Burney, James (1750–1821)

Naval officer and writer, second son of the music historian Dr Charles Burney (1726–1814; DNB) and brother of Charles (1757–1817; DNB) and Frances (Fanny; 1752–1840; DNB). He was nicknamed the ‘Capitaneus’ by Southey. He was sent to sea at the age of 10. In 1772 he sailed in the Resolution on James Cook’s (1728–1779; DNB) second voyage to the South Seas and on his return home in 1774 acted as an interpreter for Omai, the first Tahitean to visit Britain. Burney sailed on Cook’s third voyage and witnessed the latter’s death in 1779. He rose to the rank of Captain, but a reputation for insubordination brought his active naval career to an end in 1784. In the 1790s, Burney embarked on a second career as a writer, publishing an edition of William Bligh’s (1754–1817; DNB) A Voyage to the South Sea in HMS Bounty (1792). His magnum opus was A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (1803–1817). Burney separated from his wife, setting up house between 1798 to 1803 with his half-sister Sarah Burney (1772–1844) in a relationship that was rumoured to be incestuous. He returned to his wife in 1803, where Southey subsequently visited him at his home in James Street, Westminster. Southey and Burney’s shared interest in the South Seas and voyages of exploration led to a long-standing exchange of information and books.

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