Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Whyte, Thomas (1793–1826)

by G. T. Stilwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Thomas Whyte (1793?-1826), master mariner, a native of Dublin, was tried at the Edinburgh Court of Justiciary on 14 July 1814 and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in New South Wales in September 1815 in the Baring, whose indent states that he was a seaman. He was assigned to the colonial marine, and served in the Lady Nelson, Mary and Elizabeth Henrietta. On 1 January 1817 he was conditionally pardoned and then spent three years in the service of merchants trading between Sydney and East Indian ports. From December 1819 he was master of the Campbell Macquarie for twelve months, when Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted him 300 acres (121 ha) at Norfolk Plains (Longford) in Van Diemen's Land. After spending about £500 developing this property he had the bad luck in 1821 to lose goods worth an equal amount in the wreck of the schooner Mary on her passage from Sydney. When his creditors obtained a writ against him, his fine farm with its comfortable brick and wood dwelling brought the trifling sum of £85 at auction in 1823. Even the land commissioners commented on the injustice of his case. But he must have continued farming, for two years later he was complaining that his considerable grain crop had been destroyed by fire.

In November 1825 Whyte entered the colonial marine of Van Diemen's Land as master of the Duke of York and was soon sent in pursuit of bushrangers and escaped convicts. On this trip he chased a party of runaways near Swan Port so closely that they had to sink their boat to effect an escape. He then put in to George Town for provisions and took the opportunity to visit Launceston with dispatches. On the way there he was ambushed by Matthew Brady and his associates who robbed him and threatened his life. Thence he went to the Bass Strait islands and at Preservation Island on 7 February 1826 came upon the Caledonia, Captain Smith. Whyte's suspicions were aroused when he found that this ship, which had left Hobart Town in January 1825 as a sloop of seven tons, had been altered to a schooner of almost thirty tons. The registered crew comprised Captain Smith, his son, the nominal owner and master, and two seamen, yet when Whyte arrived the son was absent, the ship was commanded by Smith, and five escaped convicts were aboard, one of whom, J. J. Holland, had been concealed with the son's knowledge when the Caledonia left Hobart. It was commonly rumoured that Smith had intended taking his vessel with its cargo of sealskins to Batavia so that Holland could make his escape. Whyte thereupon seized the Caledonia and sent her to Van Diemen's Land under the care of his mate while Captain Smith and his vagabond crew were taken in the Duke of York. This was well enough but Whyte, who was nearly out of stores, also commandeered his prize's provisions. A committee of inquiry, Colonel William Balfour, Captain John Welsh and Rolla O'Ferrall, was appointed to study Smith's claim for damages and found in May 1826 that Whyte had been justified up to this point, but criticized him for consuming all their tobacco and rum; worse still Smith's whale-boat had been left behind at Preservation. When Whyte returned to Hobart he was not congratulated as he had expected, but suspended. He tried to sustain his deflated spirit by a prolonged bout of drinking and dissipation and, at the end of June when on the way to join his family at Port Dalrymple, shot himself in a miserable hut near Bagdad. The ill-fated expedition to Bass Strait is memorable for the report that Whyte made on the habits of the seals and the state of the trade in general. His seizure of the Caledonia drew attention to the deplorable conditions prevailing in these islands which had long been the refuge of the worst ruffians in the Australian colonies.

On 6 October 1817 at St Philip's Church, Sydney, Thomas Whyte, then master of the colonial brig Elizabeth Henrietta, married Jannette Tinnock, aged 22 and free; they had at least three daughters of whom Jane, the youngest, married Henry Best. Whyte's age is variously stated. The indent of the Baring records that he was 22 in 1815, the marriage register of St Philip's Church that he was 28 in 1817, and the burial register of St John's Church, Launceston, that he was 28 when he died in 1826.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under T. Whyte (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. T. Stilwell, 'Whyte, Thomas (1793–1826)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/whyte-thomas-2789/text3975, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 9 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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