Ita Buttrose a product of family history entwined into twists of Adelaide's early years from 1850s

Ita Buttrose's father Charles became a distinguished editor, war correspondent – and deputy manager of the ABC – after starting work at 14 on Adelaide afternoon newspaper, The News.

Ita Buttrose, appointed chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2019, has a family background entrenched in the turns of Adelaide history.

The Buttrose name comes via William Fenwick Butters and Frances Adelaide Crear who sailed on the Washington from Scotland in 1851, arriving the next year in Adelaide.

William’s grandfather and father came from a Buttrose line but somehow used the surname Butter. When he married Frances in Glasgow in 1851, William’s surname was recorded as “Butters” and on the Washington passenger list it became “Birtrouse”.

Whether these name anomalies were due to William being born less than nine months after his parents; wedding (so technically a bastard) or his wife coming from an aristocratic background or just William’s Glaswegian accent being misunderstood, it all became irrelevant when the Washington enter St Vincent Gulf and its drunken captain ran the ship aground on the Troubridge Shoal.

Among items lost from the ship were its log book with passengers’ names. The switch to "Buttrose” became simple. William was soon part of the colony’s history as a mounted policeman with Alexander Tolmer, bringing gold back from South Australian diggers in Victoria. He died in 1864 from a horse fall and/or diabetes, leaving Frances with eight children. She opend a school at Angaston and lived to 81.

Among her children was John Oswald Buttrose, a twice-married drinking womaniser who had a son John in the same mould, although he captained Sturt Football Club and played for South Australia in 1904 against Victoria. John or “Ossie’ married Agnes Kelly, daughter of Murray Bridge publican Charles Kelly, whose father had worked on the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph project.

“Ossie” made an unsteady living in show business, starting as Adelaide manager of J. C. Williamson. He eventually deserted Agnes and their seven children, the eldest being Charles, who kept the family together by getting a job as proofreader at 14 on Adelaide’s afternoon newspaper, The News. Ita Buttrose's father, Charles went on to became a distinguished editor, war correspondent – and deputy manager of the ABC

* Information from “History, identity and meaning in literary fiction” by Larry Buttrose for a Ph.D in creative writing, at Adelaide University, 2010.


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