Established in 1824, Butler, McIntyre & Butler is the oldest law firm in Tasmania, and perhaps the oldest in Australia.
Our firm evolved alongside the Island’s history.
Although sighted by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642, Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was then known, was not settled until 1802 when the British sent a small landing party from Sydney to claim the island and pre-empt a rumoured French settlement.
A year later in 1803, the first town was established by the British at Sullivan’s Cove (Hobart’s wharf area) and twenty years later, in 1822, Britain began her infamous, thirty-year history of transporting convicts to the Island — ground ripe for a law firm to establish!
In the early nineteenth century Hobart grew to become a major port, serving, amongst others, the whaling fleet. Our building at 20 Murray Street was then an inn — The Waterloo — and a favourite with the sea captains visiting the town.
Ownership of the The Waterloo and its License passed through several hands; from the original owner John James, a prominent Hobart brewer, through to the founder of Hobart’s Mercury newspaper, John Davies.
In the 1860’s the building was refurbished, converted to a boarding establishment and renamed Waterloo House.
The property was sold in 1868 and then again in 1907, when the new owner George Adams, decided to rebuild it.
While major structural changes were made, the building today looks very similar to the old boarding house and hotel that once stood on the site. Two old postcards, held in the collection of the Tasmanian Library in Hobart, show the distinctive differences between the old and the new.
The two storey, convict built, stone brick building was replaced by a three storey brick and stone dwelling. In keeping with the style, and no doubt to take advantage of the views, verandas, which surrounded the building at the Davey and Murray Streets corner, were retained.
The main entrance was positioned in Murray Street, exactly as it had been in the old building. A stained glass window near the front entrance was also installed around this time. Once again the building was used as a boarding house and was presented as offering “first class accommodation for tourists and travellers”.
Meanwhile, our firm was a tenant in adjoining premises at 22 Murray St., and from 1908, up until Butler, McIntyre & Butler occupied it in 1970, the building was used for accommodation and commercial purposes.
Today it is still possible to see many of the features which link the building to its historic past. There is an old cellar, which the staff jokingly refer to as “the dungeon”. The workings of an old dumbwaiter were removed to enlarge the internal rooms, but parts of the structure still remain. The stained glass window is one of the highlights of the entrance area.
Our part in the early history of Australia and Tasmania has seen Butler, McIntyre & Butler form associations with other legal advocates in all States of Australia, and has given us a broad client base including numerous interstate and international clients.
Nowadays, there is not actually a Butler or McIntyre in the firm. Of the founders’ descendants, James Butler retired as the senior partner in 1972 and John McIntyre in 1953. Out of respect for the long family history attached to this firm the name has been retained.