The self-trained artist was born at Laneast, the son of Richard P and Elizabeth Burnard. Initially he was a housepainter in Truro, and married Jenny Chapman of Altarnun in 1822, with the permission of her parents as she was a minor at the time. With her he had 4 children. In this period he also began a side career as a limner (a portrait painter) and travelled around Cornwall and nearby Devon painting children and animals, much as John OPIE. the Cornish wonder had done before him.
A rare example and a most remarkable one of his paintings of John Gubbins Newton and Mary Newton of Devon is part of the Mellon Collection at the Yale Centre of British Art, and considered unique portraiture in 19th century painting.
His wife Jenny died, and in 1832 Burnard remarried to Elizabeth Stodden of Gerrans. Altogether this couple were to have 10 children, and in 1839 the family moved to south Australia, where they settled at Adelaide. There Burnard continued to paint portraits, and also taught art.