BUTCHER, MARK, cabinet-maker; b. in 1814 at St James, Suffolk, England, son of William and Patience Butcher; m. first in 1836 Margaret Chappell, and they had six children; m. secondly in 1849 Catherine Hooper, and they had seven children; d. 2 June 1883 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Mark Butcher, a member of a family of cabinetmakers, immigrated with his parents to Prince Edward Island in 1829. In February 1835 he announced the opening of a workshop in Charlottetown to specialize in all types of woodworking and turning. The business grew steadily. His competent workmanship, the continual exhortation of the public by politicians and newspapers to encourage home manufacture, and the extraordinary economic prosperity of the period from 1855 to 1865, combined to make the Butcher factory a flourishing enterprise. It was patronized by all classes of society. Even shipbuilding families whose vessels sailed regularly to more fashionable centres bought furniture from Butcher’s shop. An important part of the business was to provide furniture for public institutions such as government offices, Government House, the Central Academy, Prince of Wales College, and the Charlottetown Court House.
Every article of-household furniture was executed at the Butcher factory, from drawing-room Grecian or French sofas to butlers’ trays, bidets, and washing machines; significant quantities of church and school furniture were also produced. At least one carver specialized in figure-heads for ships. Imported woods such as rose, zebra, satin, mahogany, and black walnut were used extensively, as well as native birch, pine, and bird’s-eye and curled maple.
By 1867, the year he switched from horse-drawn power to steam machinery to turn his lathes, Butcher was employing 40 men in his factory. In 1874 he sought 20 additional joiners and cabinet-makers. As well as maintaining a retail store in Charlottetown, he had branch stores in Cardigan and Georgetown and shipped his products to New Brunswick and Newfoundland. He exhibited with the Island contingent at the 1862 exhibition in London, England, but he also showed his furniture locally, usually winning first prize in competitions.
Butcher’s early designs reflect the transition from Regency to Victorian styles. Labelled or stamped furniture remaining from the earlier period include a desk, reading chair, chest of drawers, Regency-style sofa, gentleman’s dressing mirror, and some chairs inspired by Grecian prototypes. He then progressed into the mid-Victorian style. Again labelled pieces, exquisitely carved in a wide variety of designs, are extant. The carvers were familiar with English stylebooks and with English and American imports, but according to tradition they copied from examples produced by Butcher or his foreman which hung on the walls near their work-benches. One of Butcher’s less expensive items, a simple chair, appears to have been a design unique to him. The crossbar in the centre back, carved from a single piece, is designed to look like three separate pieces.
Though furniture-making was Butcher’s main vocation, he pursued other business interests as well. In his early years he operated a thriving livery stable. Like most cabinet-makers, he was an undertaker; as such, he advertised coffins and caskets in rosewood, mahogany, walnut, and imitation woods. In the 1860–70 period he was the architect of a market building in Charlottetown, a brick engine-house for a woollen mill, and at least one dwelling. In conjunction with Thomas Alley, he designed a powder-magazine and Prince Street Methodist Church. He also built railway cars for the Prince Edward Island Railway in 1873–74. Butcher took part in community affairs, serving as a member of the Charlottetown City Council from 1865 to 1869, as a member of the mechanics’ institute, and from 1863 until his death as a trustee of the Methodist church.
Mark Butcher was Prince Edward Island’s most proficient and prolific cabinet-maker in the second half of the 19th century, and he produced furniture which compared in quality with any manufactured in British North America. Following his death in 1883, the business was taken over by his nephew, Mark Wright, who continued it under his own name.
Charlottetown City Hall, City Council, Minutes, 1864–69. Trinity United Church (Charlottetown), Church records, 1863–83. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1836, 1848, 1850, 1855, 1861–65. Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser (Charlottetown), 2 Oct. 1841. Examiner (Charlottetown), 15 May 1865; 19 April, 8 July 1867; 17 May 1869; 3 Aug. 1874; 2 June 1877; 2 Jan. 1878; 12 July 1880; 18 March 1881; 10 March 1882. Herald (Charlottetown), 6 June 1883. Island Argus (Charlottetown), 11 Aug. 1874. Islander, 6 July 1849, 6 June 1853, 19 Feb. 1864, 15 Feb. 1867, 14 Feb. 1868, 15 Oct. 1870. Patriot (Charlottetown), 6 March, 6 May 1869; 9 July 1870; 24 July 1880. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 17 Feb. 1835; 12 Jan., 23 Feb. 1836; 7 March, 4 July 1837; 3 July 1838.