging from Brazil to Iceland to Eastern and Western Africa and into Arabia. While riches always eluded him, Burton’s failed mining ventures resulted in a remarkable series of books that describe his mineralogical endeavors in vivid detail, for he was a prolific writer as well as adventurer. In fact, it was only toward the end of his life with the publication of his highly successful translation of the Arabian Nights (which abounds with tales of treasures lost and found) that Burton finally discovered that his fortune lay not in some distant mine but in the inkwell that had always been close at hand.        

Palavras-chaves: Burton, Brazil, Mining, El Dorado

Autores: Thompson, Jason (Bates College, Ud States of Am / USA)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575