Talk on Alexander Burnes in Montrose Tonight 7.30pm 22

UPDATE: Video now available

My talk from the George Hotel Montrose will be livestreamed here this evening courtesy of Independence Live.

I feel quite emotional to be giving a talk tonight on Alexander Burnes, just across the road from the home where he was born. At the time of his birth his grandfather, mother and father, three aunts, an uncle and four siblings all lived in the house. The aunts and uncle all died in their early twenties without ever marrying or leaving home. Alexander was to have eleven siblings who survived into adulthood. He used to tend the garden and keep a pet cat and a pet crow(!) along with his favourite little brother Charlie, nine years younger. His proudest moment was when he secured Charlie a cadetship to join the East India company. They were to die together, hacked down in a Kabul garden.

Alexander Burnes and his great-uncle Robert Burns both died at the tragically young age of 37. Robert of course left the greater legacy, but Alexander certainly inherited some of that genius, and in his lifetime had greater fame (and sold more books!) I spent eight years of my life in digging up old records to try to rescue Alexander’s memory from neglect and even malice, and give a fair assessment of his life and tarnished reputation. The great difficulty was the disappearance of so many prime sources.

I shall not be repeating the contents of the book in my talk this evening, but rather talking about my quest and why I thought it was important. I shall be explaining some of the extraordinary things I discovered about the key role of the small burgh of Montrose in the development of British India. And examining why the themes of Burnes’ life keep recurring, and governments fail to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Being a sentimental old fool I like to think Alex and Charlie – who have no known grave or memorial – will be standing at the back of the room smiling with approval.

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22 thoughts on “Talk on Alexander Burnes in Montrose Tonight 7.30pm

  • Mulkurul

    That’s a good excuse ! Nothing to do with the excellent selection of malts in the Montrose bar, I wot…..

    • Babushka

      Sharp Ears I would seriously appreciate your analysis/comments on this, as I am a great fan of Lionel Shriver.
      On this blog I read as much as I can in order to learn about issues which in Oz tend not to be aired. But Ms Shriver is a gutsy, genius woman who not only is no push-over, she pushes back in the most extraordinary brilliant, humane and unexpected ways.
      She says it how she sees it.

  • Simon

    I know of Sikunder Burnes and the deaths of Alex and Charlie from the wonderful Flashman novels of GM Fraser and the excellent appendices he included at the end of them. He wrote the best historical fiction and I learnt more from them about the period than anything at school. They have piqued my interest and I shall certainly keep an eye out for your book and look forward to it.

    • nevermind

      Reading it at the moment, Simon, you must treat your senses…. great read. It shows as well that attitudes have not changed. Then the great British paranoia about Russo Persian empires could easily compared to today’s paranoia, the lessons have not been learned from the Afghan war then, and now.


  • Sharp Ears

    First of all, Google wanted age confirmation.

    Now the message is:

    ‘This video is unavailable.
    Sorry about that. ‘


    • Mulkurul

      Now it says “Please sign in……”. Like any vaguely rational person I’ve divested myself of all Goo accts and use them as little as possible. I’m going to check on Vimeo, and suggest maybe you consider BitChute as an alternative video platform.

  • icancho

    for some reason— surely not because I’m in Canada!— when I click on the video I get a message telling me “This video is private”.
    Any ideas out there?

    • Squonk

      The video links to the livestream which didn’t occur and is actually now deleted. Youtube is just giving random error messages when the actual error should be “This video does not exist”. As far as I know the recorded video hasn’t gone up yet.

  • John May

    A very enjoyable presentation. Did the post talk discussion (assuming there was one) reveal any useful local historical knowledge?

    • craig Post author

      John, sadly I was disappointed in that. In fact, it reinforced the opposite, with folk complaining they had been born and schooled in Montrose and never been taught any of this stuff.

  • DavidH

    Thanks for putting the video up. Found the talk, as well as the book, really interesting. With so little local knowledge of those amazing characters from Montrose, makes you wonder about the way history should be taught. If we are not actually learning about our roots and how those stories could enlighten what we do now, what are we really learning? Along with #IndyRef, you should also be campaigning for #RealHistory.

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