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Butler, Lawrence (1750–1820)

Lawrence Butler (1750-1820) is recognized as Australia's first cabinet-maker of note, with a manufactory at No. 7 Pitt Street Sydney c.1809-1820 (adjacent to Samuel Terry's property, in Angel Place), employing several journeymen and apprentices.

Lawrence, born c.1750 in County Wexford, Ireland, was charged with "aiding, abetting and assisting the murder of a man named George Grimes on or about 29 May 1798, and also for having acted as a Rebel Captain during the 1798 Irish Rebellion. Grimes was in the Wexford yeoman militia, and in turn was accused of murdering a Catholic blacksmith named Carton who was suspected of making pikes. At Butler's court martial in December 1800, he was given a life sentence and transported to New South Wales, arriving in October 1802 on the Atlas. As a cabinet-maker, he was assigned to the lumber yard in Sydney and, in his spare time, built up a profitable cabinet-making business making quality furniture for the colony's free settlers. Receiving a conditional pardon during the period of the Rum Rebellion, he purchased his first property at No. 7 Pitt Street at which he lived and carried on his business in cabinet-making and general merchandising until his death in December 1820. Although Governor Macquarie recalled all pardons issued during this period, Lawrence received another conditional pardon in January 1813. His first memorial in 1810 for a pardon was endorsed by Gregory Blaxland, John Oxley and Elizabeth Macarthur. Another memorial for deeds to his land grant in 1816 was endorsed by his neighbours, Captain John Piper and Major George Johnston, and Oxley.

Lawrence became one of the leading businessmen in the colony, as one of the seventeen who tried to set up the Commercial Society of Sydney in 1813 for the purpose of forming a small trading group or 'bank' to issue promissory notes in lieu of currency, and to establish a more regulated and manageable system of payment for goods and services. Governor Macquarie, however, did not approve of the venture and banned the group. He was also one of the 75 signatories to a memorial to Macquarie (19 November 1818) seeking relief from the British Government decision to forbid the importation of goods on convict transports to Sydney, Macquarie describing the signatories as 'a great majority of the most respectable Inhabitants of the Colony'.

Several pieces of furniture attributed to Butler or his manufactory are in museums around the country, including Governor King's secretaire bookcase at the National Gallery of Australia, and pieces at Old Government House at Parramatta, the Power House Museum, Sydney, and the Old Mint in Macquarie Street. Various privately owned pieces attributed to Butler have fetched high prices at auctions.

On his death on 7 December 1820, aged 70, he left a considerable estate including two houses in Pitt Street (Nos. 6 and 7), premises in Kent Street, and the one hundred acre land grant in the District of Petersham (now the Callan Park Hospital grounds at Lilyfield), fifty head of cattle, and his stock of furniture, which his son Walter in his memorial in 1825 stated was valued at upwards of £2,000. Lawrence left his estate to his three surviving issue: Walter Butler (1807-1870), Lawrence Ormond Butler (1812-1856), and Mary Ann Butler (1817-1857), who married John Campbell Macdougall.

Original Publication

  • unpublished, 2014

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Butler, Lawrence (1750–1820)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 30 May 2020.

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