A Voyage of Convalescence: Richard Burton and the Imperial Ills of Portuguese India

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Gupta, Pamila


South African Historical Journal, Volume 61, p.802–816 (2009)




{ABSTRACT} This article takes as its analytical focus a little-known travelogue written by the well-known British traveller, translator, and proto-ethnographer, (Sir) Richard Burton. Entitled Goa and the Blue Mountains, Or Six Months of Sick Leave, it was not well received at the time of its publication, despite the apparent British ‘thirst’ for this literary genre. Central is the theme of ‘imperial ills’ as seen from the point of view of a recuperating English army officer catching rarifi ed glimpses of daily life in ‘moribund’ Portuguese India. Burton's prescient and often acerbic descriptions of Goa are foregrounded to suggest their import for revealing British colonial attitudes towards the Portuguese as their colonial counterparts in India, and concomitantly, for understanding Anglo-Portuguese relations during a crucial period in India's colonial history. Taking Burton to be both a representative figure and not of British colonial discourse during the mid-nineteenth century, his various portrayals of the Estado da Índia as an ill-fortuned empire in decline, with fateful lessons to be learned for the British as the would-be colonial successors of the Portuguese in India, are critically analysed.

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