Butler, Edward (1824?–1879), editor, barrister, and politician, was born in Co. Kilkenny, son of Michael Butler, farmer, and Mary Butler (née Joyce). First educated at Kilkenny College, he received third-level instruction at the lay college, Maynooth, in the late 1830s. By 1847 he was editor of the Galway Vindicator, and regularly issued, in common with most contemporary Irish journalists, scathing denunciations of the inadequacies of British famine relief policy. Though it was by no means unusual to describe such policy as ‘systematic murder’ (as an editorial did in early 1848), putting his weight behind calls for armed insurgency (as the paper began to do that summer) was an altogether different matter. This, together with his activities organising Young Ireland confederate clubs in the county in June 1848, led to his arrest on charges of sedition. In early September 1849 he came to the assistance of Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) in his endeavours to reestablish The Nation. Later that month Thomas Carlyle, on a visit to the west of Ireland, summed up the sub-editor as a ‘burly, thick-necked, sharp-eyed man’ (Carlyle, 190), well able to treat with a catholic hierarchy for which he had no exaggerated respect. During August 1850 Butler was involved with Duffy, his mentor, in the formation of the Tenant League. He was active in the turmoil of the Leitrim election of July 1852, helping to elect the League candidate, Dr Charles Brady.
Tiring of the impecunious career of a radical journalist, he commenced legal studies in 1852 but was soon convinced that his prospects in Ireland were negligible and decided to emigrate to Australia in early 1853. He arrived in Sydney in May that year and soon became prominent as an anti-establishment liberal activist. He worked for a time with the aspiring politician and newspaper proprietor Henry Parkes on the Empire, where he expressed intense dissatisfaction with the New South Wales constitution drawn up in 1855. Admitted to the bar (16 October 1855), he set about developing a legal career. By 1857 he was appointed crown prosecutor for the metropolitan and coast district and acted as commissioner of the court of claims. Regarded as a ‘prudent and generous friend’ by Duffy, he set up a grand welcome for him on his arrival in Sydney in 1856, strongly urging him to establish himself there rather than in Melbourne, and to distance himself from the dubious attentions of an enthusiastic but unsophisticated Irish emigrant constituency. He was coopted (September 1861) by Premier Charles Cowper to the provincial legislative council (which he opposed in theory), where he tended to vote in favour of secularising measures of reform. In 1863 he resigned from the council to concentrate on his legal career.
Developing a lucrative civil and commercial practice in the late 1860s, he declined the office of attorney general, first offered to him in 1868. Choosing to renew political participation in late 1869 during the sectarian hubbub following the attempted assassination of Prince Edward by a radical Irish emigrant (September 1869), he was returned unopposed for Argyle (13 December). During and after the election he spoke strongly and effectively against attempts to drive the catholic population into antagonism to the state, and came into conflict with the catholic church for his espousal of non-denominational education. Having worked on the law reform commission during 1871, he accepted the offer of attorney general under the Parkes administration (May 1872). Having been informally promised the office of chief justice in November 1873, he reacted angrily when Parkes bowed to sectarian pressure by appointing Sir James Martin (qv), an Irishman with protestant leanings (though born Roman Catholic); Butler's resignation brought down the government. Remaining in the state assembly till 1877, he turned largely to his legal practice, though he was reappointed to the legislative council in 1878. He died of a heart attack in court on 9 June 1879.
He married (1 May 1858) Ellen Mary Connolly (d. 25 September 1871); they had four sons and five daughters. He married secondly (22 April 1875) Marion Daintry, with whom he had one daughter.