Butler family & Benedictine Mission, New Norcia


WX7469 Thomas  Joseph, ‘Tom’ Butler received a gunshot wound to his upper chest during the bayonet charge at Hill 200, Ulu Pandan, south west Singapore 12 Feb 1942.  Transferred 2/13th AGH, Tom contracted pneumonia and died 15 Feb 1942 aged 34 years.

Tom Butler enlisted AIF Aug 1940, later joining 2/4th’s HQ Company.  With his role as a driver and his nickname ‘Handbrake Harry’ one imagines there was an unforgettable incident when Tom either forgot to use the handbrake or he forgot to release it!
He obviously did not live this down!
Butler T J


Tom was one of six children born to Thomas Edward and Bridget Mary Fitzgerald who married New Norcia 1893.  Tom and his siblings spent their lives at New Norcia where their father, Tom (Snr) was manager of New Norcia Benectdictine Mission Farm – at Namban from 1910 to 1935 when Tom (Snr) retired due to ill health.

Tom (Jnr) worked at a farm-hand prior to enlisting.  He married in 1940.

Tom and his father were keen sportsmen, and at one time we can see father and son played in same cricket match!  Tom (Jnr) also played local football and tennis.  His sister Mollie taught at New Norcia School and was thought of as an ‘Angel without Wings’. Young Tom was also highly regarded and thought to be following in his father’s footsteps.  The Butler family were very much involved in the community.

In 1912, the Marah School opened in the Benedictine Chapel (mud brick plastered inside and out) at the settlement. Miss Eva Crain, the teacher opened with 22 students, including the Butler children who travelled from Namban Mission Farm where their father was the manager. The school closed in 1920.





200 people from Bamban and surrounding region gave a farewell party to Tom Butler (Snr) and his family.   Tom was recognisedand praised for his farming and sporting skills. His father John Martin Butler, and Tom (Jnr’s) Grandfather had initiated the Butler relationship with the Mission right back to the beginnings of New Norcia Mission.

Tom (Snr) was born New Norcia 1870.  His father John Martin Butler settled down at ‘Canterbury’ property after Bishop Salvado had established the New Norcia Benedictine Mission.  John Martin Butler then moved to ‘Mt. Mary’ property from where he drove his bullock team to Perth and back with supplies for the farm and family.

Ill-health had pushed Tom (Snr) into retiring and amidst so many praises for the family, he was given a walking stick.  Mentioned was the hospitality always offered by Mrs Butler, her door always open to all.  Daughter Mollie had taught at the local school and been extremely active in the community.  She was referred to as an “Angel without wings”.



BUTLER, JOHN MARTIN, PIONEER NAMBAN – Grandfather to Tom Butler (Jnr) and father to Thomas Tom (Snr) Edward Butler

Early Australia saw a strong quest by Catholics and Protestants for ecclesiastical territory – Early Catholicism in Western Australia.

The first vicar general in WA, John Brady was anointed Bishop about 1844. The colonial secretary of Western Australia at the time, Dr R.R. Madden a devout Irish Catholic and Catholic Historian reported ‘the colony was administered by Irish Orangemen in the interests of Orangemen … unprincipled astute bigots in authority”. According to Madden, Brady ‘lived in a miserable hovel without comforts of any kind, on the simplest food’.
Dr Madden continued his criticism of John Brady who described south Western Australia as having about 3,000 catholics when in fact at that time, there would have been possibly 90 Catholics in the Perth region.  Brady also had published a book in Italian and English about an Indigenous language of WA’s south west – which puzzled Madden because Brady had only spent a few months in WA before sailing to Europe in  about 1844.
In early 1846 Bishop Brady returned to WA with 27 new staff from France, Ireland, Italy and Spain – this event was covered extensively in the Australian press of the time.   Newspapers provided various breakdowns of the party – such as number of priests, Irish students and Sisters of Mercy. Also included in the party was Dom Salvado OSB – he mentioned six priests – three French, one Irish and himself, six Sisters of Mercy, 14 novices, students and lay people. Only one priest could speak English.
One party was sent to the Mt. Barker region and almost starved to death.  The few settlers were suspicious of their new arrivals who probably could not speak English.  They later returned to Europe.
John Martin Butler b. 1814 Ireland d. 9 Apr 1895 buried New Norcia, (81 years) arrived WA ‘Elizabeth’ 8 Jan 1846 aged 32 years. Early Colonial history records Butler was a catechist with Brady’s party at Guildford and Mt Barker.
In 1848 J.M. Butler went to New Norcia as agent for Bishop Salvado. When Salvado went to Europe, Butler took up the New Norcia Lease in 1851.
John Martin Butler aged 39 years married 24 Nov 1853 at New Norcia to Mary CLUNE aged 21 years b. 1832 Ireland  – d. 24 Oct 1902.
In 1865-7 J.M. BUTLER became first Postmaster of Victoria Plains (New Norcia was included in Victoria Plains (Shire) Roads Board.)
1871-2 J.M. BUTLER was first Secretary Victoria Plains Road Board.
Tom (Snr), Thomas Edward was born New Norcia 1870. His father John Martin Butler settled down at ‘Canterbury’ property after Bishop Salvado had established the New Norcia Benedictine Mission. John Martin Butler then moved to ‘Mt. Mary’ property from where he drove his bullock team to Perth and back with supplies for the farm and family



J.M. BUTLER and Mary BUTLER (nee CLUNE) are buried New Norcia Cemetery.