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Butler, Gamaliel (1783–1852)

by J. N. D. Harrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Gamaliel Butler (1783-1852), lawyer, was born on 17 December 1783 at Hounslow, England, the third son of John George Butler, corn merchant, and his wife Ann, née Venables. Articled in 1801 to a cousin, Benjamin Goode of London, Butler was admitted to the rolls in London in 1808, and practised in Watling Street for eighteen years. Encouraged by reports from his brother-in-law, Edward Paine, who had emigrated to Van Diemen's Land in 1820, Butler and a partner invested £10,000 in a cargo of sugar for sale in the colony. News of Paine's drowning and anxiety as to the outcome of his investment decided Butler on visiting the colony. He arrived in Hobart Town with his wife, in the Prince Regent in July 1824, secured the disposal of the sugar, and was admitted as a practitioner in the Supreme Court, although he intended to return to England. Impressed with the colony's potential and the success of his practice, he decided to remain.

He applied for the customary land grant, became a director of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land in 1829, and was associated with the Commercial Bank. He was a member of the Hobart Town Book Society, and assumed some social responsibility on joining the Benevolent Society on its foundation in 1834.

Of a forthright personality and with astute business sense, he achieved success in his profession and added to his enemies, one of whom was the diarist, George Boyes, who dubbed him 'one of the richest lawyers and greatest rogues in the country'. Investing his capital in land, he soon owned large properties far and wide in Van Diemen's Land, and many allotments in Hobart.

On 5 July 1810 Butler had married Sarah (1787-1870), the eldest daughter of Edward Paine (1756-1843) of Richmond, Surrey, livery tailor to George III. The surviving six of the ten children born in England were left in the care of relatives when their parents emigrated. They were educated in England, and in the 1830s came to the colony where six more children were born. On 2 February 1852 Butler died in Hobart at Stowell, the house he had bought from the colonial secretary, John Montagu, for £6000. His widow died on 13 August 1870.

His third son, Henry, achieved eminence as a surgeon, politician and educationalist, and Francis, the fourth, was the architect of Hobart's Memorial Congregational Church, the Commercial (later E. S. & A.) Bank, and the Cotswold-style stone stables at Shene, Butler's Bagdad estate. Three other sons entered the legal profession. Butler had taken R. W. Nutt into partnership and when his sons joined the firm it became known as Butler, Nutt & Butler. In 1966 the seventh generation of Gamaliel Butler's descendants were practising law in Tasmania.

Miniatures of Gamaliel and Sarah Butler and portraits of Edward Paine Butler and his wife Martha Sarah, née Asprey, are in the possession of Mr Eustace Butler, Launceston, Tasmania; Wainewright's painting of three of Butler's daughters is in the possession of Miss D. Bisdee, Snug, Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • G. T. Butler, Gamaliel Butler (Hob, 1961): G. T. W. B. Boyes diary (Royal Society of Tasmania, Hobart).

Citation details

J. N. D. Harrison, 'Butler, Gamaliel (1783–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/butler-gamaliel-1861/text2165, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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