Born on the Isle of Wight, this important British marine artist enlisted aboard the receiving ship H.M.S. Enterprise in 1795, then joined the frigate H.M.S. Caroline the same year. Buttersworth became able bodied seaman at 27 and midshipman in 1800. He was discharged after an injury at the Mediterranean port of Minorca.
He had begun painting while aboard H.M.S. Caroline in 1796. While a patient in Minorca he further honed his skills and created several Mediterranean scenes. He also painted views of the battles of Cape Saint Vincent and Trafalgar, probably from memory as he was on site for these historic battles during his sea service.
He was appointed official marine painter to the East India Company in 1810, gaining a strong reputation that led to exhibits at the Royal Academy (1813-1827), the British Institute and Suffolk Street Galleries. His prominence as one of England's pivotal marine artists is well established. He is noted for his dramatic portrayals of naval battles and coastal shipping, and as father and teacher of acclaimed American marine painter James E. Buttersworth and Thomas Buttersworth, Jr.