Sir Robert Burnett

An investigation into the life of the patron saint of alcoholic graduate students.

Political scientist Ed Burmila—sole remaining contributor to one of my favorite weblogs on the Internets, Gin and Tacos—just asked his readership,

What brought you here initially? Was I suggested by one of your friends? Did you arrive from a link on a different site – especially Crooks & Liars? Random internet search? Internet search specifically for gin and/or tacos? Saw a sticker on someone's car? Wrote three words in the search bar, hit ctrl-Enter, and hoped for the best?

I have been reading Gin and Tacos for almost its entire, decade-long existence. I didn't mean for that to sound so hipsterish, but there's not much other way to put it. I remember when I first stumbled on the site having entered "Robert Burnett" in my search bar, back in the days when G& had more in common with its name than simply being awesome. I, like Ed, was a poor graduate student at the time, and I too had discovered the siren call of Sir Robert Burnett's London Dry Gin. (Perhaps I inherited this penchant from my advisor.)

Despite G&'s questionable Robert Burnett fan fiction, I was intrigued by Ed's, et al., historical sleuthing in trying to track down the truth behind the real Robert Burnett. Unfortunately, here is all they were able to conclude:

  • Robert Burnett Jr. and Sir Robert Burnett were active in politics, however neither were mayor of London.
  • The Burnett family was very active in military recruitment.
  • Most importantly, that the Burnett family dealt in liquors.
  • Finally, Sir Robert Burnett had a pretty damn nice estate.

Unfortunately, none of my research resulted in specific reference to gin. This is primarily due to the fact that the only available source to me was the Times of London, although there might have been advertisements for Burnett’s Gin in the Times, they did not come through on the search. Someone with more experience in alcohol oriented history could possibly do better.

I was no expert in history, however, like most Ph.D. students, I was a world renowned expert in procrastination. I therefore put everything else I needed to do on the back burner and took on the task. Here are my (now six year old) results:

  • John Eamer, esq. and Robert Burnett, esq. Sheriffs of London, attending his Majesty to know his pleasure concerning the city address, were honoured with knighthood.

    The Gentleman's Magazine: and Historical Chronicle. For the YEAR MDCCXCV. Volume LXV, Part the first.  London. p. 344

    The date that Sir Robert was knighted: Wednesday, April 15, 1795

  • CHARLES LYNN. TRIED FOR MURDER. The following are the circumstances attending a murder committed at Whaddon Chase, Buckinghamshire, in the month of 1825, which at the time of its perpetration attracted a considerable portion of the public attention." ... "A coroner's inquest was held on the body of the deceased on the following day ; and then it appeared that the prisoner was the son of a respectable woman residing at No. 4, Morehall-place, Vauxhall, where she kept a confectioner's shop, and that he, as well as the deceased, had been employed in the vinegar manufactory of Sir Robert Burnett, at Vauxhall, as coopers.

    Camden Pelam, Esq. "The Chronicles of Crime; or, The New Newgate Calendar. Being a series of memoirs and anecdotes of notorious characters who have outraged the laws of Great Britain from the earliest period to 1841." Volume II. p. 103. London: Reeves and Turner, 1886.

    Sir Robert owned a vinegar factory.  What's a common way to make white vinegar?  Oxidation of distilled alcohol.  I wonder where he got all of the distilled alcohol?

  • Bond, Charles, late of Gravesend, * Kent, victualler, wine and spirit merchant, d.c. Surr. Dec. 18 and 28, and Jan. 22, at 12 each day.—Sols. Messrs. Saunders and Co. Upper Thames-street. Pet. Cred. John Fassett Burnett, Vauxhall, * Surrey distiller, and Robert Burnett, and Charles Fasset Burnett, his partners. Seal. Dec. 10.

    The Law Advertiser. Volume II, 1824. London: Quality Court, Chancery Lane. p. 405.

    This page contains an excerpt from the London Gazette, December 11th, 1824, listing recent local bankruptcies. I’m not sure what all of the abbreviations mean, but I assume “Pet. Cred.” means “Petitioning Creditors” (i.e., the creditors to Mr. Charles Bond that are petitioning for his bankruptcy for what I can only assume as defaulting on a loan). This means that Robert Burnett is a distiller who loaned some money to a spirit merchant. Now, why would a distiller (whom we have already established as probably being quite wealthy) waste his time giving a petty loan to a spirit merchant? Perhaps he had advanced Mr. Bond some product and wished compensation?

I also found numerous primary and secondary sources speaking of the Sir R. Burnett distillery in Vauxhall. There were a few mentions of gin, but they were in books that were not freely available online.

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