Butt Family Cannery


Most of the text was hand written by Colin Butt son of Leonard and grandson of Francis Gustavius Butt. The collection of text and photographs was collated by Marion Eaton and is lodged in her archives with the Society.

Francis Gustavius Butt 1856

The Channel Islands have been British or English since the time of William the Conqueror who came from Normandy. He invaded England in 1066. (Courtesy of Google Earth)

Francis Gustavius Butt was born in St. Peter Port on the Channel Island of Guernsey on 6th September 1858, a son of Nicholas and Harriet (nee Hawkins) Butt. He learnt the trade of tinsmith at James Keiller & Sons Ltd. London makers of jams, cakes, confectionery and the tins which held the products. Today their tins are collectible items sold on EBay.

By 1881 he was living in West Ham with his brother and his family. Both men were tinsmiths. Francis worked for a while in a fish and meat-canning works where he learned the art of hand soldering on 5 and 7pound (2.26Kg and 3.17Kg) cans. If the soldering was not done correctly, the lids blew of the cans and the worker had to pay for the lost can and contents. It was a great incentive to do the work properly.

Emigration to New Zealand 1884, Married 1888, move to Australia

Carterton N.
Carterton is a small town near the smaller Wellington in the South East of the North Island. The other, larger, Wellington is the capital of N. Z. and is on the other side, South West, of the North Island. (Courtesy of Google Earth)

In 1884 he sailed to New Zealand where he found work. Here he also met Hilda Hall Odling, born 3rd June 1866 in Carterton near the smaller Wellington N. Z. Her father Enoch, a mariner, and her mother Susan (nee Hall) were married in England and were shipwrecked on the way to New Zealand, but finally reached their destination. Enoch later became a sea captain but lost his life when he went down with his ship, leaving his wife and five children.

Francis Butt and Hilda Odling were married on 23rd May 1888 in the Webb St. Methodist Church in Wellington. Shortly after, they sailed to Brisbane, possibly on the ship "British King". They made their first home in the New Farm district, joining with the folk of the Brunswick Street Methodist Church.

Mr. Butt found he was the only Tinsmith in Brisbane and worked at his trade, being employed successively by J.J. Verney & Co., Peacock & Sons, Reis and Duthie, and J.H. Harrison and Co.
He made cans for a number of companies including Thurlows (general merchants), Harpers and C.S.R.

Move to Southside of Brisbane 1896

Butt Family
The Butt Family - Back: Vera, Raymond, Irene, Leonard Front: Rita, Father, Mavis, Edwin, Mother.

In 1896, they moved to the Southside of Brisbane and for the next 14 years were closely associated with the East Brisbane Church. Here Mr. Butt was a trustee and steward and superintendent of the
Sunday School Kindergarten. Mrs. Butt acted as church organist, while caring for her young family, which was made up of Raymond (1892), Irene (1895), Vera (1899), Leonard (1901), Rita (1904), Edwin (1906) and Mavis (1908).

Move to Zillmere and Farming 1910

Weylands - a stately Queenslander
Weylands was a stately Queenslander which dominated the small farm. It would have been needed to house the nine family members

In 1910, they moved to a 25 acre (10.1 hectares) farm in Murphy Road, Zillmere, which they bought from R.C. Verney. This property had a large colonial home Weylands, three stables, a barn and men's rooms.

It also had a pineapple plantation and Mr. Butt, with the help of his family, worked the farm, finding that he had to learn new skills.

Small crops were planted, tomatoes being a major one.

The children attended Zillmere State School, with some later being sent to Chermside State School.

Leonard, aged 9 on his arrival at Weylands, according to his sister Irene, took to farm life as though he 'belonged', looking after the horse, and milking the cow. At age 14 he persuaded his parents to allow him to leave school and he joined his father on the farm.

Move into Full Time Canning F.G. BUTT & SONS Ltd.

Butts Cannery - Cooking the Cans
This machine continuously moved the filled cans through very hot water. The contents were cooked by the time they reached the other end and came out of the bath. There is no indication when this complicated machine was installed. However the leather belts look like they are driven by a horizontal shaft in the top of the photo. This was a common method of driving machines used during the steam engine era.

Soon Mr. Butt found that farming on its own did not provide sufficient living for the family and he decided to try canning some of the pineapples. He started under the house, using his skills as a tinsmith to hand-make cans. Body blanks were cut and shaped ready for hand soldering the side-seam. The ends of the body were then dipped into a flux pad with top and bottom ring being attached and crimped to hold them tight enough before they were soldered all the way around. After filling, a cap was soldered onto the ring and the filled cans were ready for cooking, which was carried out using a copper washing boiler.

Slowly the canning developed into a viable proposition and a girl was employed to help. On Saturday afternoons all the family worked. Mr. Butt, with help from members of the family, often worked at night doing repairs, by the light of a carbide lamp.

Later, a building was erected for packing, as sometimes pineapple sales on the fresh fruit market paid better than canning. However, as the canning processes improved, it was found necessary to let the growing of pineapples go and to concentrate on canning. Supplies were purchased from a large number of growers in the Zillmere, Aspley and Bracken Ridge districts. In later years this was extended to the near north coast. The range of products increased from simply canned pineapple to include pineapple juice, tropical fruit salad and a large variety of jams.

Power was produced by steam engine, a very reliable means of power, being almost 100% trouble free, according to Colin.

At the time, anyone could fire a boiler or drive a steam engine or use any type of jacketed jam pan, to any steam pressure. Later the Government legislated safety laws and the driver had to be licensed. Leonard Butt passed the examination and was duly licensed.


Butts Ford Truck 1923
The use of a one ton truck must have cut transport costs dramatically. One loading and one unloading instead of three of each. And they never had flat tyres!

The firm of F.G. BUTT & SONS Ltd. gradually installed more and more machinery over the years to reduce the costly manual labour and keep prices down. Competition was keen there were many canneries in Brisbane such as Victoria Cross Manufacturing Co., Summerland Preserving Co., Hargreaves & Sons, R. M. Gow, John Fischle & Sons (Bald Hills), J. E. Bernard & Co., and the State Cannery.

In January 1923 they bought their first truck, a one ton Ford with solid rubber tyres. Previously they carted the finished product in a dray to Geebung Station, sent it by rail to Brunswick St. Station unloaded and take by dray to the wharf. The truck made one trip from factory to wharf.

The gradual extension of factory buildings took place from time to time as was necessary. Automatic machinery gradually took over from the old hand processes for both can making and the various canning operations. A ship's tank was used for cooking until later when an automatic unit was installed. Other processes included peeling, coring, slicing, dicing, labelling and packing.

The firm employed between 50 and 70 workers, with a core of permanent employees supplemented by casuals during the busy season. Peak output was reached in the 1939-45 period, with the major part of production going to the armed forces.

Management Changes - Closure 1960

Tennis Court C'side State School 1944
This tennis court was at the Chermside State School but it is typical of the time. The Butts court would have looked much like this one. It is probably an ant bed court made from ants nests, termite or others. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep in good playing condition. It has to be sprayed with water, rolled with a heavy, usually concrete, roller, bags dragged over the surface to level it and then boundaries of the court marked with white lime water. Preparing the court took almost as much time as the tennis games. The posts around the court had wire netting stretched over them to confine the tennis balls to the court.

Before the First World War Raymond built a tennis court, using dynamite to blast out the rock, so that the girls would have some form of relaxation. This was put to great use over the years, right up to the time when the old home was moved in the early 1960's.

Raymond served with the armed forces in France during the First World War 1914-18. He became an accountant, managed his own business and played an important part in the overall management of the cannery particularly on the financial side. His son, Ronald joined him in the accountancy firm.

Leonard Butt succeeded his father as manage, possibly before Gustavius died in 1941. Colin, Leonard's son, worked in the business in various capacities, from the time he left school in 1946 until it was sold.

F.G. Butt and Sons fruit canning and jam manufacturing business was sold in late 1960 to the Victoria Cross Manufacturing Company.

Colin attributed the decline of the small canneries to the fact that they could not compete with the very large ones such as Golden Circle at Northgate and the Victoria Cross Manufacturing Company.

From Manual to Machine Production

The firm started canning large pineapples including the core of the fruit, by cutting them in half to fit in the can and then slicing slicing them. This was all done by hand, it was slow and costly.

As machines became available they replaced the manual processing of peeling, coring, slicing, crushing, cooking and can making, consequently production increased greatly and cost per item fell greatly.

With increased production came increased variety and this was reflected in the colorful labels used to assist sales.

Products and Labels

Butts Cannery Labels 1

When the family started marketing their goods production was so small that they could not afford to print their own labels. They sold their products through an agent, Mick Finucane, who bought the goods and used his own labels; he had an office near the Customs House.

Butts Cannery Labels 2

We have a collection of 12 labels in our archives but it seem probable that the family were producing a wider range of products from the list below. All the labels featured the title "Tropical Isle" as the generic name of the products.


Tropical Fruit Salad - two types; Sliced Pineapple; Pineapple Pieces; Crushed Pineapple; Dessert Plums.


Pineapple and Apricot; Fig Conserve; Light Plum Jam

Church Affiliations

Picnic Group Butts 1930s
Church picnic beside Somerset Creek behind Hamilton's Body Works in Chermside. R to L - Fred Bishop, Mrs. Butt, Pastor Murray, Mr. Butt

Beginning with their arrival in Zillmere in 1910, the Butt family enjoyed a close association with the Chermside Methodist Church which was then situated on Gympie Road, Early's Hill near Banfield Street, Chermside.

Mr. F.G. Butt became a steward and trustee of the Church and was remembered for his bright personality and quick step. He was looked upon by family and friends as a man of faith, courage and honesty. He retained his spirit of youth until his death in October 1941 in his 83rd year.

Mrs. F.G. Butt was the first president of the Ladies Church Help Society and remained active in the Church whilst her health lasted. Eventually she was permanently confined to her home, but retained her interests to the end. She bore her physical disability and failing sight with fortitude, until her death at 83 in 1947.

The property on which the old homestead and factory stood is now residential area bounded by Murphy Road, Orville, Pomeroy and Maberley Streets. A great contrast from the early days of the pineapple plantation, extensive bushland and the semi-circular driveway lined with camphor-laurel trees which led to Weylands, the old colonial home, residence of the Butt family for 50 years.

Later Years of Francis and Hilda Butt

Golden Wedding Anniversary 1938

Not too many married couples achieved this milestone at the time. Both had to work hard to raise their family and build their business at the same time.

Born in the 19th Century when the life expectancy was around 50 years they had endured World War 1 and the Great Depression. The future of their business was secure in the hands of the second generation.

They had much to celebrate with their family around them to the third and fourth generation.

Francis and Hilda Butts grave Lutwyche
Francis and Hilda Butt's grave in Lutwyche Cemetery.

Shortly after their 50th Anniversary and just after World War II broke out Francis died and was buried on 31-10-1941 in Lutwyche Cemetery at age of 83 years.

He just missed the time when the business output reached its climax. The troops had to be fed and Butt and Sons responded producing endless supplies of canned fruits and jams for the 'boys' at the front.

Hilda lived on through the war years dying and was buried on 20-1-1947 at age of 80 years.

Butts Headstone Lutwyche Cemetery

The headstone is carved from Red Granite, a magnificent looking and extremely hard stone. Consequently it is hard to read but it will last for many thousands of years.

The lower inscription is interesting. It reads:
Donald Leonard Butt - 30-12-1935 --- 31-5-1948
Son of E. H. and D. E. Butt.
Would he be part of the fourth generation?