Button, Thomas (DNB00)

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BUTTON, Sir THOMAS (d. 1634), admiral, fourth son of Miles Button of Worlton, in Glamorganshire, entered the naval service of the crown about the year 1589. Of his early career we have no exact information, though from casual notices we learn that, with occasional intervals of wild and even lawless frolic (Cal. S. P. Dom. 15 Jan. 1600), he served with some distinction in the West Indies and in Ireland. His good and efficient service at the siege of Kinsale is especially reported (Cal. S. P., Carew, 22 Oct. 1601), and won for him a pension of 6s. 8d. a day, which was confirmed on 25 March 1604. It is not, however, till 1612 that he comes prominently into notice, and then as the commander of an expedition to search for the north-west passage, under the direct patronage of Prince Henry, in whose name his instructions were drawn out. As captain of the Resolution, with the Discovery pinnace in company, Button put to sea early in May, and in the following August explored for the first time the coasts of Hudson's Bay, and named Nelson River after the master of the Resolution, who died there, New Wales, and Button's Bay, into which the river flows, and where he wintered. For such severe service the ships' companies were but poorly provided, and great numbers of them perished, although game was plentiful. In the following spring and summer, with much enfeebled crews, Button succeeded in examining the west coast of Hudson's Bay, so far as to render it certain that there was no passage to the west in that direction, and as autumn approached he returned to England. He was shortly afterwards appointed admiral of the king's ships on the coast of Ireland. This office he held during the rest of his life, exercising it for the most part on the station implied by the name, frequently also in the Bristol Channel or Milford Haven, where his duty was to suppress pirates, which, of different nationalities, and more particularly French and Turkish, infested those seas. The only important break in this service occurred in 1620, when he was rear-admiral of the fleet which, under the command of his kinsman, Sir Robert Mansel, made an unsuccessful attack on Algiers. He had already been knighted at Dublin by his cousin, Sir Oliver St. John, then lord deputy (Cal. S. P., Ireland, 30 Aug. 1616). In 1624 he was a member of the council of war, and in 1625 was on a commission for inquiring into the state of the navy. At this time he was necessarily a good deal in London, and appears to have resided at Fulham. The duties of his commission and of his command kept him in continual hot water with the navy board, against which he was supported by the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Denbigh. The quarrel reached a climax in February 1627–8. On the 12th Button wrote from Plymouth to Nicholas: ‘All the world will take notice if I be unhorsed of the ship in which I have so long served. If dismissed, I shall shelter myself under the lee of a poor fortune which, I thank God, will give me bread, and say as the old Roman did “Votis non armis vincitur.”’ On the 13th Lord Denbigh wrote to Buckingham that ‘he should be sorry if so able and honest a man as Sir Thomas Button were neglected;’ and on the 15th the navy board complained that Sir Thomas Button would ‘take no notice of any order unless he received the duke's immediate command.’ Buckingham's interest, however, seems to have brought him successfully through his difficulties. His later years were much embittered by a series of disputes with the admiralty regarding several instances of alleged misconduct on the one side, and the non-payment of his pension and allowances on the other. Of the charges against him, which amounted to neglect of duty, fraudulent appropriation of prizes, sheltering of pirates, &c., Button cleared himself without any serious difficulty; but to make good his claim for money due to him was not so easy, for his accounts had become extremely complicated, and no one could say even what pay he was entitled to as admiral of the Irish seas, the opinions varying from 20s. a day to 5s. The question was still undetermined at his death in April 1634.

He was twice married, and left a large family. At least one of his sons, and two or three nephews of the name, were at one time or another captains in the navy, and we may fairly suppose that the Edmond Button who commanded the Sampson and was killed in the battle off Portland was one of these. It may be noted also that Sir Thomas Button was a near relation of the St. Johns, and more distantly of Cromwell himself. His eldest son Miles, however, after the Restoration, petitioned for compensation for losses sustained in the cause of royalty; it does not appear that he received any.

[Calendars of State Papers, Domestic, 1600–1635; Clark's Glamorgan Worthies (some account of Admiral Sir Thomas Button), 1883, 8vo; Button's Journal of his Voyage to Hudson's Bay is hopelessly lost; whatever traces of it remain have been collected in Rundall's Narratives of Voyages towards the North-West (Hakluyt Society), 81.]

J. K. L.