BUTLER, Sir Richard (1850-1925)


BUTLER, Sir Richard (1850-1925)
premier of South Australia
son of Richard Butler, pastoralist, was born at Stadhampton, near Oxford, England, on 3 December 1850. He was brought to South Australia by his parents and arrived at Adelaide on 8 March 1854. He was educated at St Peter's College, Adelaide, and afterwards spent many years as a farmer and grazier. He attempted to enter parliament early in 1890 when he stood for Yatala and was defeated. A few months later he won the seat at a by-election. On 13 April 1898 he succeeded Cockburn (q.v.) as minister of agriculture in the Kingston (q.v.) ministry which resigned in December 1899. He was treasurer in the Jenkins (q.v.) ministry from 15 May 1901 to 1 March 1905, and was also commissioner of crown lands and immigration from 1 April 1902 to 1 March 1905. Jenkins then went to London as agent-general and Butler succeeded him as premier, still keeping his previous portfolios. His ministry was defeated on 26 July and he was in opposition for about four years. On 22 December 1909 he joined the first Peake (q.v.) ministry as treasurer and minister for the Northern Territory, but the ministry was defeated on 3 June 1910. He was commissioner of public works in the second Peake ministry from 17 February 1912 to 10 November 1914 and minister of mines and of marine from 17 February 1912 to 3 April 1915. He was treasurer again in Peake's third ministry from 14 July 1917 to 7 May 1919, minister of railways for the same period and minister of agriculture from 19 December 1918 to 7 May 1919. He left the ministry in unfortunate circumstances. The report of the royal commission on the wheat scheme appeared to reflect on the actions of Butler while he was the minister in charge of it, and Peake asked Butler to resign. He refused to do so because he considered that would admit the justice of the charges. The executive council, on the advice of the government, thereupon dismissed Butler from his offices. He felt this keenly. The report of another royal commission presented some 14 months later was, however, accepted as exculpating him, and the fact that he was elected speaker in 1921 suggests that he had suffered some injustice. He was defeated at the general election of 1924 after having represented the same district for 34 years. At the beginning of 1925 he went on a trip to England and died there on 28 April. Butler was knighted in 1913. He married (1) in 1878 Helena Kate Layton and (2) in 1894 Ethel Pauline Finer, who survived him with eight children by the first marriage and three by the second. One of his sons, Sir Richard Layton Butler, born in 1885, was twice premier of South Australia between 1927 and 1938.
Butler was a good debater and an excellent administrator, though inclined to overwork himself by giving too much attention to detail. He had remarkable financial ability and great grasp of the intricacies of accounts. It was his fate to be treasurer more than once in a period of drought or depression, and the measures he adopted did not always improve his popularity. But he was quite fearless, and his courage and determination more than once saved the position, and gave him a place among the abler Australian treasurers.
The Times, 29 April 1925; The Advertiser, Adelaide, 29 April 1925; The Register, Adelaide, 29 April 1925.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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