John James Taylor Buttle

John James Taylor Buttle (3 September 1837 – 16 January 1908) was born in Regents Park, Camden Borough, London, England. He was a son of William Buttle (1786 – 25 December 1878) and Mary Ann Doncer (1795 – 1895).

John James Taylor Buttle. Image D-08788, courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
John James Taylor Buttle.
Image D-08788, courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.

John Buttle started his career surveying and making cartographic drawings on the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Ireland for nearly four years.

Presumably in 1855, he married Agnes Irvine (1 January 1838 – 11 December 1914) and his first child Emily Agnes is born on 9 August 1856 followed by a second, William Frederick, on 31 July 1857.

In January 1858 he was appointed Assistant Botanical to the British North-American Boundary Commission and underwent instruction at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in England under Sir William Hooker. On 2 April 1858 he left Southampton, England on board the Steamer “Parana” with a party, headed by Colonel John Summerfield-Hawkins, further consisting of, Captain Haigh, R.A. Astronomer, and two officers of engineers, Lieutenants Dare and Charles W. Wilson, John K. Lord, naturalist, a geologist, Dr. Lyle, botanist, and 65 non-commissioned officers and men of the Royal Engineers; including topographers, surveyors, photographers etc. and 30 axe men. The “Parana” steamed into St. Thomas, where they transferred to the Steamer “Trent” and onto Colon (or Aspinwall as the Americans were calling it at the time). From there they took the Panama Railway across the Isthmus to board the “HMS Havanah”. He arrived at Esquimalt on the 11 July 1858. It is not sure if his wife and children had travelled with him or if they arrived later.

Duties led Buttle to many wild unexplored places in the Cascades, Kootenay and Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1862.

In 1863 he worked on the proposed route from Bute Inlet, up the Homathco River and into the Cariboo gold-fields for Alfred Waddington.

In 1864 Buttle was back in Victoria and applied for a position on the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition. In his application letter of 15 May he mentioned Robert Brown, Dr. Helmcken and Rev. E. Cridge as his references. The address signed as; “Corner of Quadra and View Streets.”

On 1 June, at the age of 26, he was formally appointed as “naturalist” of the VIEE.

The British Colonist referred to him as “Corporal Buttle.”

That summer had been very successful for his Commander Robert Brown and the VIEE however his contract with the Botanical Association led him to relinquish the command of the second Exploring Expedition in 1865. Brown suggested the leadership be handed over to John Buttle; a recommendation the committee accepted.

On 19 June 1865 the Navy’s “H.M.S. Forward” left Esquimalt for the second VIEE and landed Buttle’s party in Clayoquot Sound two days later. The party was comprised of; Buttle as commander; Thomas Forgie, who also had worked for the North American Boundary Commission until 1862 and then as a miner in the Columbia gold-fields for two years; Magin Hancock, an ex-Cariboo miner; Francis McCausland, an old Australian miner; Thomas Laughton, an interpreter; Tomo Antony, a Métis guide and hunter; Timothy O’Brien; and two native guides. It was obvious by the men’s occupations that there was a strong tendency towards mineral exploration. Buttle sent periodic reports to the British Colonist  in Victoria and on 12 August 1865, they printed; From the summit I got a good view in the direction of Comox; and in what I should judge to be the centre of the Island, I saw a very large body of water – I should suppose twenty miles long. It is either a chain of lakes, or else one very large lake with islands in it.” It is now known as “Buttle Lake (Strathcona Provincial Park). Another publication reported the expedition had found gold on the left fork of the Bear (Bedwell) River. The party continued with the exploration of the West Coast arriving at Nootka Sound and then travelling as far as Conuma (Woss) Lake via Tahsis Inlet. Buttle was hoping to get to Nimpkish but illness and bad weather forced him to turn back to Victoria. There John Buttle and his party had to deal with angry prospectors who had rushed to the Bear River upon hearing of gold, only to be disillusioned by the quantities. The miners complained long and loudly, saying Hancock and Forgie were “irresponsible” and Buttle “wasn’t fit to command the cook’s galley”. They believed they had been hoaxed and the Government was to blame for allowing the reports to be published.

Criticized for the Bear River fiasco, (presumably) in 1868 Buttle moved to San Francisco, California and was rarely heard of again on Vancouver Island. He and his wife Agnes had 10 children.

John James Taylor Buttle died on 16 January 1908 in San Francisco, California. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, San Mateo, California.


Copyright © July 2014, Bart van den Berk.


[Annotated and edited from the following main sources, in order of usage.]

Elms, Lindsay, The John Buttle Story, Beyond Nootka, accessed 14 April 2014,

Elms, Lindsay, Beyond Nootka: A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains, Courtenay, BC; Misthorn Press, 1996; 128 pages.

—-, Captain Robert Wolsley Haig, The Royal Engineers, accessed 14 April 2014,

Wall, Glenys, Transcript William Barraclough talking about the Boundary Commission, 26 July 1968, Nanaimo Community Archives, May/June 2004, accessed 14 April 2014,

—-, John James Taylor Buttle, MyRootsPlace, accessed 14 April 2014,

Brown, Robert, MS-0794, Robert Brown Papers, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, Canada. Vol.1, file 4, Contract for monthly stipend of members of the expedition for five months, 1 June 1864; 2 pages.

Brown, Robert, MS-0794, Robert Brown Papers, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, Canada. Vol.3, file 4, Vancouver Island Exploration Committee: applications for positions on exploring expedition, 1864; 80 pages.


(Keyword) biography John Buttle