William Francis Butler [Sir] (1838-1910)


Life
[var. Francis Butler]; b. Suirville, Co. Tipperary; shocked by eviction conducted by his father, 1850; ed. Tullabeg, Co. Offaly, and Dr. Quinn’s, Dublin; joined British Army as ensign, 1858; ensign in the 69th Regt. of Foot, 1858; served in Canada, 1867-73 [var. 1870-71], meetinbg Sir Garnet Woolseley, Dept. Quartermaster of HM Forces in Canada and army reformer, and becoming one of the ‘Wolseley Ring’, from which career advances followed; saw action against Fenian raiders from USA at Battle of Trout River; present at repression of Métis settlers, Red River Valley (having been selected by Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley); and co-founded Mounties;
 
present in Paris after suppression of Commune; active in Ashanti War, 1873-74, resulting in sacking of Ashanti capital of Kumasi; based in Durban and organised supplied during Zulu War, though counselling against the British course of action, 1879; present at Tel-el-Kebir, 1882, lavishly praising the courage of the Egyptian rebels and intervening on behalf of Urabi Bey; joined expedition under Wolseley to relieve Gordon of Khartoum in Sudan, 1884; witnessed admissions of Richard Pigott at Parnell Commission, 1889; major-general in 1893; knighted [KCB], 1886; acting High Commissioner in S. Africa prior to outbreak of Boer War, accusing Sir Alfred Milner of inciting hostilities; retired to Bansha Castle, Co. Tipperary with rank of lieutenant-general, 1900; biogs. of Gordon and Sir Charles Napier, and travel books; Commissioner for National Education in Ireland; supported Gaelic League and Home Rule;
 
experience of trappers and Indians on ‘glorious prairies’ supplied material for The Great Lone Land (1872); Sir Charles Napier (1890); The Campaign of Cataracts (1887); also a novel, The Red Cloud (1882), set in Canada and Kerry; also Akim Foo: the History of A Failure tells of a British attempt to induce natives to join forces in an attack on Commassie; picturesque style and vivid scenery; Autobiography (1911), posthum., contains memories of the Irish Famine and accounts of army life in S. Africa and elsewhere; correspondent in a celebrated London divorce case; noted for “anti-Jingoism” attitude to imperial history; Home Rule supporter; member of National Literary Society; senator of NUI; his wife Elizabeth had a successful career as a portrait painter (viz., “The Roll Call”). CAB JMC DIW OCIL

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Works
‘Irish Land Tenures: Celtic and Foreign’, in Studies (June 1924), pp.291-305 [offprint in National Library of Wales].

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Criticism
Martin Ryan, Francis William Butler: A Life 1838-1910 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003), 256pp. [infra]. See also Peter Costello, Clongowes Wood: In A History of Clongowes Wood, 1814-1989 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), pp.51, 54, 185 & 187.

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Commentary
Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley (Letter to his wife): ‘He is quite happy having created a station, and being in command has restored his equanimity. He is doing it very well. Of course there is the usual didn’t I tell you so. No prophetic almanac editor ever professed such powers of prediction as to future events as Butler does. Butler however never gives anyone the benefit of his predictions until after the events have occurred. He really is a good fellow with all his inaccuracy of statement and other failings for which Irishmen are well known but with all the quick vivid imagination and all those pleasant sympathies with his fellowman, all the quickness and wit and other qualities for which Paddy is celebrated. He has Paddy’s faults in an ordinary degree but he has all his good qualities, talents and virtues to overflowing: in fact he is gifted far above ordinary Irishmen and that means that the English and Scotsmen are stupid and uninteresting when placed beside him. He makes me very angry at times but I always like him.’ (Quoted in Martin Ryan, Francis Butler: a life 1838-1910, 2003). [Note that Wolseley’s wife was a Church of Ireland Protestant born in Co. Cork who referred to Butler as an ‘im-perfect gentleman’; see Martin Ryan, Francis Butler , 2003, as infra.]

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The Irish Book Lover, I, 12 (July 1910 ), contains obituary notice: ‘It is with feelings of the deepest regret that we chronicle the death of this distinguished soldier and big-hearted Irish gentleman, which occured in his 72nd year, at Bansha Castle, Tipperary, on 7th June. After an army service of almost half a century, in almost every part of the globe, which brought him many well-merited rewards, he retired to his native country and devoted himself to literary work, to which he had always been inclined, as witness the many glowing descriptions of the campaigns he had undertaken, and the perils he had endured, which he had amassed a collection of books amounting to a library in itself. It is stated that he had left complete for publication, his memoirs, “The battles, sieges, fortunes he had passed”—which are certain to make interesting reading, for he possessed a fine literary style, and was equally at home on lecture platform, the study and the tented field. As is well known his wife was the famous painter of “The Roll Call”. The following is a list of his books: The Great Lone Land (1872); The Wild North Land (1873); Akim-Foo (1875); Far Out (1880); Red Cloud, the Solitary Sioux (1882); The Campaign of the Cataracts ( 1887); Life of Genial Gordon (1889); Sir Charles Napier (1890); Life of Sir G. Pomeroy Colley (1899); From Naboth's Vineyard (1907); The Light of the West (1909). Sir William was a vice-president of the Irish Literary Society before which he had frequently lectured.’

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Peter Costello, Clongowes Wood: A History [ ...] 1814-1989 (1990), writes: ‘Tullabeg, started as a preparatory school, 1819; General Sir William Butler was a graduate of Tullabeg, which he greatly disliked.’ [51] Also quotes Sir William Butler’s telegram: ‘Warmest wishes to Union of College which first re-lit the lamp of learning in Ireland after long extinguishment.’ (Address to the L & H at the National University) [185].

Martin Ryan, Francis William Butler: A Life 1838-1910 (2003), Chap. 9 [...]: ‘Butler’s short visit to the War Office convinced him that something other than an evacuation of the Sudanese garrisons by Gordon might be in the offing. From Queenstown, where his ship stopped briefly before the Atlantic voyage, he wrote to Wolseley on 8 February 1884: “I leave in a couple of hours for New York. The last phase of the Egyptian game of pull-Baker pull-Mahdi is not one such as one cares to be away from on the Western Continent. I hope that if anything should arise you will not forget that the cable can find me at Ottawa in a couple of hours.”’ (For fuller extract, see infra.)

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Quotations
The Wild North
Land (1873): “ Ah, my friend, my reader! ... we cannot put in words the things that we see from these lonely mountains ... this church, whose pillars are the mountains, whose roof is in heaven itself, whose music comes from the harp-strings which the earth has laid over her bosom, which we call pine-trees; and from which the hand of the Unseen draws forth a ceaseless symphony rolling ever round the world.’ Further, ‘On the day following my arrival, Queen Amaquon came to visit me. she brought with her a large bevy of the ugliest women I have ever seen ... attired in a costume which, for simplicity and economy, I can safely recommend to the talented authoress of that charming book, How to Dress on Fifteen Pounds a Year.’ (Ibid.; note that Butler tries to convince the Queen to go to war against the Ashantis; she pleads illness and since he cannot give her medicine (‘my stock of drugs ... could not be spared’) he gives her sal volatile instead. (See Charles Read, Cabinet of Irish Literature, 3 vols., 1876-78.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography
, gives bio-dates as 1838-1910 [sic]; lieutenant-general and author; descended from 10th Earl of Ormonde, Roman Catholic; commission, 69th Foot, 1858; in India, 1860, Channel Isles, 1866, where he met Victor Hugo; Canadian Frontier as look-out officer, 1868; mission to Red River settlement and Saskatchewan, 1870; history of 69th Foot (1870); The Great Lone Land (1872) and The Wild North Land (1873), the latter a ‘vivid description’; joins Sir Garnet Wolseley Ashanti expedition, 1873; failed attempt to reach Coomassie, 1873-74; major and CB, 1874; special service, Natal, 1875; duty in England, 1875-79; m. Elizabeth Thompson, artist, 1877; Zulu War, 1879; Tel-el-Kebir, 1882; provision of boats for rescue of Gordon, 1884; prominent at Kirbekan victory, Feb. 1885; brig.-gen. under Stephenson at Giniss, 1885, KCB, 1886; Alexandria garrison command, 1890; Aldershot command, 1893; commanded troops in S. Africa; a strong pro-Boer, resigned Aug. 1899; command of Western District [in Britain], 1899-1905; lieut.-gen., 1900; GCB, 1906; Irish privy councillor, 1909; lives of Gordon (1889), Sir Charles Napier (1890), and Sir George Colley (1899); posthumous Autobiography published 1911.

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), gives bio-data: ed. by Jesuits, and at Sandhurst; order of Companion of the Bath, 1874; m. Elizabeth Thompson, painter of The Roll Call; Zulu war, and Egyptian campaigns of 1882, 1884-85; prepared first portion of Nile flotilla, 1884; Sudanese War, 1886; Egypt, 1890-93; Cape command, 1898-99; Lieut.-Gen., 1900; ‘History of a Failure, an account of the English attack on Coomassie’; The Great Lone Land; The Wilde North Land; Akim-foo, the History of a Failure’; ‘Far and Out’; ‘Red Cloud, the Solitary Sioux’; ‘the Campaing of the Cataracts’; ‘Charles George Gordon’; ‘Sir Charles Napier’; ‘Sir George Pomeroy Colley’; further, ‘A born litterateur, in his hands the history of a military campaign becomes a romance.’ [The subject was still living when this notice was written]. Extracts from The Great Lone Land, and Akim-foo.

Bernard Share, ed., Far Green Fields, 1500 Years of Irish Travel Writing (Belfast: Blackstaff 1992), gives extract from the Great Lone Land (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington 1889).

Booksellers: Emerald Isle Books Catalogue (No 95) lists Autobiography [2nd. edn.] (London: Constable 1913), 476pp. De Burca Catalogue No 44 (1997) lists Red Cloud: A Tale of the Great Prairie, ed., with exercises for junior secondary classes (Dublin: Browne & Nolan [n.d.]) xix, 220pp., ills.

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Notes
School-m
ates?: Richard Ellmann (James Joyce, 1965 Edn.) writes that P. R. Butler (Lieutenant-Col.), son of Gen. W. F. Butler, was a class-mate of James Joyce and performed “The Charge of the Light Brigade” as his recitation piece (p.30) Note that Peter Costello does not mention this connection in Joyce: The Years of Growth (1992), notwithstanding references to General Butler in his history of Clongowes Wood (1989) [supra].

Sir Shane Leslie attributes to Sir William Francis Butler the observation that the body of Oliver Cromwell was dug up and his ashes scattered somewhere near Connaught Square. (The Irish Tangle, 1946, p.75.)

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