Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902)

Samuel Butler was born in Nottinghamshire, England to Rev. Thomas Butler and Fanny Worsley. From the beginning it was to be an unhappy family. A bright little spark, Samuel was at first home schooled. He would later state that daily beatings accompanied the teachings from his father.

He later went to school at Cambridge and it was there that he decided to follow his father into the church. While he waited for his ordination into the Anglican clergy, he began to question his own faith. On speaking about his concerns to his father, the fight that followed caused Samuel to flee, boarding a boat bound for Lyttelton, New Zealand. The year is 1859.

From this point in his life, Samuel succeeded in everything. Always a great athlete, Samuel began to explore Canterbury’s mountains. He crossed the Witcombe Pass and explored the Rangitata’s. These adventures would lead to his memory in the naming of Mt Butler, Butler’s Saddle and the Butler Range. He would have also been the first European to go through what we now know as Arthur’s Pass but as he was travelling alone, he decided not too, safety first.

It was during this time that Samuel decided to become a sheep farmer. He took up 5000 acres just above Forest Creek. After just one winter, Samuel moved 5 miles up river and named his property ‘Mesopotamia’. Although having no experience, he managed the property well. He began to write while at ‘Mesopotamia’, gathering his letters and journals, publishing the book ‘A first year in Canterbury Settlement’. He also wrote ‘Erewhon’, a novel he wouldn’t publish until later which is now regarded as his highest achievement. The Canterbury mountains were his muse and inspiration.

Samuel was well liked. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Julius van Haast, James Edward Fitzgerald, William Rolleston and especially William Sefton Moorhouse – all members of the Canterbury Club. On 1st December 1863, Samuel rode the foot plate on the very first train in New Zealand as it took its first historical run from Christchurch to Ferrymead. Standing on the engine was William Sefton Moorhouse – the man behind bringing the railway to Christchurch and New Zealand! And then just like that, Samuel was gone.

In what he would later describe as a time “of very great pain”, Samuel returned to England and an apartment that he would remain in till his death. Many would speculate what drove Samuel to break his Canterbury ties so quickly. Some said that he had fallen in love with Mary Brittan, the daughter of Dr. Joseph Brittan and had proposed. He was rejected and she would go on to marry William Rolleston the following year. Other say he had fallen for a fellow Christchurch business man, Charles Pauli and the two returned to England together. Whatever happened, Samuel sold ‘Mesopotamia for a great profit and with the death of his father, a great inheritance was paid. Samuel would never have to work again. He would though, always regret his ties that were cut with Canterbury.

A very rich man, Samuel indulged in life. With Charles at his side, the two would holiday every Summer in Italy and with Samuel as his financial support, Charles studied the law. Samuel was writing, studying other writers and sharing his opinions of God, the devil, evolution, Darwin and the arts. Weekly visits to prostitute Lucie Dumas, along with a few intense male relationships, Samuel was a mystery to understand.

With the scandal that broke with gay writer Oscar Wilde, Samuel withdraw from public life, not wanting to be known as one of the homosexual literary geniuses that were being forced out of their closets. Samuel died in 1902.

Here are some of the famous quotes of Samuel Butler:

“It must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.”

“Brigands demand your money or your life; women require both.”

“Every man’s work, whether it be literature, or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.”

“From a worldly point of view, there is no mistake so great as that of being always right.”

And the most famous quote of all…

“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

*image of Samuel Butler courtesy of*

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