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White, James (1828–1890)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

James White (1828-1890), pastoralist and racehorse owner and breeder, was born on 19 July 1828 at Stroud, New South Wales, eldest son of James White and his wife Sarah, née Crossman. His father had arrived in Sydney on 24 July 1826 in the Fairfield as an overseer for the Australian Agricultural Co., and acquired land in the Hunter River district including Edinglassie, near Muswellbrook. James was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, and by Rev. John Gregor at West Maitland. In 1842 his father died leaving goods valued for probate at £15,000 and real estate, to be divided equally among his seven sons and two daughters. James returned home to manage Edinglassie, Timor, and Boorrooma on the Barwon River.

In partnership with his brothers Francis and George, James leased Belltrees, near Scone, from William Charles Wentworth in 1848, bought it in 1853 and later added the adjoining Waverley station. From 1848 they acquired other freehold property in the Hunter River district including Merton and Dalswinton. About 1860 White bought the freehold estate, Martindale, near Muswellbrook, where he lived in the 1860s and made well known for fattening cattle. He was a magistrate and in 1864 a sheep director for Merriwa.

In December White was elected by a large majority to the Legislative Assembly for the Upper Hunter, despite abuse from his opponent Thomas Dangar. In favour of free selection, railway expansion and taxes on luxuries, he confessed himself 'not quite equal to grapple' with the education question. On 8 May 1868 he resigned from parliament and visited England and the United States of America; while in England he and his brothers bought Segenhoe in the Hunter Valley. Soon after his return, he was defeated for the Upper Hunter by John Mildred Creed.

About 1873 White bought Cranbrook, Rose Bay, from the estate of Robert Towns and engaged John Horbury Hunt to carry out large extensions. He filled it with 'costly art treasures': European porcelain and pictures by Italian, German and English artists.

In 1875 he sold Martindale to his brother Edward in consideration of an annuity of £5000 to himself and £2500 to his wife. On 14 July 1874 he was appointed to the Legislative Council; next year he was elected to the local Royal Society and became a founding member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. A representative commissioner for New South Wales at the Philadelphia International Exhibition in 1876, he was also a commissioner for the exhibitions in Paris (1878) and Melbourne (1880) and the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London (1886). In the 1880s he was a vice-president of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, the Horticultural Society of New South Wales and the Union Club, a committee-man of the Animals' Protection Society of New South Wales, a member of the Warrigal Club and a director and sometime chairman of the Mercantile Bank of Sydney.

A long-time committee-man of the Australian Jockey Club, White was chairman in 1880 and 1883-90 and did much to promote racing. His first two horses were Goulburn and Hotspur, steeplechasers which won many cross-country races. In the mid-1870s he bought Kirkham, near Camden, where Hunt built him two houses, one a 'French inspired fairy castle'. Kirkham became his main horse-stud, although he also bred horses at Segenhoe and paid high prices for promising youngsters, such as 1200 guineas for Martini Henry. He also built the lavish Newmarket Stables at Randwick where his horses were trained by Michael Fennelly (d.1887) and later by Tom Payten. In 1876 White bought Chester from Edward Cox and next year began a sensational twelve-year career on the turf when Chester won the Victoria Racing Club's Derby-Melbourne Cup double; the stallion had 19 wins from 29 starts and was only 3 times unplaced before becoming top sire. White won five A.J.C. Derbys in 1884-89, five A.J.C. Sires' Produce Stakes in 1885-90, five V.R.C. St Legers in 1886-90 and six V.R.C. Derbys in 1877-90, among most other important races. Out of 302 rides for him Tom Hales rode 137 winners. White's other great horses included Martini Henry, winner of the Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup double; Abercorn, who raced against Carbine and whose wins included the A.J.C. Sires' Produce Stakes and the A.J.C. Derby (1887), the Australasian Champion Stakes and A.J.C. St Leger (1888) and the Metropolitan (1889); Democrat, winner of the Sydney Cup-Metropolitan double (1878); and Derby winners Nordenfeldt, Trident, Ensign, Dreadnought and Singapore. Possessed of 'the most consummate judgment in all matters of breeding, training, and racing thoroughbred horses', he was reputed to have collected over £121,000 in stakes from 66 horses winning 252 races. White was also a heavy punter and reputedly won £25,000 on Martini Henry's double, but was popular with the racing public as he never tried to bluff them. He planned to win the Epsom Derby and bred three colts by Chester to English time. In England they were supervised by Septimus Alfred Stephen but only Kirkham carried White's pale blue and white colours in Sainfoin's Derby in 1890 and was unplaced. He sent another contingent to England next year.

Early in 1890 White retired as chairman of the A.J.C. and in April sold most of his racehorses for some 16,745 guineas, Titan bringing the record price of 4600 guineas. In 1889 he had given twenty blood mares to his nephews at Belltrees. He died of heart disease at Cranbrook on 13 July 1890 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife Emily Elizabeth, daughter of James Arndell, whom he had married at Merton, New South Wales, on 9 July 1856; she shared his love of racing. His estate was valued for probate at almost £350,000 and willed to his brothers, nephews, and his wife who inherited Cranbrook, Kirkham, £5000 and an annuity of £2500. On 4 August 1896 at the Woollahra Presbyterian Church Emily White married Captain William Scott, M.R.C.V.S., aged 37 and principal veterinary surgeon in the New South Wales Defence Forces; she died on 28 October 1897 at Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland.

White's brother Francis (1830-1875) was born at Ravensworth, New South Wales, on 21 April 1830. Educated at Maitland by Gregor and Rev. Thomas Aitken he qualified as a surveyor before returning to Edinglassie. On 6 July 1853 he married Mary Hannah Cobb of Anambah, and lived at Belltrees for ten years before settling at Edinglassie, his share of his father's estate. Genial and generous he was 'a principal mover in all public matters' in Muswellbrook, where he was chairman of the bench of magistrates and president of the hospital board and the agricultural society. In 1875 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the Upper Hunter but died suddenly of fever at Edinglassie on 4 May. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and six sons, of whom the most notable were James Cobb of Edinglassie, a well-known breeder of Aberdeen Angus cattle, and Henry Luke of Belltrees.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • Beautiful Sydney (Syd, 1896)
  • G. N. Griffiths, Some Northern Homes of N.S.W. (Syd, 1954)
  • D. M. Barrie, The Australian Bloodhorse (Syd, 1956)
  • M. Cavanough and M. Davies, Cup Day (Melb, 1960)
  • Maitland Mercury, 9 July 1853, 18 Aug 1860, 6, 15, 20 Dec 1864
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1875, 12 Apr, 14 July 1890
  • Town and Country Journal, 6 May 1875, 19 July 1890
  • Bulletin, 30 Apr 1881, 10 Nov 1883
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Feb, 14 July 1890
  • Australasian, 19 July 1890.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'White, James (1828–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-james-4837/text8073, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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