John Buttrey joined the 34th Regiment in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England in 1797 as a drummer (fifer) at the age of 13. He served in South Africa and India for 19 years, was wounded by gunshot in India in 1805 and was discharged at Landguard Fort, England on July 12, 1814 when the battalion was disbanded. He emigrated to Canada with his family at his own expense in 1849 and died here in 1854.

There are sketches in the book of “The Battle of The Nile” (1798) and “The Battle of St. Kitts” (1782), both before John Buttrey became a drummer and in places where the 34th Regiment did not serve. This, and changes in penmanship seem to indicate that there were various authors to this manuscript.

PG 1 John Buttrey

John Buttrey’s name is written in the front of the book several times. Ken Purvis (previously of Fort York, Toronto, ON) did considerable research and with the help of Pam Buttrey in England, was able to follow the progression of the manuscript through the family from John Buttrey in Lincoln, UK to Alfred Buttrey in Oshawa, ON. From there family history followed the book to Toronto, ON.

In attempting to determine the author of the manuscript, Ken Purvis says, “I noticed years ago Buttrey had transcribed a tune directly from Volume 2 (“A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs. Glasgow Printed and Sold by James Aird) so now I am systematically going through it and I have made a couple of discoveries. First, although there are tunes in common from Aird Vol. 1 1778, they are not direct copies. However, I have been through Vol. 5 which was published in 1797 and there are a couple of dozen tunes that are directly copied, right down to spelling, grace notes, slurs, rests, musical expression and tempo instructions. Most of these appear in the latter half of the book which also corresponds to the change in the appearance of the music. I believe your ancestor (John Buttrey) contributed substantially to the book.”

From the dating of the paper used in the manuscript and the flags drawn in it, Richard Gerrard, historian for the Museum and Heritage Sources, City of Toronto, feels it is safe to assume that the manuscript was created between 1801 and 1806.

Journey of the Manuscript

It appears John Buttrey brought the manuscript with him when he emigrated from Lincoln, England to Canada in 1849. The manuscript then passed to his son Frances (Lincoln, UK ; Oshawa, ON), to his son Alfred Buttrey (Toronto, Oshawa, Toronto, ON), to Alfred’s eldest daughter, Beatrice Buttrey (Toronto), to her niece, Gladys McFarline Cameron (Toronto, Quebec City, Ottawa) and to her daughter, Sandra Cameron (Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Georgetown).  (John Buttrey to Sandra Cameron Tree(John Buttrey Hstory page)

In 1972, Sandra Cameron had the manuscript microfiched at the National Archives in Ottawa where the various researchers were able to view it and begin their many years of work on it. It has since been photographed in black and white by Ken Purvis at Fort York, Toronto (1980’s) and Ross Flowers in colour (2018). This website was begun in 2017 so that musicians and musical historians could have access to the music before the book was handed over to the City of Toronto for safe keeping.


Starting at one end of the book, there are 961 military and social Melodies, 774 of which are indexed at the opposite end of the book. The opposite end of the book has the Index of the Forsts, the Index of the Seconds, then music for the 49 Harmonies followed by music for another 47 Melodies. (Also 6 tunes missed in the numbering or given the same number, and 2 numbers not given tunes.)  (961 + 47 + 4 melodies + 49 harmonies = 1,061 tunes.)

Amongst the latest music are wonderful drawings of a Highland Officer, the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of St. Kitts and the British and French ships in line during the Battle of St. Kitts, playing cards and a drawing of hunters and dogs.


Ken Purvis

Ken PervisKen is currently the Museum Coordinator at Montgomery’s Inn History Museum in Toronto and worked at Fort York, Toronto for 22 years. He is an historical reenactor and early music performer. Thank you to Ken for all his years researching the tune titles and bringing this music alive at Fort York. Also for finding records of John Buttrey’s son Francis and grandson Alfred which firmly tied the manuscript back to John Buttrey of Lincoln, U.K.

Tracy Macdonnell

Tracy Macdonnell cropTracy Macdonnell, previously an Historic Interpreter at Fort York, Toronto and currently a fifer with the Drums of the Crown Forces, has been playing the tunes in the Buttrey Manuscript for almost 30 years. Fortunately, while at Fort York, he got tired of searching for tunes in copies the old black & white photos so painstakingly created an alphabetical listing of all the tunes. This is the basis of this website. Without his list, this ms would not have become available to the world. Tracy has also started a Youtube site where he plays many tunes from this era.

Ian Bell

Ian Bell Photo 2017Ian is a Canadian folk musician, composer, and singer-songwriter who has been active in the Canadian folk music scene since the 1970s. With Anne Lederman, he was part of the seminal Canadian folk group Muddy York. He has contributed to the development and preservation of Canadian folk music for more than twenty-five years. He sings both old songs and his own original compositions. He continues to draw inspiration from his many years as full-time curator of the the Port Dover Harbour Museum. Thank you to Ian for transcribing over 60 tunes from the Buttrey Manuscript, making them available at his Ontario Traditional Music Library website along with some renditions by Saskia Tompkins, and allowing us to copy these onto this website.   (Ian Bell playing “I Wish You a Merey New Year #508)

Pam Buttrey

Pam is in charge of the Buttrey family at Guild of One Name Studies, U.K. She graciously sent Ken Purvis extensive notes from John Buttrey’s military records, his marriage bond to his first wife Ann, and notes about John’s children Francis & Thomas.

Ross Flowers

Ross FlowersDrum major Ross Flowers developed his interest in military music as a kid, watching his father perform in a trumpet band with the Canadian Army. He’s performed at the War of 1812’s Battle of Stoney Creek Reenactment for about 20 years. He currently runs the Drums of the Crown Forces, a group formed in 2000 by drummers from various War of 1812 reenactment units. “The thing that we try most to do is to honor the music of the period we represent.” Thank you to Ross Flowers & Tracy Macdonnell for photographing all the music in the  book and sending the photos to be added to this website. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

Eamonn O’Keeffe

Eamonn John Cairns PhotoEamonn O’Keeffe is a PhD student at the University of Oxford researching British military drummers and musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He is also a Council member of the Society for Army Historical Research. Eamonn served as Drum-Major of the Fort York Guard until 2016, leading a fife and drum corps at Canada’s best-preserved War of 1812 historic site. Many thanks to Eamonn O’Keeffe for contributing John Buttrey’s War Office Papers (Transfer to Montreal, Discharge Agreement WO97Pension Papers), the 1841 St. Peter at Gowts Lincoln Census, researching the tiniest clues, and dating the manuscript.

Richard Gerrard

Richard GarrardBefore becoming the City of Toronto museum registrar for 22 years, archaeologist Richard Gerrard ran the archaeology field lab at Fort York in 1987-88. He was also historian for the commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and in 2014, became historian for the Museums and Heritage Services unit. Richard is providing us alternative information about the manuscript by analyzing the  materials used in the manuscript as well as dating the manuscript via the flags etc.

Drums of the Crown Forces

Drums of the Crown Forces was formed in 2000 from fifers and drummers from various War of 1812 re-enactment units within the Crown Forces, North America …  There are several clips of them playing  music from the Buttrey Manuscript here.

Stoney Creek Re-enactment 2018 Drums Walking strip

The Village Music Project

In 2019, the Village Music Project in the United Kingdom became aware of the Buttrey manuscript. They wholeheartedly embraced it, gathering transcribers, mostly from the Melodeon Forum, who quickly began transcribing tunes into ABC files and PDFs so everyone can read and hear the tunes. These are available here. We are so extremely grateful to this group for taking on this extraordinary job and to Chris Partington for co-ordinating and overseeing the project.

Chris Partington: “Whether or not the music was written down by 1) the same person who wrote the illustrated accounts of the battles, or 2) the other sketches, including the one that depicts the “Uniform for the Drum major Boy H(er).M(ajesty’s). 34th Regiment for the year 1804 & 5″, or 3) by John Buttrey himself, or 4) another person entirely, in my opinion the whole of the music content is in the same hand.”


  • Anahata
  • Eric Conrad
  • Greg Bradfield-Smith
  • Mike Hicken
  • Nigel Rainer
  • Peter Dunk
  • Quinton Cumbes
  • Rob Watkins
  • Roger Hare
  • Ruairidh Greig
  • Steve Dumpleton
  • Steve Mansfield
  • Taz Tarry

Owner of the Buttrey Manuscript

Sandra Cameron

Sandy 2018 Purple -2The Buttrey Manuscript has been passed down through the Buttrey-Fife family for 6 generations, mostly in Canada. Until July 2019 it resided with Sandra Cameron in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada. In recognition of its importance to Fork York, it is now the property of the City of Toronto.

Due to the extraordinary work of Ken Purvis and others at Fort York, the complete history of the manuscripts travels were unearthed. Due to the diligence of Ian Bell in being determined to find old English music at the Canadian National Archives then sharing this music with the Canadian forts and friends, many others became aware of the Buttrey Manuscript, including the U.K. Village Music Project. Our gratitude to Ian is immense.