Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Butler (?–1840)

by Neil Batt

This article was published:

James Butler (d.1840), soldier and commandant, joined the army in August 1807 as an ensign in the 40th Regiment. He was promoted lieutenant in December 1809 and was on active service throughout the Peninsular war. He sailed for Port Jackson with a detachment of his regiment in 1824 and while in Sydney became involved in the unlawful detention of a civilian intruder at the garrison's bathing place. At the ensuing trial Butler was ordered to pay costs of £107, but his appeal for relief from the public purse was granted by Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling because of his moderation under 'extremely provoking circumstances … in trying to save a soldier on duty from gross insult'.

In March 1825 Butler went with a detachment of the regiment to Launceston, whence on 21 April he was transferred as commandant to the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour, and promoted captain four days later. Although instructed that the object of the settlement was 'the total deprivation of anything like Comfort', and warned against any granting of indulgences or easing of incessant labour that, 'consistent with humanity', might make the place less dreaded by the convicts, Butler won high commendation from his officers for his practical administration. Buildings, reclamation of the water-front, boat building, furniture making, and cultivation were so actively pursued that little organization of such enterprises was left for his successor. His comprehensive report on convict work and behaviour, submitted in 1837, made Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur lament the removal of the 40th Regiment to Bombay. On the voyage Butler sent a long letter to Arthur describing 'more favourably than other accounts' the new settlement at Swan River. In India he had much trouble with his liver and was soon invalided to England. In March 1833 he was gazetted major, placed on half-pay and soon afterwards appointed K.H.

In 1837 he was appointed brigade major of the troops in Van Diemen's Land and arrived from London in the Juliet in November. Again he won high repute for his integrity, but his health was precarious. He died at his house in Davey Street on 23 October 1840 and was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery with full military honours. His estate, which was not large, was bequeathed to his three sisters in Dublin.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 12-13, series 3, vols 4-6
  • correspondence file under Butler (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Neil Batt, 'Butler, James (?–1840)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 October, 1840
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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Military Service
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