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Whitfield, George (1808–1864)

by R. B. Shannon

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

George Whitfield (1808-1864), gunsmith and taxidermist, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He arrived in Sydney in the Princess Victoria on 4 February 1834 and was briefly in partnership with John Samuel Lambard in King Street. From October Whitfield advertised as a gunmaker and taxidermist at 3 King Street; he also made repairs on 'scientific principles, with despatch'. In 1839 he advertised 'G. Whitfield's Gun Manufactory and Repository of Stuffed Birds', and hoped to attract the attention of new migrants to his 'magnificent collection'. He had 'Flint Double Barrelled Guns' made to order for the brisk New Zealand trade.

After a heated public meeting in February 1842 demanding representative government, Whitfield advertised duelling pistols, being 'fearful that the gentlemen may not be in possession of the above very requisite articles to settle all differences of opinion'. In 1847 'The Old Rifleman', a noted firearms expert, recommended Whitfield's specially ordered 'Bush Carbines'; that year he supplied the ill-fated explorer E. B. C. Kennedy. His shop was illustrated in J. Fowles's Sydney in 1848.

With the increased demand for guns brought about by the gold rush, Whitfield, by then the largest firearms dealer in New South Wales, advertised in April 1852 that he had various types of American revolvers for sale 'without which neither their lives or gold can be called safe' on the diggings. In 1854 he denied a rumour that he was going to retire from business. About 1858 he moved to 69 King Street, which became known as Cannon House.

In 1841 Whitfield had joined other sportsmen to form the Sydney Union Club of Australia for pigeon-shooting. An accomplished shot, he won a handsome pigeon gun at a match in 1842 and a silver cup valued at twenty guineas at the 1843 Anniversary Day shoot. In the 1860s he held shooting matches at his home, Ormeau View, now part of St Ignatius's College, Riverview. In 1862 he became armourer to the New South Wales Volunteers but his appointment was cancelled next year.

On 4 November 1864 Whitfield, aged 56, was shot dead at the door of his shop by a dismissed employee Patrick McGlinn. With George Hill as a witness, he was buried in the Anglican section of Camperdown cemetery. On 30 May 1853 at St Philip's Church, Sydney, he had married a widow Marianne Yeates, née Warman; she predeceased him on 11 April 1864. He was survived by two daughters of his first wife Margaret (d.1851), and his business was carried on until 1866 by his nephew William John Whitfield, who was granted administration of his personalty, valued at £3000.

McGlinn was tried before Sir Alfred Stephen on 20 December; despite medical suggestions that he was insane, the jury found him guilty and he received sentence of death, but it was commuted to life imprisonment.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Shannon, Colonial Australian Gunsmiths (Syd, 1967)
  • Sydney Monitor, 21 May, 18 Oct 1834, 9 Oct, 27 Dec 1839
  • Australian, 6 July 1841, 14 May 1842
  • Australasian Chronicle, 1 Mar 1842, 28 Jan 1843
  • Bell's Life in Sydney, 19 June 1847, 3 Apr 1852, 10 June 1854, 9 Oct 1858, 1 Sept 1860
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 1861, 10 Jan, 8 Apr 1865
  • Empire (Sydney), 5, 7, 8 Nov, 21 Dec 1864
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 16 Nov 1864
  • Surveyor-general, Miscellaneous papers, 7/2720 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's letters, 1863, no 5120, 7138, 1864, no 128 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

R. B. Shannon, 'Whitfield, George (1808–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/whitfield-george-4843/text8085, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 June 2019.

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

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