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Laurence Butler: 1798 rebel and Sydney’s first cabinetmaker of note

Irish rebel Laurence Butler (1750-1820) led an extraordinary life. Originally from Ferns in County Wexford, he was 48 when he took part on the 1798 Uprising in Ireland, and not much older when he was subsequently transported for life for his actions.

He was charged with “aiding, abetting, and assisting the murder” of George Grimes, a Protestant in the Yeomen militia (accused of murdering a Catholic blacksmith for making pikes), and of acting as a rebel captain. Witnesses at the trial did not confirm that he ordered or assisted the murder, only that he was at the scene of the crime. Laurence’s defence was that he was forced to participate, a common plea at these trials. It was also revealed that he carried the colours at the Battle of Tubberneering, the rebels’ major victory during the uprising.

Laurence arrived on the Atlas 2 in October 1802. He is now recognised as Australia’s first cabinetmaker of note, having a large manufactory in Pitt Street (now Angel Place next to Martin Place), and employing several journeymen and apprentices. He also had a general merchandise business. Known customers were Sydney notables, John Blaxland, John William Lewin, and Rev Rowland Hassall. He also made furniture for the Supreme Courts building and the chambers of Judge Advocate Jeffrey Bent.

Conditionally pardoned in 1813, he made many useful acquaintances – John Oxley, and Elizabeth Macarthur, among others, endorsed his first petition for a pardon. D’Arcy Wentworth recommended he be granted 100 acres at Lilyfield (now part of the Callan Park Hospital grounds, pictured above), which neighboured Lieutenant-Governor George Johnston and Captain John Piper’s properties.

For a convict exiled to the other side of the world, Laurence did very well for himself. His estate when he died was worth $2000, and consisted of the 100-acre grant, two adjacent houses in Pitt St and a house in Kent.

The research on Laurence is kindly provided by Barbara Butler. Barbara is seeking contact with anyone researching Laurence. If you can help, please contact Irish Wattle so we can put you in contact.

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