Burt James Glanville, naturalist, was the son of Thomas Glanville and his wife Anna Maria Glanville. He studied science under professor T.H. Huxley* and subsequently regularly lectured on scientific subjects at the Birbeck Institute in London. He was particularly interested in natural history. In 1856 he settled in Grahamstown, where he remained for the rest of his life. He became Town Clerk in 1860, retaining the post to 1881, and by 1867 was also the town treasurer.
When the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society of Grahamstown succeeded in obtaining a government grant for its museum (the Albany Museum) in 1858, a museum committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Dr. W.G. Atherstone*, while Glanville was elected as its secretary. In that capacity he wrote the museum's annual reports. During 1858 the committee members took up the task of arranging the collections, with Glanville being responsible for the shells and, with A.G. Bain*, the fossil collection. However, from the next year Glanville acted as the museum's honorary curator. In 1860 he donated a collection of British plants to the institution. He remained secretary to the committee until April 1866, when he was succeeded by Edward Bruce*. From 1871 he wrote and signed the museum's annual report in his capacity as honorary curator, until his death in 1882. His thorough knowledge of the country's fauna, flora and geology enabled him to build up the museum to an important scientific institution.
Glanville's most significant scientific contributions were notes on some South African fossils. In 1878 he published a paper on a group of Karoo reptiles, "The fossil Anomodontia of South Africa", in the Geological Magazine (London). Earlier he had read brief notes on fossils at two meetings of the Albany Natural History Society, which were published in the second series of the Cape Monthly Magazine: A note on a fossil reptile from East London (1872, Vol. 4, pp. 63-64); and notes on two freshwater molluscs (Family Unionidae) found in association with Dicynodon fossils near Balfour (1872, Vol. 5, pp. 315-318). At these same two meetings, and published on the same pages, he demonstrated another area of expertise, namely the analysis and evaluation of coal samples from various parts of the colony.
In addition to these specific interests Glanville was very active in the pursuit and advancement of science in general, particularly during the first few years of his stay in Grahamstown. In June 1856 he gave a lecture on the structure and physiology of plants under the auspices of the (short-lived) Albany Institute. That same month he was admitted as a member of the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society and soon served on its committee. His lectures to members, all of which were published in one or more local publications, demonstrated his wide scientific interests and included: "The nature and aims of civilization" (September 1856); "Forests and their influence in attracting moisture" (June 1857); a discussion of the book The testimony of the rocks by H. Miller (September 1857); "Modern agriculture" (May 1858); "Food of plants" (October 1858); "A glance at what science is doing" (April 1859); and "Fungi" (October 1859). During 1858 he furthermore delivered an extensive report to the society on a survey of lung sickness in Cape cattle. The text was published piecemeal in a number of issues of the Grahamstown Journal between September 1858 and January 1859. When the Albany Agricultural Society was founded in May 1858 he was again an active participant, serving as secretary for several years. From April 1858 he compiled and edited a section named "Agricultural Register" in the Eastern Province Monthly Magazine, containing several of his own papers on agriculture and other items of interest to farmers. During the same months he wrote some contributions on "Aspects of the primeval earth" - popular articles on geology with long technical footnotes - for the same journal. From October 1858 he was the editor of the successor to the Eastern Province Monthly Magazine, a weekly publication titled The Agricultural Register and Eastern Province Magazine. Forty-seven issues were published, from 7 October 1858 to 8 September 1859. During at least 1867 and 1868 he was a member of the committee of the Grahamstown Botanic Gardens. In July 1867 he participated in the founding of the Albany Natural History Society (Grahamstown, 1867-1880?), served on its first council, regularly contributed to its meetings, and several times acted as chairman. By 1879 he was the society's secretary.
During his later years Glanville suffered from chronic asthma and by 1880 could no longer manage the museum on his own. Fortunately he had instilled his love of natural history in his children, and his daughter Mary Elizabeth Glanville* started working as his assistant in 1880 and succeeded him as curator after his death. His sons Burt R. Glanville and Vyvyan P. Glanville both contributed some specimens to the museum, in 1867 and 1879 respectively. The immediate cause of his death was the bursting of a blood vessel during violent coughing. It left his family without income, as his post as Town Clerk did not entitle his widow, Elizabeth Glanville, born Cumming, to a pension. The museum committee deeply regretted his death in the annual report for 1882: "His services as an expert have been given to the museum with indefatigable zeal and rare skill for a period of 23 years, and they were given gratuitously, from his pure and ardent love of science". A portrait of him was acquired by the museum in 1894. Glanville was thoroughly devoted to his family and had few close friends, one of which was Dr Atherstone.