Album of topographical views, mainly on the coasts of Japan, China and Formosa (Taiwan)

PAJ2050 is an album by James Henry Butt (1844-1936) containing 51 watercolour drawings (PAJ2051-PAJ2101), 50 mounted on separate pages, with one loose item and three blank sheets. They are mainly in chronological order and were presumably mounted in the album and captioned later, generally in pencil on the album page below the image, though some have monograph signatures, brief inscriptions and dates. The opening view of Cape Town is followed by 45 Eastern ones, mostly coastal, with two figure studies of Japanese girls. The last two drawings are an undated view of Posillipo, near Naples and one of Start Point, Devon, the latter made in August 1870 before Butt's next (home) posting in May 1871. He made all the others while second and subsequently third lieutenant of HMS 'Sylvia', survey ship, Commander Edward Wolfe Brooker (1827-70), which sailed for the China Station in late 1866 via Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and the Andaman Islands to undertake hydrographic work mainly in southern and western Japan. Brooker became ill and returned home from Yokohama in autumn 1869, when his first lieutenant, James W. Gambier, assumed command with a new second lieutenant, Butt becoming third from 15 November until the end of the cruise in Hong Kong on 6 May 1870. The ship and some of its crew remained in the east but Butt and others then returned home. Gambier and probably Butt sailed via the Cape, so when he did the drawing of Posillipo is uncertain, though perhaps around 1891-92, when he returned to Shanghai (probably via Suez by then). The 1867-69 period in Japan was one of turmoil surrounding the fall of the Shogunate and the restoration of Imperial power from 1867 under the Emperor Meiji, including the Boshin War of 1868-69. Butt's drawings show no hint of this, simply reflecting his interest in the topography and quieter aspects of the Chinese and Japanese environment in which he found himself. This fits with the only known comment on his character. For Gambier, in his later memoirs ('Links in my Life on Land and Sea [1906], p.370) said that he was of a studious disposition and also made a serious attempt to learn spoken Japanese by finding the best local teachers he could. He also complimented Butt's steadiness and good seamanship (p.374). Butt was born in Gloucester, son of an accountant, and probably entered the Navy about 1857-58. He was promoted acting lieutenant from acting sub-lieutenant in 1865 and, after further home service as a lieutenant, was retired with the rank of commander from 1 November 1873. He married Alice Maud Lovell (b. 1847) at Bristol in December 1870 and they raised a family of nine children there, of whom the youngest (Richard) was born in Shanghai in 1892, though why the Butts were then in China is not yet known. Census returns in 1881 and 1901 note him only as a retired commander, but 'organist' is given as his occupation in 1891. He may have unsuccessfuly applied to be harbour master at Llanelli in 1893 and perhaps had connections with the coal trade, since temporarily re-employed by the Navy for coaling duties during summer manoeuvres in 1894. His eldest son, Arthur Lovell Butt, was by then a naval engineer and died aged 23 on board HMS 'Vulcan' at Salonika, Greece, in 1895. Butt certainly continued to paint watercolours and to sell them to supplement his income (though he also later gained a discretionary addition of £65 p.a. to his naval pension, raised to £75 in 1923). Shortly after 1901 he moved to St Donat's, Old Colwyn, in North Wales and from 1906 to 1922 exhibited a number coastal views at the Royal Cambrian Academy and the London Salon. His wife died, aged 77, in 1924: he died at Colwyn on 4 January 1936, aged 91.

Object Details

ID: PAJ2050
Type: Album
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Butt, James Henry; Butt, James Henry
Date made: 1865-70; 1866-70 1867-1870 1867-70
People: Butt, James Henry
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Album: 252 x 330 x 40 mm
Parts: Album of topographical views, mainly on the coasts of Japan, China and Formosa (Taiwan)

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