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Edwin John Butler 1874-1943
Plant Pathologist

By Mary J.P. Scannell, former Head of Herbarium, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

Born: Kilkee, Co. Clare, 13 August 1874.
Died: Esher, Survey, 4 April 1943.

Father: Thomas, Resident Magistrate in Kilkee, Cahirsiveen. Mother: Anne (nee Barry).
Married: Nina Le Mesurier of an old Guernsey family.
Children: One son, two daughters.

2 Belgrave Place, Cork.
Also: Kilkee; Cahirsiveen; Calcutta; Esher, Surrey.

Exhibition 1851 Scholarship 1989; DSc, National University of Ireland 1920; Commander of the Indian Empire 1921; Fellow of the Royal Society 1926; President British Mycological Society 1927; President Association of Economic Biologists 1929; Commander of the Order of St Michael & St George 1932; LLD Aberdeen University 1938; Knighted 1939.

Edwin John Butler graduated in Medicine at Queen’s College Cork in 1898, but never practised. With Marcus Manuel Hartog (1851 – 1924), Professor of Natural History, Assistant Director Peradeniya (Ceylon) (1874 – 1877), a gifted cytologist (cytology is the study of cells), he explored mircoflora in the College ponds. His interest in Pythium, a parasitic fungus had begun. He worked with foremost mycologists in Kew, Paris, Freiburg and the Antibes. In 1901 he was appointed Cryptogamic botanist to the Government of India. He trained mycologists and technicians, set up a herbarium and a culture collection, inspired workers, and advanced knowledge and research. His first posting was to Calcutta, with the Botanical Survey of India – the centre of Systematic Botany. In 1902 he made field collections at Dehra Dun. In 1905 he was appointed Imperial Mycologist at the Agricultural Research Station, Pusa. He studied life in the soil and fungus diseases in potato, wheat, rice, sugar, coconut, rubber, and many other tropic crops. His first paper, on potato diseases of India, appeared in 1903, and a classic account of Pythium in 1907. Some 40 research papers followed, leading to Fungi and Diseases on Plants (1918). In 1931, with G.R. Bisby, he issued The Fungi of India. In 1920 Butler was Agricultural Advisor to the Government of India. In July 1920 he founded the Imperial Mycological Bureau in London, later the International Mycological Institute, and was its Director for 15 years. The abstracting journal Review of Applied Mycology was initiated with Butler as editor. To-day he is known as ‘The Father of Indian Plant Pathology and Mycology’. The Butler Medal was initiated by the Society of Irish Plant Pathologists in 1977.

Further reading:
E.J. Butler: The development of economic mycology in the empire overseas, Transactions of the British Mycological Society, 14, 1-18, 1918.
E.J. Butler: Fungi and Disease in Plants, Calcutta, 1918 (reissued 1995).
Dictionary of National Biography, Missing Persons, 1993.

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