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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Earl of Lanesborough (John Vansittart Danvers Butler)
  • Born 18 April 1839 Madras (now Chennai) India
  • Died 12 September 1905 Lanesborough Lodge, Belturbet, Co Cavan
  • Educated Rugby School
  • Occupation Officer in Royal Navy (Retired on succeeding to Earldom in 1866. Lord Lieutenant of Co Cavan
  • Debut 17 June 1869 v All England XI at Rathmines
  • Cap Number 128
  • Style Batting - hand unknown (but believed to have been right handed). Bowling: underarm bowler - style unknown.
  • Teams Co Cavan, Lords and Commons, MCC, I Zingari, Leicestershire (pre County Club), Gentlemen of Leicestershire

John Butler, who succeeded his half-brother to become Sixth Earl of Lanesborough, came from a family long established in the Counties of Cavan and Fermanagh. At the time of the Plantation of Ulster, they had been granted lands there, leading to the establishment of Newtown Butler and, in 1712, Theophilus Butler was created Baron Newtownbutler. His nephew became the first Earl, having already been made a Viscount, in 1766. The family lived in the beautifully situated Lanesborough Lodge in Belturbet, the remains of which are now barely visible through woods and undergrowth. Their English residence of Swithland Hall in Leicestershire was acquired through marriage into the Danvers family in the early 19th century. Partially destroyed by fire shortly afterwards, the rebuilt hall (1835) still stands today, a Grade 2 listed building.

John's schooldays were spent at Rugby, which already had a reputation as a good cricketing establishment and also, of course, played its own particular brand of football, which, or so it appears, would have evolved without the possibly apocryphal intervention of William Webb Ellis. John participated in both these pastimes, though never achieving the feats of the School's star performer of the time, the Australian Tom Wills, later one of the inventors of Australian Rules Football, and a legendary, though flawed figure, in sports history Down Under. Wills was some years older than John, but his academic progress was such that they may well have been in the same form. Rugby, despite the reputation it had gained under Dr Arnold was still a somewhat rough and ready institution, drunkenness was not uncommon amongst the boys, who were allowed to brew their own beer, and, owing to contamination of the town's water supplies, hygiene was not of the highest. In all, it was, perhaps a good preparation for the naval career on which John embarked after leaving school. Having served as Midshipman, he became a Lieutenant in 1860 and had, possibly by purchase of commissions, become a captain by 1866, when his half brother's death propelled him into the peerage and resignation from Her Majesty's Navy. Having taken the title, he preferred to be called Lanesborough which is what will be done here.

His cricket career began in earnest after he left the quarter deck for the quieter climes of Cavan and Fermanagh. Not only did he play regularly for Co Cavan, a team made up of fellow landowners, their families and available military and visitors, but he also appeared a good deal in English cricket, particularly for The Lords and Commons CC, for which as a representative Irish peer - i.e. one of those with Irish titles chosen to sit in the Lords after the Act of Union - he was entitled to play, even though his political outings in the Palace of Westminster were far from regular.

It must be said that his matches in England were often far from successful. Between 1869 and 1877, he played in 22 of which scores have been seen, he totalled 133 runs at an average of 7.00 with a highest score of 30 made for I Zingari against Westminster School in 1877. As he had also made 21 in the corresponding match in 1875 and 22 for Leicestershire (a pre first class team not the forerunner of the present county side) against MCC in 1875, it will be seen that over 50% of his runs came from three innings. Despite these figures he was often at the top of the order, being no stranger to opening the batting. He also bowled on occasions, though full analyses are not available, he sometimes met with success. Thus in the 1877 match with Westminster, he not only made his career best score but also managed a "5 for" before going on to secure a draw with an innings of 10*.

His most distinguished wicket, however, was obtained playing for the Lords and Commons against I Zingari in 1871 when he dismissed a certain GRC Harris, later as Lord Harris to dominate English cricket for more than 50 years. Harris also played with Lanesborough for the L and C as did Irish cricketers, the Earl of Gosford, A Smith - Barry and Sir Henry Bruen, the last two being MPs. Another peer of the realm who played with Lanesborough for this side, which sometimes fielded 24 players in an effort to match an IZ XI, was the Marquis of Queensbury, known for his codification of the rules of boxing and his successful defence of a libel action taken against him by Oscar Wilde. He was not a very successful cricketer. One other wicket taken by Lanesborough is worthy of mention, that of the Earl of Caledon, whose son Harry Alexander was also to become a useful cricketer, but became better known as a Field Marshal.

Lanesborough's sole appearance for Ireland was also unsuccessful, when, having turned out in a few matches for Co Cavan he played in the 1869 match against the All England XI at Rathmines. After the visitors, perhaps feeling the effects of an alcohol dependent rough crossing of the Irish Sea, had been bowled out for 136, the 22 of Ireland obtained a 4 runs first innings lead, small thanks being due to the Earl, batting at No 17, who was out for 0 caught by destructive slow underarmer Crispin Tinley off the bowling of fast roundarmer George Freeman for a duck. He did not bat in the second innings as Ireland, set 127 to win, had struggled to 41-4 when stumps were drawn. In an era when "One cap wonders" were frequently to be seen in Irish sides it is, perhaps, no surprise that Lanesborough was among them.

He had married Anne Elizabeth Clarke in 1864. They had five children, one of whom, Brian Danvers Butler was to prove a good enough cricketer to play two first class matches for MCC as well as a number of games for Leicestershire 2nd XI. He was killed towards the end of the Battle of the Somme, by which time John Danvers Butler, Sixth Earl of Lanesborough had been dead for 11 years. The title survived until the death of the eighth Earl in 1998, though by this time Lanesborough Lodge was a wooded ruin and Swithland Hall had long been sold to pay debts and meet the demands of the Inland Revenue.