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Butler, William Frederick (1878–1941)

by George Deas Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

William Frederick Dennis Butler (1878-1941), lawyer, was born on 28 July 1878 at Bagdad, Tasmania, son of Francis Frederick Butler and his wife Emma Tregurtha, née Dennis. He attended the local state school and The Hutchins School, Hobart, before entering the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1899; B.Sc., 1900; LL.B., 1903; M.Sc., 1938). He was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Tasmania on 25 September 1903. After a world tour he joined the legal firm Butler, McIntyre & Butler, founded by his great-grandfather Gamaliel Butler, where he practised for the rest of his life, as a partner from 1910.

After his father's death Butler also managed Korongee orchard at Glenorchy. Politically independent, in 1907-10 he was an elected member and became treasurer of the Moonah Town Board. He had supported Federation and the introduction of the Hare-Clark voting system in Tasmanian State elections. As a respected equity lawyer and advocate, Butler was conveyancing counsel to the State Supreme Court and belonged to the editorial board responsible for reprinting The Public General Acts of Tasmania 1826-1936. His article, 'Some Aspects of Statute Law Revision in Australia', was published in the proceedings of the first Australian Legal Convention (Australian Law Journal, 1935-36, supplement to volume 9). He was president of the Southern Law Society in 1928-39 and the first Tasmanian to be president of the Law Council of Australia in 1938.

Butler was a prominent Anglican layman for more than thirty years. In 1942 Bishop W. R. Barrett wrote of the 1908 synod: 'Butler's name was soon to become a household word in the affairs of the Church … His modest and gentle manner and his wide knowledge smoothed the passage of legal business in this and many later Synods'. For the 'nexus' debate at the 1913 synod on the legal relationship between the 'Church at Home' and the Church in Australia, Butler produced a detailed, scholarly treatise. In 1916 he became Church advocate, and he made outstanding contributions to the debates over alterations to the Book of Common Prayer. He was a trustee of Church property in Tasmania, and a lay reader and church-warden of St John's, New Town. He belonged to several church boards and to that of Christ College, whose affairs he had reconstructed as the progenitor of the Christ College Trust Act, 1926. In 1940 he was elevated to diocesan chancellor: Bishop R. S. Hay commented: 'it was a just if somewhat tardy recognition of the Church's great indebtedness to him for the distinguished service which he had so freely and efficiently given to the diocese'.

Butler's 1917 lecture to the Royal Society of Tasmania on the foundation of public institutions for secondary education in Tasmania has been the corner-stone for subsequent research on this subject. He was elected to the Council of the University of Tasmania in 1912-20, was vice-warden of the senate in 1925-36 and warden from 1936 until his death, and encouraged the establishment of the faculties of engineering and commerce; he was also on the board of The Hutchins School. A Rotarian and a bush-walker, he was also president of the Tasmanian section of the League of Nations Union.

Butler had married Constance I. Morrisby in 1896 and when he died on 6 October 1941 at Hobart he was survived by her, by a son who carried on the family legal tradition, and by two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • B. W. Rait, The Official History of The Hutchins School (Hob, 1935)
  • W. R. Barrett, History of the Church of England in Tasmania (Hob, 1942)
  • Church News (Hobart), Nov 1941
  • Mercury (Hobart), 7 Oct 1941.

Citation details

George Deas Brown, 'Butler, William Frederick (1878–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/butler-william-frederick-5452/text9259, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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