What the Butler did

A collection of writing by Brother Tony Butler

Family History – Introduction November 13, 2008

Filed under: FamilyHistory — Tony @ 7:30 am

I began this family history in 1984 when I realised that with the death of my grandmother, Gladys Cant, in July 1979, my father’s sister Julia in February 1982 and my mother in September 1983, that the family stories were in danger of being lost.  It turned into a huge work of fascinating research which eventually took me back beyond the Nineteenth Century into the Eighteenth and in the case of one ancestor to about 1649. More recent researches have taken me back to the Spilsbury family in 1550 or maybe even 1520.

This family history an account of the ancestry of the three children, Paul, Anthony and Adele, of Malcolm George Butler and Honor Delores Whittaker.  So it is the story of all I have been able to discover of those people who went into the making of one little family unit.  Our father’s ancestors are treated first, working from male to female, then our mother’s ancestors.  Chapter One deals with the ancestry, marriage and arrival in Australia of Alexander Bishop Butler, the first Butler of this family about whom I have any substantial information.  Chapter Two concerns itself with his relevant son, Alexander Edward Butler.  Chapter Three turns to the family of Alexander Edward Butler’s wife Eliza Helyar.  Their son Edward William Butler and his wife Lily McLean are dealt with in Chapter Seven, so that Chapters Four, Five and Six can look at Lily McLean’s ancestry: Chapter Four tells of her father’s family, the McLeans; while Chapters Five and Six concern her mother’s father, William Dedicoat (Derecourt, Jones or Day – as will be explained) and the children of William Dedicoat and Mary Kirwin.

After Chapter Seven, which concludes my father’s ancestry, I turn to the forebears of my mother: Chapter Eight deals with all that is known about her father’s family, the Whittakers, both the male line and the female line, the Peter(s); and there are two chapters, Nine and Ten, given to her mother’s family, the Cants.  Chapter Eleven deals with our immediate family.

I began researching my family history in 1984 after the death of my mother. By then I had lost all the older generation, those who could tell the story – my grandmother Gladys Whittaker, my aunt Julia Blake in 1982 and my mother in 1983. My research was amongst photographs and papers in my possession, in the N.S.W. and Victorian records of births, deaths and marriages, in the N.S.W. and Victorian Genealogical Societies’ rooms, the Mitchell and LaTrobe Libraries, and in the N.S.W. State Archives.  A lot of materials came from relatives, close and distant, some still alive, some deceased: my aunt and my grandmother were great sources of information, particularly in the early Seventies when I first dabbled in this research.  I am only sorry I did not know then what I knew later so that I could have asked more questions.  My researches amongst the living have given me contact with cousins of my mother and my father, as well as more distant relatives – Valda Strauss and Rita Neal have been of great help.

I completed my first account of the family history in 1986. I formally revised it in 1998 and I began another complete revision in 2014. As I write, December 2015, I have several more chapters to revise. I have been able to make use of a good deal of more recent research done by relatives and through the Internet, which was not available in the 1980s. The biggest task was the complete writing of William Dedicoat’s story using his memoirs and independent records to write a definitive version of his story. I have also rewritten the Mary Kirwin story and turned it into an account of Dedicoat and Kirwin’s children. There has been a significant amount of work on the Whittaker family and the Peter(s) family.

There are problems in researching family history.  Certificates are only as good as the memory of the informant.  Spelling of names varies considerably; dates and ages are not always accurate, for various reasons – bad memory or other inaccuracies, sometimes to hide the truth.  So, for example, without marriage certificates from Scotland to assist, it is impossible to correlate birth and marriage dates for the McLeans because the information concerning the shipping arrival and from their death certificates is simply conflicting.  And when it comes to the Dedicoat-Derecourt-Jones-Day character, we are faced with real problems because William spent so much time covering his tracks or was forgetful or unaware of information.  The conclusions I have presented about him may, for all the care taken and cross-checking done, still be subject to correction. Anne Cant née Wessler remains a mystery: she was adopted and I have no birth certificate: the one photograph of her suggests that she is very likely to be of Aboriginal descent.

The responsibility for conclusions in this story is mine, though information received varies according to source: for example, living relatives have different points of view about Sarah Grieves (who became “Granny Cant”); and there are several versions of the kidnapping of Francis Cant’s two girls from his first marriage.  I have drawn conclusions which may or may not be fair to those concerned: it is a reserved picture I have given of E.W. Butler, who may have been other than that; I have written a very sympathetic account of Mary Kirwin and partly dedicated the book to her though she may have ended her days in drunken misery (being married to Bill Day, she had excuse enough for that!)

The work of researching and writing this history has been endlessly fascinating: I will not forget how my hands shook with excitement when I held the birth certificate for Richard Day which confirmed in my opinion that great-great-grandfather Dedicoat was in fact the well-known convict and bushranger Bold Bill Day; nor the excitement of being handed a folder in the LaTrobe Library which gave an account of the Butler family’s background and arrival in Australia; and the thrill of undoing the red tape around the crackling papers of the witnesses’ depositions in the preliminary hearing against William Day after he was arrested for the bushranging episode.  Even to read an account of the blowing up of John Blanch’s gunshop in Melbourne was touching: John Blanch may have been a first cousin three times removed, but the excitement was more immediate.

In April 1998, I completed a full revision of the text.  This required the scanning of the original text and photographs, though not the charts which had to be done by hand, into a computer and then reformatting and correcting the text.  As well as this, I added all the material I had gathered since the original writing of the family history in 1984-1986.

The 2014-2016 revision has added much more new material.

For further information, including genealogical charts, you are welcome to contact me at anthonymbutler@yahoo.com


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