About The John Buttrey Manuscript
The John Buttrey Manuscript is a massive hand-written book of about 1000 tunes compiled for the use of a British fife and drum band in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
It was created in England and brought to Canada in the first half of the 19th century – but probably not by John Buttrey himself. It is none-the-less a good representation of the sorts of music that would have been heard in a garrison town like York between about 1784 and 1820. There are duty tunes, marches, jigs and reels and song tunes - along with harmony parts for hundreds of the pieces. In the margins and end pages are some wonderful pen and ink and watercolour sketches of various subjects and scenes. Although the book is primarily written out for the fife it also contains a fingering chart for the fiddle on one page.
At 17, John Buttrey joined the 34th Regiment in Lincolnshire in 1797 as a drummer. He served in Africa and India and was discharged when he returned to England in 1812. Some of the sketches in the book suggest that he may have been present at The Battle of The Nile. The book appears to have come to Canada in the early 19th century. with John Buttrey’s son Francis and wound up in the Oshawa area.
I discovered it in The National Library of the Archives of Canada in the early 1980s where it was misidentified as having belonged to David Fife (but that’s another story). Because of its size and the sheer number of tunes l found it to be a very useful “rosetta stone” for identifying and dating untitled melodies. Strangely, It no longer seems to be available for public use at the archives, even as microfilm. If anyone can clarify this for me – please do.
In 1983, I copied a good chunk of it on one of the microfilm printers of the day. It was later turned into a PDF document – I believe by someone a Fort York. The PDF escaped into the digital wild at some point and I have recently been lucky enough to acquire one of those.
The hand-written music it contains can be hard to read – even the staff lines are drawn with a pen. For this project volunteers and I have transcribed a small selection of the manuscript using various music writing programs, which have also been used to create MIDI files of the music. As well, some of the selections are accompanied by sound files of them being played on real instruments – by real musicians! I will present more of these as time permits. I can’t imagine we’ll ever get it all done. Many thanks to Ken Purvis for providing the details on Buttrey’s military career.
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