Able Seaman James Butler, 1782-1864.
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2018 4:27 pm
Able Seaman James Butler was born in Norfolk c.1782. In addition to his regular duties he worked as a servant for individual officers. He attached himself to the then 11-year-old Midshipman John Harvey when he joined his first ship, HMS Agamemnon, in 1804, and the two moved together from ship to ship for the remainder of John’s career. Butler served both his officer and any other member of the Harvey family on board (there was usually more than one) and was evidently “refused a petty officer’s rating, that his services might not be interfered with.” The published memoir of one Harvey cousin, John Harvey Boteler, devotes an informative page to Butler. According to Boteler, Butler was a devoted servant, extremely near-sighted, taught himself to read and write, and could solve complex maths problems in his head. He was captain of the foretop in HMS Epervier (in which John was a Lieutenant) when she was captured by USS Peacock in April 1815. When HMS Antelope was paid off in 1819 Butler briefly worked for John’s brother Henry Wyse Harvey as a groom, and then returned to John’s service in civilian life. (John and Boteler were Lieutenants and Henry a Midshipman in Antelope--their uncle's flagship 1815-19.) John settled at Woodlands Cottage at Woodlands near Canterbury with a housekeeper and Butler to look after him; Butler slept there in a hammock slung in a loft with a step-ladder to it! He was good with his hands, for he mended broken china expertly and built a large working model of a windmill that actually ground corn. When Henry Wyse Harvey built an elaborate sailing model of a 10-gun cutter between 1830 and 1836 Butler made working guns for it. (This model survives in the Maritime Museum in Deal, Kent, but with replaced guns.) When John finally retired to Folkestone he set both servants up in a cottage of their own to live out their days. Butler died aged 82 and was buried in Adisham, Kent.