Oswestry School has the distinction of being the second-oldest free school in the country, boasting six centuries of history – and many famous alumni.

None were so famous in their own lifetime than Frederick Gustavus Burnaby whose popularity was legendary and appeared in a number of stories and tales of empire.

Born in Bedford in 1842 the man destined to become cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and become a household name across the country spent his formative years at Oswestry School where legend has it he could carry two boys under both arms up the stairs of the school house.

Burnaby was a huge man for his times, standing at 6 ft 4in tall and 20 stone when fully grown and would come to represent an ideal in the minds of Victorian England for his pioneering achievements and swashbuckling courage.

His spirit of adventure sought outlets in balloon ascents and in travels through Spain and Russia and in the summer of 1874 he accompanied the Carlist forces in Spain as correspondent for The Times.

Portrait of Frederick Gustavus Burnaby by CG Mason.

Portrait of Frederick Gustavus Burnaby by CG Mason.

The following year he had set out from London’s Victoria Station with his backpack bound for Russia which he had planned to cross on horseback despite the country being closed to travellers and being at war with desert tribesmen.

Frederick met the Russian Minister of War in St Petersburg who had announced soldiers would travel and protect him on his route to Khiva in modern day Uzbekistan

By Christmas, Burnaby had arrived at Orenburg and despite being warned not to advance into Persia he had pressed on into Afghanistan where winter blizzards had almost killed him.

A local mullah wrote an introduction note to the Khan, and clad in furs they traversed the freezing desert until they were met by the Khan's nobleman, who guided the escort into the city though his stay was brief with the city soon in the hands of Russia.

Frederick was championed as a hero and made a Commander in Chief by Prince George upon his return to Britain.

Khiva. Picture by Fulvio Spada.

Khiva. Picture by Fulvio Spada.

However he was not home long.

In the same year he travelled to Constantinople to observe the Russian frontier with war clouds looming between Russia and Turkey.

Upon discovery the Russian garrison had issued an arrest warrant he turned back at the frontier by ship on the Black Sea and by the end of 1877 the Russian-Turkish War waged in the Balkans and Caucasus.

Frederick had briefly sought a life in politics, standing and losing two Birmingham by-elections.

However his lust for adventure tempted him to cross the English Channel in a hot air balloon in 1882 before enlisting in the army where he was injured in the Battle of El Teb in the British Sudan Campaign.

Frederick had returned to the front line by the time of the Battle of Abu Klea – which was inaccurately depicted as a defeat in the 2002 Heath Ledger film The Four Feathers – in January the following year. It would prove his final adventure.

Vanity Fair caricature, 2 December 1876.

Vanity Fair caricature, 2 December 1876.

The battle was short, lasting barely 15 minutes from start to finish.

Casualties for the British were nine officers and 65 other ranks killed and over a hundred wounded.

The Mahdists lost 1,100 dead during 15 minutes of savage fighting

Among the dead was British national hero Colonel F. G. Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards, who was killed by a spear to the throat.

Survivor Lord Binning said: "In our little force his death caused a feeling akin to consternation. In my own detachment many of the men sat down and cried.”