Butcher, Samuel (DNB00)

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BUTCHER, SAMUEL, D.D. (1811–1876), bishop of Meath, eldest son of Vice-admiral Samuel Butcher, was born in 1811 at his father’s residence, Danesfort, near Killarney, co. Kerry. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Townsend Herbert, of Cahirnane, in the same county. He was educated at home until his sixteenth or seventeenth year, when his father removed to Cork, and he was sent to the school of Drs. Hamblin and Porter. In 1829 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he won high honours in classics and mathematics, and obtained a foundation scholarship for classics in 1832. He graduated in 1834, obtained a fellowship in 1837, and was soon after appointed tutor and lecturer. The improvement in classical taste and scholarship which was observable about this time in the university of Dublin has been with justice attributed in no small degree to Butcher’s lectures. In 1849 the degree of D.D. was conferred on him. In 1850 he was appointed to the professorship of ecclesiastical history, and two years later to the important office of regius professor of divinity, on which occasion he vacated his fellowship. In 1854 he accepted the college living of Ballymoney, co. Cork, which he continued to hold along with his professorship until, on the recommendation of Lord Derby, he was appointed in August 1866 to the vacant see of Meath, the premier bishopric of Ireland. Butcher ably supported the Irish church against external assailants and his wise and moderate counsels contributed not a little to avert the dangers of disruption which threatened it after its disestablishment. He laboured unsparingly to reorganise the affairs of the church throughout Ireland, and especially in his own diocese. He took an active part in promoting the movement for securing an endowment for the divinity school in Trinity College. On the important question of the revision of the prayer book ‘Dr. Butcher rather aided with the revision party, to which undoubtedly his character, position, and learning contributed very considerable weight’ (Freeman’s Journal, 31 July 1876).

In the midst of these labours, and while still in the enjoyment of a remarkably vigorous constitution, he was suddenly prostrated by a severe attack of congestion of the lungs and bronchitis. In a moment of delirium he inflicted on himself a wound from which he expired almost immediately. He died on 29 July 1876, at his episcopal residence, Ardbraccan House, Navan. His public life was a solid and unbroken success, no less honourable to himself than useful to the university and the church to which he belonged. Within the private circle of his own family he was peculiarly happy and fortunate, and he possessed in the fullest degree the affection of his friends and the respect of the public. He was buried in the churchyard of Ardbraccan. He married, in 1847, Mary, second daughter of John Leahy, of South Hill, Killarney, by whom he had two sons and four daughters. His eldest son (S. H. Butcher) is now (1886) professor of Greek at Edinburgh.

His published works consist chiefly of occasional addresses, sermons, and charges to his clergy, and a treatise (published after his death) on the ‘Theory and Construction of the Ecclesiastical Calendar,’ London, 1877. Of his charges perhaps the one which excited most attention was that of October 1874 (Dublin), in which he dealt exhaustively with Professor Tyndall’s address to the British Association, delivered in Belfast in 1874.

[Cork Examiner; Saunders’s Newsletter, 8 Aug. 1866; Irish Times, 7 Aug. 1866; Daily Express, 31 July 1876.]

G. V. B.