John Burrow was the son of Reverend Edward Burrow (1785-1861), MA, DD, FRS. Edward, with his children, came to the Cape for health reasons, arriving in Table Bay on 4 October 1831. He was joint secretary of the Cape of Good Hope Association for Exploring Central Africa from its foundation in June 1833 until he left the Cape in May 1834. Hence John must have been well aware of the preparations being made for the expedition into the interior of South Africa under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Smith*. Though only 18 years old at the time, the young Burrow was accepted as a member of the expedition to make astronomical observations for determining the geographical positions of the places visited. Before the expedition departed he lived for some time with the family of Thomas Maclear* at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, where he received the necessary training.
The expedition left Cape Town early in July 1834. It was well-equipped, with instruments for determining latitude (sextant, artificial horizon) and chronometers for determining longitude. A barometer was used to determine heights above sea level, as had been done much earlier by Colonel R.J. Gordon*. At Graaff-Reinet Burrow made a series of observations to determine the rates and errors of the chronometers. The expedition visited Lesotho and Kuruman, and explored in a northeasterly direction to the Limpopo River, which they followed northwards to the Tropic of Capricorn. Here, early in September 1835, Burrow observed many meridian altitudes which established their latitude accurately. The expedition returned to Algoa Bay and from there by sea to Cape Town, where Burrow landed on 31 January 1836. A general meeting of the members of the Association for Exploring Central Africa was held on 19 March 1836. On this occassion J. Burrow and several others were thanked for their participation in the adventure.
Burrow stayed at the Cape for some time, often visiting the Maclear family. During the remainder of 1836 he wrote a personal account of the expedition, which was more recently edited by P.R. Kirby and published under the title Travels in the wilds of Africa... (1971). He then entered the church, and in 1844 was ordained a Deacon at Gibraltar, where his father also lived at that time. In the same year he became assistant civil chaplain there. After holding various positions as a religeous worker at Gibraltar and in England, he obtained the degree Bachelor of Divinity at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1867. He continued his church work until 1873, in which year he probably died.