Buttfield family South Australian History

The Buttfield Family.

An interesting example of "middle-class" mobility is provided by looking closely at John Parker Buttfield and his large family. Born on 28 August 1822 at Maidenhead, England, Buttfield arrived in South Australia on board the Baboo in 1848 from the mission fields in British Honduras. During that voyage, his wife Anna Louisa, whom he had married on 25 October 1844, gave birth to their third child, named Spencer Carey, after his grandfather. The family soon made its way to the Adelaide Hills where Buttfield found work as a missionary at Gumeracha, where he became the first minister to receive a salary.

After some difference of opinion with that congregation, he became the driving force in the building of the Kenton Valley Baptist Church in 1849. Before its completion he had often held services in any hut available for that purpose. In 1850 he was listed as Congregational Minister at Gumeracha. His next appointment was in 1851, at Uleybury, near present day Smithfield, where his brother Albert had a store. By this time the Buttfield family had expanded to six. During their stay at Uley, Buttfield became a large landowner and a pioneer for the church.

His pioneering work not only included the building of a church and school, but also something of a completely different nature. On one occasion his congregation sent a petition to the Baptist Church in Adelaide, protesting that he had taken part in a cricket match at One Tree Hill, where another one of his brothers, Francis, was the local postmaster and storekeeper! He retained his love for the sport all his life and as late as 1876 it was said that "his wielding of the willow proves that he would be a dangerous opponent". even though playing cricket was still considered unseemly of a Baptist minister.

However he continued to work very hard for both the church and the school. By 1855 he had become Honorary Secretary of the Uleybury School Building Committee, and on 6 December 1856 he sold to the Committee an acre of his land on which the school was built. For nearly five years he was also the headmaster of the Uleybury school. A school inspector after a visit reported that "Owing to the care he displays, and the consequent progress of his pupils, Mr Buttfield is deservedly esteemed as a teacher in the neighbourhood".

During his time at Uley the Rev. Buttfield showed great geographic mobility, which no doubt was caused by the nature of his work. In his capacity as a Marriage Celebrant he often made lengthy journeys. On 25 April 1860 he was at Ardgour to perform the wedding ceremony between John Forbes, butcher of Smithfield and Margaret McLean. Three months later, on 12 July he was on his way to Lower Light for a similar occasion. This time it was between Gilbert McLean and Ellen McGilton. In 1861 he travelled to the Gawler Hills to perform the wedding between John Alexander of Glasgow and Margaret Graham, at Yattlunge, the residence of the bride's father.

While still at Uley, the Minister's wife, Anna Louisa died on 1 July 1862, at the age of thirty-six, shortly after the birth of their eleventh child Percy Algeron. Her obituary stated that the funeral took place at Uley, on Friday 4 July and was 'very largely attended, many persons having come from a distance of several miles, besides those private friends who came from Adelaide to testify their respect for the deceased, and their sympathy with her bereaved husband and family. The Revs. G. Stonehouse, S. Mead, and G. Howden, all took part in the last solemn rites of sepulture, and much kind feeling was exhibited by the assembly.

The published notice of her death stated that Mrs. Buttfield was a granddaughter of the Rev. Dr. Carey. We may add that her maternal grandfather was the late Rev. Samuel Pearce, of Birmingham. Mrs. Buttfield was born in Calcutta, was married in 1844, and was sometime stationed with her husband at Honduras, where he was a missionary. They arrived here in 1848, and settled at Gumeracha, where they were greatly respected and beloved.

They removed to Uley and Golden Grove in 1851, where the Rev. Mr. Buttfield and his family still remain. The deceased was a most exemplary Christian, and bore her painful illness of about four months with meekness and resignation. The respect and affectionate regard in which she and her husband were held, may be inferred from the fact that friends in the neighbourhood took charge of all their younger children soon after the commencement of her illness. She has left eleven children, to mourn her loss, the eldest of whom is 16 years of age, and the youngest only three months. Their loss is irreparable; may they be followers of her, that they may at length meet her in that world were parting is unknown'.

A year later the Buttfield family moved to Port Lincoln where the Rev. Buttfield was to take up his new appointment. Financially he was supported by G.F. Angas. On 30 January 1865 he performed the wedding ceremony between Edward Daniel Swaffer, eldest son of Daniel Swaffer of the Port Lincoln Hotel and Julia Eliza Dutton, second daughter of the late C.C. Dutton, also of Port Lincoln. On 14 May 1865 he was visited by the Evangelist Henry Hussey who found the chapel accounts "in a state of confusion" but admitted that they "did not require a Philadelphian lawyer to unravel".

As the congregation at Port Lincoln proved too small to support the Rev. Buttfield's rather large family, he decided to retire from the ministry for more remunerative work. This was provided with his appointment in 1866 as Sub-Protector of Aborigines at Blinman for the Northern Region. He did not think it was the right place to work from and in June 1866 unsuccessfully requested if he could make his head quarters at Nuccaleena. While carrying out his duties he wrote detailed reports on his observations of the living conditions of the Aborigines.

In his 1867 report he wrote, 'There has been a great amount of sickness but little mortality among the natives,....I always carry in my waggonette medicine and medical comforts and thus have been enabled to render needful assistance to many poor sufferers....The almost total absence of native animals, and the failure of other resources, have placed a large number of Aborigines in most trying circumstances and dependant upon the government's generosity....They are for the most part patient, peaceable and well disposed, occasionally an unprotected hut is robbed of stores and there have been one or two instances of crimes of a more aggravated nature'.

A year later he wrote 'I can note no appreciable increase of native animals. For years to come the Aborigines will remain more or less dependant upon the government for support, a contingency which would not have arisen but for the flocks and herds of the invader during the long and disastrous drought'. Some years later he reported that the Aborigines had endured great hardships and many had died from sheer want.

Buttfield's appointment of Sub-Protector was followed in 1869 by the additional appointment of Special and Stipendary Magistrate, at 250 per annum plus forage allowances. As Coroner he was often required to travel to nearby settlements or stations. His many duties could involve long absences from his home, and so, mindful of the responsibilities of a large family, he married again on 3 September 1868.

His second wife was Jessie Hay Cameron. They were to have another eight children. During his nearly twenty years at Blinman he became a member of many committees, travelled as far north as Lake Hope and visited pastoral properties, mining camps, Aboriginal settlements and occasionally provided the services of a Minister when none was available. This was the case on 5 August 1873, when he married Alfred Key (29) and Lavinia Shaw (17) at the Edeowie Hotel. On 25 October he performed the ceremony for Alfred Loxton (24) and Mary Anne Muldoon (17) at Blinman. Seven years later he was to marry Levi Turner (28) and Rebecca Hill (19) at the Beltana Hotel on 29 February 1880. After this ceremony, another happy couple tied the knot and the locals were kept awake for a long time that night as "Tin Kettling" had commenced a few minutes after midnight.

Buttfield's first home in Beltana. (SLSA)

Soon after his appointment at Blinman Buttfield became involved in mining, as a shareholder, Auditor and even Director. By the early 1870s he was Chairman of the Board of the Sliding Rock Mining Company. All the time though, he was on the move. In 1880 he travelled on horseback as far west as Coondambo to report on the state of the Aborigines, who had been starved out from the north and were moving south into the more settled areas. At other times he provided the services of a doctor when on 31 January 1875 Mrs D. McFarlane was seriously injured by her dress catching fire. She recovered rapidly under his treatment.

On other occasions, and at different places, he performed the role of conducting inquests. For instance, when Joshua Burford, aged forty, died on the Beltana run on 25 January 1872, his verdict was that he had "Died from visitations of God". Two months after that case he found that Anton Eithman, aged twenty-nine, had "died from cause of causes unknown". Even in his capacity as Magistrate at Blinman he travelled far and wide. On 9 November 1875 he fined Henry Pearce 2 for being drunk and using obscene language at the Sliding Rock Court.

Not all cases were of this nature. A much more serious one came before him on 1 October 1880 and resulted in a suspect being committed to stand trial at the Supreme Court in Adelaide for "Feloniously assaulting one Julia Smith with intent to commit rape". When Buttfield died on 13 July 1885 after a long and interesting life his obituary read; Mr J.P. Buttfield was highly respected in the district in which his influence was brought to bear, and in his capacity as Magistrate he acquired the confidence of the public by reasons of the fairness of his decisions no less than by his stirling qualities of heart.

In the Aborigines he had a charge to fulfill which was thoroughly in accord with his humane disposition, and the natives were ever ready to show their appreciation of him". One newspaper had once referred to Buttfield in his dealings with the Aborigines as "their guide, philosopher and friend".


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