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.