William Francis Butler was born at Ballyslateen House, Suirville, Co. Tipperary, Ireland on October 31.
His family had lived in Tipperary since receiving land grants from Queen Elizabeth I in 1584.
The great famine of 1847 and scenes of suffering and eviction were amongst his earliest recollections.
He was educated chiefly by the Jesuits at Tullabeg College, King's Co.
Butler received a commission in the army's 69th Regiment.
The 69th Regiment was stationed in Madras, India.
Visited his hero Napoleon's Island of St. Helena.
Visited Canada with his regiment later returning to Ireland.
Returned to Canada with a mission from Colonel Wolseley (After whom Wolseley, Saskatchewan is named) to find out the true state of feeling in the Red River settlement. In October, 1870, he was intrusted with a fresh mission to report on the fur trade, the Indians and any need of troops in the west.
Published "The Great Lone Land" the story of his journey through the west.
With Wolseley went to West Africa to fight for the Empire in the Ashanti War.
Promoted to Major and made a Companion of the Bath.
To Natal on the staff of Sir Garnet Wolseley, who had been sent out as governor and high commissioner. Butler was named protector of Indian immigrants and had to report on the land system then existing in the colony.
Married Elizabeth Thompson a famous painter of the time.
Now lieutenant-colonel he took part in the Egyptian campaign. Later that year he returned to England and started once again for the great prairies and the pine forests" of Canada. He visited many of the scenes of his earlier travels.
Back in London he discussed with Lord Wolseley the various routes by which the garrisons at Khartoum might be reached, and General Gordon saved.
He was given the job of finding 400 boats, and getting the boats, with their troops and provisions, up the cataracts of the Nile. This was considered an almost impossible task considering the time element and the unfavourable state of the Nile.
Returning from Egypt and finding no appointment open to him in England on his return, went to Brittany with his family, where he wrote two books -"The Campaign of the Cataracts" (1887) and "The Life of General Gordon" (1889). During his stay in Brittany he was made K.C.B. (Knight Commander of the Bath) for his services in Egypt and the Sudan. Now Sir William Francis Butler he returned to Ireland.
Returned to Egypt to take command at Alexandria. That same year his military biography of Sir Charles Napier was published.
Promoted major-general. During the intervals of leave from his duties at Alexandria he travelled a great deal, visiting, amongst other places, the sacred sites of Palestine, which had always had a deep interest and attraction for him.
Brigade commander at Aldershot, England.
Took over command of the South-Eastern district of England.
Went to South Africa as commander-in-chief and high commissioner. Here he strove to avert a war which he saw was bound to result in calamity both for England and South Africa. His attitude did not find favour at home and he was severely criticised.
Resigned his command in South Africa and returned to England where he commanded at Aldershot and the Western and Southern Districts. A few months before the outbreak of the Boer war his military biography of Sir George Colley was published. Butler saw no active service during the Boer War.
Headed the commission of enquiry into the scandals connected with stores and supplies during the Boer War.
Now 67, he was placed on the retired list. The few years of life which remained to him he spent at Bansha Castle in Ireland, devoted chiefly to the cause of education. He was a frequent lecturer both in Dublin and the provinces on historical, social, and economic questions. He was a member of the senate of the National University of Ireland, and a commissioner of the Board of National Education.
Appointed Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.
Made a member of the Irish Privy Council.
Died June 7 and was buried with full military honours at Killardrich, Co. Tipperary. He was working on the last chapters of his autobiography at the time of his death. It was published in 1911.
How do I participate in the student Sketchbook Project?
Explorers Sketchbook Series Main Page
Back to Our Heritage Home Page