Burton: Exploring Without Boundaries

This fascinating man deserves to be remembered, if only to illustrate how rich and full a life can be when lived without boundaries

Mary Lovell

Environment Trust is raising funds for the conservation of Sir Richard and Lady Isabel Burton's mausoleum at St Mary Magdalen's Roman Catholic Church, Mortlake, a fascinating structure designed to resemble the tent that the Burtons had made for their travels across the desert in Syria.

Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) was a famed Victorian explorer, author and linguist, whose accomplishments include leading an expedition to find the source of the River Nile and mastering over twenty languages, from Marathi to Arabic!


To coincide with the bicentenary of his birth in March 2021, the Trust is working to reopen the mausoleum after it was sealed from the public almost fifty years ago.

Inside is a collection of lamps from Syria. Camel bells have been strung from the ceiling and would have jangled when the door was opened. We wish to reconnect them to the early battery pack above the door, so that they can tinkle again.

Burton was said to tell Isabel, 'I should like us both to be in a tent, side by side' and so in the words of Father McKenna of St Mary Magdalen's Roman Catholic Church 'the mausoleum where Sir Richard and Lady Isabel Burton lie entombed is a fitting tribute, not only to the heritage of the famous explorer and his devoted wife, but also to the faith she had in their future afterlife together.

The famous Bedouin tent-shape reminds me of another one-time resident of Damascus, St Paul. Not only was St Paul a tent-maker by trade, he likened our bodies to the impermanent, perishable nature of a tent, knowing that the Heavenly Father calls each one of us to the permanent, 'imperishable' nature of life eternal. Just as Lady Isabel liked to hear the camel bells tell our as she entered her husband's tomb before she came to lie there herself, it is not a camel bell that will toll, but "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, ... the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raising imperishable, and we will be changed."'

We want to make sure that Sir Richard Burton will continue to inspire curiosity about the world around us and we need your help. Please donate to our appeal to ensure that the mausoleum of one of Britain's greatest explorers continues to 'illustrate how rich and full a life can be when lived without boundaries'.

Learn more about Sir Richard Burton and our wider project to celebrate his many achievements.