Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) was a renowned Victorian explorer and prolific author. He and his wife Isabella (neé Arundell) are buried in a large stone mausoleum built to look like an Arab tent in St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, 61 Worple Way, Mortlake, SW14 8PR.

Burton was a remarkable traveler and explorer, linguist, poet, soldier, diplomat, prolific author and translator of major works of Arab literature including; The Kama Sutra, The Arabian Nights and The Perfumed Garden.  After an early career serving in the Army in India (1842-1853) and later fighting in the Crimean War (1855-1856), he travelled to Mecca as well as to Africa and the Americas under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society.  Between 1856-1860, he journeyed to the great lakes of central Africa in search of the source of the river Nile.  Co-founder of the Anthropological Society of London in 1863 and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he was appointed a KCMG (Knights Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George) in 1886. 

The Tomb

The tent is created from thick slabs of York Stone from the Forest of Dean, with surfaces finished to simulate the irregularities of the canvas of a tent, originally lime-washed to achieve an even closer match.  The stone door at the front of the tent was originally hinged but is now sealed shut.  Within the tent the floor is paved in Carrara marble (Tuscany, Italy) with black marble inserts and the underside of the roof is painted to represent the heavens.  At one end there is a marble altar and tabernacle with candles along with a number of the explorer’s possessions including; dried flowers, hanging lamps and camel bells.

Conservation

The mausoleum, built in 1890, is a Grade II* listed building and it is of great importance both for its association with Burton and for its fusion of Christian and Muslim symbols, funerary art and artefacts.  Despite its significance, by 2007 the mausoleum was in very poor condition and was listed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register. 

The Environment Trust in collaboration with Friends of Burton raised funds to restore both the interior and exterior of this magnificent building.  Grants were provided by English Heritage, the Heritage of London Trust, and private donors to undertake restoration work which was completed in 2010.   The Environment Trust has a 10 year responsibility to ensure that the tomb is well maintained.

Orleans House Collection

Following the £3.8 million development project Transforming Orleans House, there is now a new Study Gallery at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham showcasing nearly 100 works from the Richmond Borough Art Collection. This includes the Burton collection of paintings, photographs and objects donated to the nation by his widow Isabel, as well as some later acquisitions donated by author Mary Lovell. These are displayed in specially designed pull-out drawers and cupboards and are on permanent public display. Orleans House Gallery is open Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm and admission is free. The collection is now online and can be viewed.