Born on March 3rd, 1842, in Bedford, England to a clergyman father and a landed gentry mum, Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby soon proved himself a tad out of the ordinary. By his teenage years, young Fred stood at 6ft 4ins, weighed 15 stone and boasted a 47-inch chest. Picture a young Darragh Flynn.
It was the kind of belief that will make a man embark on a 1,000-mile journey into Central Asia, accompanied by a dwarf, named Nazar. And not even the Russian empire, who tried to block Burnaby’s trek, could stop him.
Burnaby’s subsequent account of his journey, A Ride To Khiva, became a sensation, and saw Queen Victoria inviting Fred to dinner. This was a journey, after all, that would challenge The Revenant in the never-say-die stakes.
At the time, the fierce Muhammad Ahmad had declared holy war in the Sudan, setting out to drive the Egyptians and the British out of his country and convert the world to Islam. He was nicknamed the Mahdi, “the expected one”, and he’s regarded now as the 19th-century Osama bin Laden.
Not that the holy war was over. Refused permission to join another battle in the Sudan – having upset one too many superiors for disobeying orders – Burnaby disobeyed this order and, whilst on leave, sailed to Africa and joined British forces advancing to Khartoum. Welcomed by General Wolseley, Fred was quickly on the frontline, and it was at a dusty watering hole called Abu Klea that his luck finally ran out.