The British Fife – Youtube

Tracy 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 through copies of old black & white photos and painstakingly created an alphabetical listing of all tunes in the manuscript. His listing is the basis of this Buttrey Fife Music website.

Tracy has now started a British Fife Youtube site  which includes many Buttrey tunes:

Tracy Macdonnell - British Fife Youtube

“This site is dedicated to preserving and re-presenting this bygone music. Sources will include both manuscript and published works produced for the corps of fife and drum attached to each battalion of the army.”

Go have a listen !

Kate Winslet Had A Young Drummer Ancestor Too

Eamonn O’Keeffe, a PhD student at the University of Oxford researching British military drummers and musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and one of the researchers on the Buttrey Manuscript, was recently involved in the BBC’s celebrity family history series, “Who Do You Think You Are?”

In this episode which first aired August 12 (UK ratings of 3.8 million!), Eamonn spoke with Kate Winslet about her ancestor, who enlisted in the First Foot (later Grenadier) Guards as an eleven-year-old drummer in 1810.

The clip is fascinating, especially as John Buttrey became a drummer after joining  the 34th Regiment at the age of 15.

Eamonn appears with Kate at 3:23 minutes. The young drummers were taught music and sometimes reading and writing, and received better pay than the privates.

John Buttrey buried in Necropolis Cemetery, Toronto

We are very fortunate to know so much about John Buttrey, drummer and last military owner of the Buttrey Manuscript. This is mostly due to researchers at Fort York, Lionel Buttery in Lincolnshire, England and Harry McDougall, a distant relative.

Harry was able to determine that John Buttrey’s original resting place (January 17, 1854) was in Prospect Cemetery, Toronto, known also as Potter’s Field. In 1856, after the closure of this cemetery, his wife Mary Ann Buttrey purchased Lot 32 Section D at the Necropolis Cemetery in Toronto and had his remains moved there to a section designated “The Resting Place of Pioneers”. His wife Mary Ann, their daughter Mary Ann’s infant son Thomas Nokes and a Frederick Buttery were also buried in this plot.

John Buttrey - Potters Field to Necropolis Cemetery crop

Interment Dates:

John Buttery – Oct 1, 1856
Frederick Buttery – Oct 1 1856
Frederick J Knox –  Oct 1 1856
Thomas Nokes – May 9 1862
Mary A Buttery – Feb 5 1872

On August 15, Tracy McDonnell (fifer) and Ross Flowers (Drum Major), both of the Drums of the Crown Forces, went to the Necropolis cemetery to look for the gravesite.

“I went to the office to confirm that Buttrey’s remains were still there. His marker is a “flat” stone, ie not a headstone. Based on an inventory done in the 1990’s, the stone read in part “To the memory of John BUTTREY Who departed this life Jan 15, 18__.” Apparently, at that time, there followed several illegible lines on the stone.”

Despite the best efforts of Tracy, myself and office staff, we were unable to locate the specific stone. There were several stones overgrown and others where none of the writing was legible. We may go back again. But we knew we had walked past the last remains of a man who left so much to so many.

What do the Flags tell us ?

Buttrey Manuscript - Flags of the World

On page 36 of the newest end of the Buttrey manuscript, someone has drawn a wide ranging set of flags. As it was important to be able to recognize the flags of other ships at sea, this page might have been used for that. Someone might also just have enjoyed finding a book where he could draw the flags he knew.

What do these flags tell our historians?

Many, many years ago, while working at Fort York, Ken Purvis noted that the U.S. Flag has 15 stars placing it between 1795 and 1818, which was during John Buttrey’s service period.

Richard Gerrard, historian at the City of Toronto Museum and Heritage Services Unit, who recently received the Buttrey manuscript when it was donated to the Toronto Archives, noted several more things:

1) The “Dutch” flag is actually that of the Batavian Republic and dates 1795 to 1806

2) “The Royal Company Flag”  is the East India Company flag post-1801 and was most likely drawn in India as a “Moors” flag would not have flown in England

3) The Union Jack here, as well as as all other Union Jacks in the manuscript, is post 1801. (Eamonn O’Keeffe, PhD student at Oxford researching British military drummers and musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, also noted this.)

4) The last two flags, the 34th Regiment Colours, were probably not drawn by the same person as the other flags or the ships found on other pages of the manuscript

Since we now also know the blank paper was crafted in 1800 and 1801, all drawings must have made post 1801.

Taken together, Richard figures we are looking at an artist working between about 1801 and 1806.

Turns out we can learn a lot from the flags.  🙂

Alphabetical Listing Now Available

Chris Partington, leader of the group of transcribers at the UK Village Music Project, has created an alphabetical list of all 1,061 tunes in the Buttrey Manuscript. (scroll down the page)

By knowing the number of the tune, you can immediately go to the correct PDF to see the transcribed tune and notes, or find the tune in their ABC file for reading and listening to.

Thank you so much Chris !

– Sandy Cameron

PS – You can also find a photo of the original tune on this website by going to the Melody Index page to select the correct page for that tune number.

Blank Codex Bound in 1801

Richard Gerrard, an historian at the City of Toronto Museum and Heritage Services Unit, has started the process of looking at the Buttrey manuscript as a thing. One of the first things he discovered is that the paper is watermarked “CURTEIS & SON”. This identifies who made the paper and probably bound it into the codex.

He also noticed that the paper was dated both 1800 and 1801 suggesting that the blank manuscript was assembled and bound in 1801 using up stock from the previous year.

This answered some of our questions about how old the manuscript was. We already knew that neither John Buttrey nor the 34th Regiment had gone to the Battle of the Nile (1798) or the Battle of St. Kitts (1782). Now we know for sure that these narratives were written down at a much later date, perhaps simply because blank paper was available in the Buttrey manuscript and these older soldiers wanted their stories recorded.

Curteis & Son

William Cureits was in partnership with his sons, John and Thomas, (originally CURTEIS & SONS – in operation from about 1787). It became ‘& SON’ after John’s death in July 1800. It continued as “CURTEIS & SON” until William’s death in 1803. Thomas continued for a few more years but appears to have given up the business in about 1809. The history of the mill is available here.

Richard Gerrard is an Historian at the Collections and Conservation Centre of the Museums and Heritage Services, Economic Development and Culture, City of Toronto. The manuscript was donated to the Toronto Archives in July 2019.

New Owner – Toronto Archives

The Buttrey manuscript is now the property of the City of Toronto Museum and Heritage Services Unit.

Over the past 30 years, a series of musicians/researchers at Fort York have worked diligently on the manuscript so it seemed only fitting that it be given to Fort York via the Toronto Archives. The music in the manuscript would have been the music played at Fort York in the early 1800’s.

The manuscript now will be sent out to be assessed; then examined to see what can be learned from the paper used, the binding etc.; then a handwriting expert will try to answer some of our questions about how many people authored it or made corrections etc. It will be really exciting to learn what they find out.

Richard Gerrard & Sandy Cameron July 31 2019

Ross Flowers (Drum Major, Drums of the Crown Forces) took a photo of Richard Gerrard (Historian, Museums and Heritage Services, City of Toronto) receiving the manuscript from Sandy Cameron.


Buttrey Presentation at Fort York July 21

Tracy Macdonnell will be giving his presentation on the Buttrey Manuscript at Fort York, in Toronto, on Sunday July 21st at 1:45 pm.

Tracy Macdonnell - Buttrey PresentationBack in the 1980’s, while working at Fort York, Tracy learned the fife from images of the Buttrey manuscript and painstakingly created a list of all 1,061 tunes. This was a major step in allowing the manuscript to be accessible to others. He undoubtedly knows more Buttrey tunes than anyone anywhere and truly enjoys playing them.

His presentation will help you understand more about military and social music of that period and more about the Buttrey Manuscript.

Tracy, thank you for doing this.

– Sandy Cameron


Eamonn O’Keeffe – Researcher

Eamonn John Cairns PhotoSimply amazing what the universe can bring together. I’ve just learned that one of the contributors to the Buttrey Music website, Eamonn O’Keeffe, a PhD student at the University of Oxford, is currently researching British military drummers and musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Who knew there people out there that knew about these things ?  And how fortunate for us !

Eamonn’s going to give a presentation that includes the Buttrey ms and will share with us his findings on the dating of the manuscript once the presentation is done.

Really glad I built this website. It has brought such fabulous people together.  🙂