Friday, 17 February 2017

The Fascinating Adventures of Bennet Burleigh!

Bennet Burley (or Burleigh) was the eldest son of Robert Burley and Christina Seath and he was quite a character!  
Born in 1840, he was educated in Glasgow and began work in his father's joinery business.  On 22 March 1861 aged 20 he married Marion Thomson (just 18), the daughter of John Thomson (house factor) and Marion Scott at 21 Drygate Lane, Glasgow.  The couple had a daughter Marion Scott Burley who had been born at Drygate Lane on 22 February 1861.  However, domestic life was not for Bennet Burley and he was soon off to North America.

According to the book Famous  War Correspondents by F Lauriston Bullard (Boston, Little, Brown & Company, 1914), in the chapter about Bennet Burley -
"In the early part of the war between the States, there appeared one day at Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, a young Scotchman in whose pockets were the plans for a submarine battery and the sketches for a torpedo boat."  
So it would appear that Bennet made use of his father's inventions.  He joined the Confederates and engaged in privateering with John Yates Beall.  He caught malaria and while he was recuperating began to write for The Southern Illustrated News.  On his recovery he took part in a raid behind enemy lines where he was wounded, captured and charged with being a spy.  He was held in Fort Delaware where he managed to escape via a sewer.  He fled to Canada where he and Beall planned a daring mission to free Confederate prisoners at Johnson's Island Prison on Lake Erie.  The mission failed and the two men went on the run, this time charged with piracy!  Beall was eventually captured and executed at Governor's Island in New York Bay.  A bounty was placed on Bennet's head.  He was extradited from Canada and imprisoned at Detroit then later at Clinton, Ohio.  At this point his father, Robert Burley was in correspondence with the British government trying to get his son freed, but to no avail.  

Bennet seems to have been a bit of a local celebrity and his imprisonment does not seem to have been too harsh and, once again he managed to escape to Canada and fortunately the war ended.  At this time he changed the spelling of his name to Burleigh.

He continued to pursue a career in journalism and wrote for the Houston Telegraph in Texas then moved to New York.  He returned to Britain in 1878 unsuccessfully standing for Parliament for Govan, Glasgow.  A street in Govan is named after him - Burleigh Street.

He then began his career as a war correspondent, travelling all over the world.  He was signed up by the Daily Telegraph in 1882 and worked for them until he retired in 1913.  He reported from Egypt and the Sudan, always with the front line troops in the thick of the action.  He was involved in the Boer War and in 1912 was reporting from the Balkans.  He retired in 1913 and died just a few months later on 17 June 1914 at Bexhill in Sussex and was buried at Brookwood Cemetery.

Marion Thomson Burley, his first wife died in 1884 in the City Poorhouse in Glasgow.  Their daughter Marion Scott Burley had married a brassfounder a few years earlier in Glasgow and had a family.

However he also seems to have married while in New York a young Yorkshire woman named Marion Sherer with whom he had at least one child, a son Sherer Burleigh born in 1876 who managed a wood mill in Dermott, Arkansas, for Robert Burley of Glasgow.  (At some point, Bennet had introduced American hickory wood to his father who set up mills at Rock Creek, Ohio and Dermott, Arkansas.)

Bennet Burleigh was also married to Bertha Preuss and had several children.  Their daughter Bertha Burleigh was a war correspondent during the First World War and seems to have inherited her father's sense of adventure and daring-do.  She was also a photographer and illustrator.  Three of Bennet's sons, Robert Burleigh, Bennet Burleigh Jnr and James Emil, died on active service in the War.

Bennet Burleigh was certainly a remarkable man and ranks with his cousins Sir Richard Muir and Robert Livingston Muir as fascinating and well-travelled men of their time.

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