About The John Buttrey Manuscript

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. Buttrey is noted as having left Lincoln for Canada "at his own expense" in about April 1849. He died in Toronto on 15 Jan 1854. I first 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 have found it to be a very useful “rosetta stone” for identifying and dating untitled melodies.

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. The PDF escaped into the digital wild at some point and I was lucky enough to acquire one of those. I have also recently made contact with he manuscript's owner Sandra Cameron who has been photographing the book for a website she has created about it. - https://buttreymilitarysocialtunes1800.wordpress.com

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.

Colour scans of the manuscript can be viewed at -https://buttreymilitarysocialtunes1800.wordpress.com


Title About The John Buttrey Manuscript
Subject John Buttrey Manuscript
Year 1800
Locale Central


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