New Light on Richard Burton's Karachi Brothel Report

Gavan Tredoux / September 2016 / PDF.

In the "Terminal Essay" to the tenth volume of his translation of the 1001 Nights, Richard Burton included a remarkable passage which would over time develop into perhaps the most widely-known of all the many stories told about his early career. It is not unusual to come across people today who, though they have only the vaguest idea who Burton was or why he is worth bothering with now, know at least some variant of it. The incident it refers to has come to be known as the Karachi Brothel Report. Burton described it as a first-hand investigation into pederasty-for-hire in the town where he was stationed in Sindh in the mid-1840s. Written up as an official report, this got him into trouble with the authorities, or so the story goes. Some sources even claim that it blighted his career in the Indian Army. The difficulty is that no such document has ever been found, leading some to doubt whether it ever existed, suggesting that Burton may have made the whole story up. New evidence is assembled here that provides powerful corroboration for the existence of the original investigation and the report. Remarkably, it seems that this is the first time any attempt has been made to gather this information in coherent form.