WHEN A Cheadle carpet business owner and Heald Green resident, Graeden Greaves, decided to write a book on his great, great great grandfather he really didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.
Now ten years on, the book on the amazing Boys Own exploits of Graeden’s relative, called ‘Wild’ Bennet Burleigh – Pen and Pistol, has been published and has also featured and praised by both Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.
Quite clearly the biggest problem for Graeden, 42, the owner of Woodford Carpets, was how to get so much information into one volume of a life spent fighting in the American Civil War, working as a war correspondent and friend to politicians and leading Victorian figures of the day.
Bennet, who was born in Glasgow, headed off to America after getting Graeden’s great, great, great grandmother Marion pregnant, where he tried to sell his father’s torpedo invention (which was mentioned in Jules Vern’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to the Confederates who rejected his offer and initially locked him up after suspecting he was a spy.
Faced with long term imprisonment Bennet volunteered to fight for them and spent the remainder as a pirate in an attempt to disrupt Union shipping. He was eventually captured in May 1864 by Federal infantry, while laying torpedoes at Stingray Point, Virginia. After escaping from prison at Fort Delaware, the canny Scot was recaptured a second time while attempting to hijack a Unionist warship. Once again he escaped but with a typical air of gusto wrote to the prison governor and asked him to forward on his diaries .
According to Graeden, Bennet, switched his attention to wanting to become a journalist: and as he explained:“If your first job is as a pirate, you get a bit of a kick out of it and you want to carry on. War reporting wasn’t just a job for him he was looking for an adventure.”
After working for American newspapers during the 1870s, he was taken on by the Daily Telegraph, which was described in his later obituary as a labour of love.
Over the next 33 years he was on the front line of conflicts from Madagascar to Egypt, Japan, South Africa Libya and The Balkans, which totalled 24 campaigns.
Burleigh achieved his biggest scoop when he reported to Telegraph readers and the world, that the General Gordon relief expedition had failed resulting in the slaughter of the garrison at Khartoum. The story goes that once Bennet had filed his story and to keep other reporters from filing theirs, he had asked the telegraph operator to send passages from Genesis to keep the wire busy until the next day.
During his remarkable life Bennet was friends with Winston Churchill, poet Rudyard Kipling and Lord Kitchener.
He married three times, leaving his first wife Marion to die in a Gorbals poorhouse, and had 10 children over four decades.
He died in 1914 just days before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, a trigger for World War 1
Graeden added: “I think someone wrote in his epitaph that he was never at peace unless he was at war and that sums him up because my life is quite boring in comparison, but then compared to him most people’s lives were boring.”
Wild Bennet Burleigh: The Pen and the Pistol is available from Amazon for £11.79.