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Letter to the parents of Richard Burton
Title : Letter to the parents of Richard Burton Letter to the parents of Richard Burton View More Images
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Creator : Burton, Richard Francis, 1809-1874
Source : PRG 1135/4
Date of creation : 1832
Format : Letter
Dimensions : 320 x 400 mm
Contributor : State Library catalogue
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Description :

This letter is from Richard Francis Burton to his parents while aboard the barque Reliance (ship) serving as a sailor and doctor.

... we have at last weathered the Cape and are in a fair way to the Whaling Ground...

The letter alludes to treatment aboard, shooting birds, a whale chase and his patients.

... have had some sport annoying the Albatrosses having shot many I would bring one of the skins home for Marianne only that they all are(?) so large the smallest being eighteen feet in the Spread of his Wings... I have several more patients but thank God they have all recovered and at present are all in a good state of Health and in high hopes of getting Whales everyday. I hope in my next letter I have the pleasure of informing you our better success...

Richard Francis Burton (1809-1874) was engaged in 1832 as surgeon on the Reliance for a whaling voyage from London to the Indian Ocean. The ship's captain was William Cockle. Burton kept a journal throughout the voyage which includes descriptions of islands, finely drawn charts and lists of crew, discoveries of shoals and reefs and "ships spoke with" at end of volume.

Burton illustrated his journal with whale tail silhouettes that recorded the size of catches. For instance on 28 January 1833 5 tails indicated that 5 whales had been caught; these were then processed or 'tried out' over the next five days; on 9 May 1833 Burton drew nine tails for the nine whales caught.

There were however days when the boats returned with no catches and reports of lost 'irons' (harpoons) and many metres of rope lost as well. He also occasionally drew barrels and delicate vignettes of ships. At the end of his journal Burton recorded the total amount of oil taken on the voyage-1829 barrels, and the tally for the individual harpooners in the boats.

Following the voyage Burton was admitted Licentiate of the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, (LWCA), London in 1838. He emigrated to South Australia aboard the Jane in 1852, registered as a medical practitioner in 1854, and served as District Medical Officer 1861-1873. He was an officer of the Sturt & Brighton Rifles and Synod member for St Mary's-on-the-Sturt, South Road where he is buried with his wife Louisa Burton, 1816-1858. Their children were Richard, William, Francis, Mary and Louisa, who married Eden Herschel Babbage.

Related names :

Burton, Richard Francis, 1809-1874

Burton family

Reliance (ship)


Whaling, Indian Ocean

Coverage year : 1832
Period : Pre-1836
Place : South Australia
Region : Adelaide city
Further reading :

Ellis, Richard Men and whales New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, Inc., 1991

Haley, Nelson Cole Whale hunt: the narrative of a voyage by Nelson Cole Haley harpooner in the ship Charles W. Morgan, 1849-1853 London [England]: Robert Hale, 1950

Chatterton, E. Keble Whalers and whaling: the story of the whaling ships up to the present day London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1925

Martin, Stephen The whales' journey Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2001

Mulvaney, Kieran The whaling season: an inside account of the struggle to stop commercial whaling Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2003

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State Library of South Australia: Treasures Wall. Friends of the State Library of South Australia exhibition July 2007-



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