Daily Life of British colonial troops in North Africa during the 1880s

Burn-Murdoch, John Francis, British Major General (1859-1931). Collection of manuscripts on military expeditions in North Africa and along the Nile.

Cairo and other places, [1884-1885].

Mostly 8vo and 4to. Ca. 206 pp. A loose collection of letters, diary entries, telegram slips, inserted sketch maps, and related paraphernalia. Includes: A Map of the Nile, From the Equatorial Lakes to the Mediterranean, Embracing the Egyptian Sudan (Kordofan, Darfur, &c.) and Abyssinia (London, Stanford, 1883). Folding coloured map of the Nile, inscribed by Burn-Murdoch.


Burn-Murdoch, who rose to the rank of Major General, commanded, among other units, the cavalry in Egypt as a member of the Royal Dragoons. Part of his estate is in the National Army Museum, London. The collection offered here is in several hands, largely that of Burn-Murdoch himself, partly (probably also a little later) by others, especially the sections marked "copy" on the cover sheet.

"March from Aswan to Wada Halfa" is written on one cover; another piece is untitled, but describes a military operation near Tunis. Several sketch maps are inserted. Some of the sheets are numbered by hand, showing some sections to be partly incomplete. The overarching perspective of the collection is predominantly a military one, with geographical and meteorological commentary only mentioned in connection with military matters. However, in some letters to his father, Burn-Murdoch does add a few hints of daily life: "I am writing this in great luxury as I have got hold of an old wine cask and have constructed a kind of armchair out of it". He chats casually about seeing the pyramids of Giza, and subsequently "had a very hot walk from the Pyramids into Cairo", describes witnessing an accident which led to a drowning in the Nile, and notes that they were eating well enough, having had two cooks, though "one of whom deserted at the Pyramids". Also included is a hand-coloured map, presumably once in Burn-Murdoch's ownership with his name inscribed on the front cover of its case.

Overall in good condition, with some light wear. Despite the gaps, it gives an impressive picture of the life of British colonial troops in North Africa before 1900.