It is with great sadness, that the South Georgia Association announces the passing of our wonderful colleague and friend, Bob Burton. He was a founding member of the SGA, serving on the committee for over 20 years from its inception until his death on 15
Bob was a generous, immensely knowledgeable person; full of vitality and ever ready to engage you in his activities involving the environment, heritage, wildlife, conservation and the South Atlantic region, to which he contributed in many diverse ways.
He always made time to help anybody with his knowledge of places, wildlife, and history. If he could not help, he would usually point you at the expert who could. An information magpie, he would gather histories, photographs and documents, share them
willingly, and thus contribute to the benefit of all.
In his ‘pre-South Georgia’ life, he graduated in Zoology from Cambridge University before studying grey seals in the Outer Hebrides.
He first visited South Georgia in 1964 during a posting to Signy Island in the South Orkneys. Soon afterwards, in 1971-72, he was part of the team initiating a new programme of research on fur seals and albatrosses at Bird Island. Afterwards he was to
travel widely, including to the Arctic and across deserts.
Bob was involved in the South Georgia Museum at an early stage, becoming its Director in 1994. During his four-year tenure, the Norwegian Church at Grytviken was fully restored. With little in the way of resources, his important work consolidated that
started by others such as Nigel Bonner and Ian Hart. In the late 1990s he organised and coordinated a three-month restoration project of the cemeteries in the Stromness Bay whaling stations.
He had a wonderful gift of communication: As a writer, he edited and wrote extensively about South Georgia, including the South Georgia Government booklet for visitors, and ‘A Field Guide to the Wildlife of South Georgia’. He contributed several
essays to the ‘Dictionary of Falklands Biography’, including the one on Sir Ernest Shackleton, about whom he was an expert. And of course, he wrote, collated and edited the SGA’s own newsletter for many years. A mark of his breadth of interest
beyond the polar sphere is that he also wrote accessible books on wider nature, including popular guides to garden birds. He contributed to a number of publications including the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Nature Notes’ series, and contributed to many
encyclopaedias. There is not room here to even start to list the books that he wrote.
More recently, he was passionately involved in the archaeological investigations in South Georgia and the continuing conservation of its heritage. His wide interest in more than the mainstream aspects of the island’s history, such as Shackleton and
whaling stations, placed him in an excellent position for this. As well as masterminding the recent Cambridge University expedition to investigate the island’s sealing sites, he has researched a plethora of minor finds such as the Zenker Ridge stone
hut remains, a stone circle in Bore Valley, Hudson’s beacons in the approaches to Grytviken (set up by Shackleton’s team as an aid to calibrating ships’ compasses), and the historic huts. It seemed he could not sit still without investigating and
publishing another interesting paper. This wide and deep interest made Bob a valuable member of the South Georgia Government’s Heritage Advisory Panel.
As a presenter, he was able to capture your attention with his stories, anecdotes, and vast knowledge. He was a regular expedition guide and lecturer on cruise ships, where his gentle and genial demeanour earned him the sobriquet ‘Lord Burton’ among
staff. During the pandemic, he was one of the main contributors to the SGA’s online talks helping us reach out to a global audience.
Two placenames have been dedicated to him. In 1977 Burton Cove on the southwestern corner of Bird Island was named after him, and just recently the Burton Glacier on Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s party of 22 awaited his rescue attempts; how
fitting that he should be associated with such a historic place.
In 1996, Bob was awarded the Polar Medal for services as Meteorologist, Biological Assistant and Museum Curator and in 2018, he received the SGA’s Morag Husband Campbell Medal ‘for outstanding contributions to the study and conservation of wildlife
and the heritage of South Georgia’. He said of the award:
“I am lucky to have been one of many people involved with South Georgia – putting it on the map, so to speak – in recent years. When I first visited the island in 1964, it was Terra Incognita to most people. Nowadays, it has become familiar through
television programmes about its spectacular and profuse wildlife, and through the interest in the explorer Ernest Shackleton. Now, its importance in global ecology is being recognised.”
South Georgia has lost a wonderful advocate, and we have lost a kind, enthusiastic, passionate friend. We will miss him.
There is an obituary in the Daily Telegraph, sadly behind a paywall.
BY THE AUTHOR:
Animals of the Antarctic, Abelard Schuman (New York, NY), 1970.
Animal Senses, David & Charles (Devon, England), 1970.
The Life and Death of Whales, Deutsch (London, England), 1973, 2nd edition, revised an enlarged, Universe Books (New York, NY), 1980.
How Birds Live, Elsevier Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1975.
The Mating Game, Elsevier Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1976.
Ponds: Their Wildlife and Upkeep, David & Charles (Devon, England), 1976.
The Cat Family, illustrated by Richard Hook, Silver Burdett (Parsippany, NJ), 1976.
The Language of Smell, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1976.
The Love of Baby Animals, Octopus Books (London, England), 1976.
Exploring Hills and Moors, Elsevier Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1976.
(With Carole Devaney and Tony Long) The Living Sea: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Marine Life, Putnam (New York, NY), 1976.
Wildlife by the Roadside, Educational Publishing, 1977, published in England as Nature by the Roadside, Educational Publishing, 1977.
The Seashore and Its Wildlife, Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
Venomous Animals, Colour Library International (Godalming, England), 1977. First Nature Book, St. Michael, 1977.
Seals, Bodley Head (London, England), 1978.
Carnivores of Europe, Batsford (London, England), 1979.
Horses and Ponies, Macmillan (London, England), 1979.
Nature's Night Life, Blandford (London, England), 1982.
The Book of the Year: A Natural History of Britain through the Seasons, photography by Kim Taylor and sister, Jane Burton, Warne (London, England), 1983.
Bird Behavior, photography by Kim Taylor and Jane Burton, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Look It Up (juvenile), Macmillan Children's Books (London, England), Volume 9: Cold-blooded Animals, 1985, Volume 10: Warm-blooded Animals, 1985.
Eggs: Nature's Perfect Package, photography by Taylor and J. Burton, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1987, published as Egg: Nature's Miracle of Packaging, Collins (London, England), 1987).
The Mouse in the Barn (juvenile), Stevens (Milwaukee, WI), 1988.
Birdflight: An Illustrated Study of Birds' Aerial Mastery, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1990.
Discovering Owls, Bookwright Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor) Animal Life, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(Editor) Nature's Last Strongholds, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Bruce Pearson) Birdscape (companion book to BBC Channel 4 series of the same title), 1991.
Bird Migration: An Illustrated Account, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1992.
The National Audubon Society North American Birdfeeder Handbook, Dorling Kindersley (London, England and New York, NY), 1992.
Egg: A Photographic Story of Hatching, photographs by Jane Burton and Kim Taylor, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1994.
(Foreword by Stephen W. Kress) Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens, Thunder Bay Press (San Diego, CA), 1999.
The World of the Hummingbird, Firefly (London, England), 2002.
WITH FATHER, MAURICE BURTON
The Life of Meat Eaters (juvenile), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1974.
World of Nature, Purnell (Bristol, England), 1974.
(Editor) Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians, and Other Cold-blooded Animals, introduction by M. Burton, Octopus Books (London, England), 1975.
Encyclopedia of Fish, introduction by Gareth Nelson, Octopus Books (London, England), 1975.
Encyclopedia of Mammals, introduction by L. Harrison Matthews, Octopus Books (London, England), 1975.
Encyclopedia of Insects and Arachnids, introduction by Michael Tweedie, Octopus Books (London, England), 1976.
Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, Octopus Books (London, England), 1976. Inside the Animal World: An Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, Quadrangle/New York Times (New York, NY), 1977, published as The Animal World: An Encyclopedia of Animal Behaviour, Macmillan (London, England), 1977.
The World's Disappearing Wildlife, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1978.
The New Funk & Wagnalls Illustrated Wildlife Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1980.
The Beginnings of Life (juvenile), Facts on File (New York, NY), 1985.
"(Coauthor, with Maurice Burton) Marshall Cavendish International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1989, third edition, 2002.
Contributor to BBC Wildlife, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Natural World, World Birds, Country Life, Wildlife News, and Sea Frontiers. General editor, with M. Burton, of Purnell's Encyclopedia of Animal Life, BPC Publishing, 1968-70, published in the United
States as The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 1970, four-volume edition, Octopus Books (London, England), 1974, revised edition published as The New International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Purnell (Bristol, England), 1980; general editor, with M.
Burton, of The Marshall Cavendish International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 24 volumes, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1988."