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Memorable Manitobans: William Francis Butler (1838-1910)

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William Francis Butler
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Soldier, traveller, author.

Born in Ireland, Butler joined the 69th Foot and saw service around the Empire. When his career stalled in 1869, he dashed off to join the Wolseley Expedition and volunteered for intelligence service in Minnesota and Red River. At Red River he met Louis Riel, and then he joined up with Wolseley at Fort Frances.

He subsequently toured the West for Lieutenant-Governor Adams Archibald. As a result of this tour he became an advocate for alternatives to the extermination of the Indians, greatly influencing the Macdonald government in its decision to organize the mounted police. This journey and his earlier Wolseley one produced The Great Lone Land (1872). He later rejoined Wolseley and served in the major imperial campaigns of the late nineteenth century. It was he who persuaded Wolseley to employ Canadian voyageurs in the Sudan in 1884.

In 1886 he was promoted to brigadier-general and made a knight commander of the Order of the Bath. He was promoted to major-general in 1892 and was commander of the British forces in South Africa in 1898 on the eve of war, soon resigning over the question of open conflict with the Boers, which he opposed. He died in Ireland.

Butler published extensively, both fiction and travel accounts. He also produced a number of autobiographical accounts, most published posthumously by his family. They include From Sketchbook and Diary (1909); Sir William Butler: An Autobiography (1911, edited by his daughter), and An Autobiography, with Illustrations from Sketches by the Author (1922, edited by his wife).

The present whereabouts of the Butler papers is unknown.

See also:

William Francis Butler, A Life 1838-1910 by Martin Ryan, Lilliput Press, Dublin, 2003.

Wolseley's Intelligence Officer: William Francis Butler (1838-1910) by Ross Mitchell
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 4, Number 3, April 1959

The Ashanti Ring: Sir Garnet Wolseley’s Campaigns, 1870-1882 by Leigh Maxwell (1885)

Remember Butler: The Story of Sir William Butler by Edward Alexander McCourt (1967)

William Francis Butler, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XIII, 142-44


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 23 November 2016

Memorable Manitobans

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