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James White (1861–1918)

by Noel S. Hutchison

This article was published:

James White (1861-1918), sculptor, was born 2 December 1861 at Liverpool, Lancashire, England, son of Robert White, journeyman shipwright, and his wife Janet, née Dunn. Apprenticed to a plasterer, James studied modelling at South Kensington. He made anatomical models for London hospitals and, while an assistant to the Scottish sculptor John Rhind, executed a bas-relief of John Hunter, surgeon, for the University of Edinburgh.

Having arrived in Sydney about 1884, White worked for Achille Simonetti in 1888-90 on Governor Phillip's monument, Botanic Gardens. In 1892 White won the competition for an allegorical group on the pediment of the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage building; he was paid £252 for the completed stone figures. In the 1890s he also produced some of the stone life-size sculptures for the Department of Public Instruction building's Bridge Street facade. At Hamilton, Victoria, on 28 June 1893 he married with Presbyterian forms Jamesina Dunn, a hotelkeeper's daughter.

White had begun showing with the Art Society of New South Wales in 1891 and with the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1896. His exhibits included his modified neo-classical plaster bust of Professor (Sir) Thomas Anderson Stuart (1894), a realist statuette of a bushranger, and busts of R. B. Smith (1896) and 'Conamdatta—Northern Queensland Aboriginal' (1897). White advertised his willingness to sell any of his works cast in plaster or bronze, or carved in marble. In 1897 at his small foundry at Petersham he used the lost wax process to cast a statue of William Bede Dalley (Hyde Park). He campaigned vigorously for commissions for public statuary to be given to Australian sculptors. Failing to obtain the commission for a statue of Sir Thomas Elder in Adelaide in 1899 (after opposition from Eccleston Du Faur), White cast at his Annandale foundry a bronze bust of Sir Edwin Smith.

Technically versatile and ingenious, in the early 1900s White became the busiest sculptor in Australia. In 1902, with the group 'In Defence of the Flag', he was the first sculptor to be awarded the Wynne prize. The enlarged cast-bronze version was sent to Perth as a war memorial next year. His numerous commissions included a carved marble statue (1904) of John McDouall Stuart for Adelaide and his monumental cast-bronze statue of Sir John Robertson in the Botanic Gardens, Sydney. White used the electrolytic copper deposit method to produce large statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He worked repoussé copper for the figure of 'Commerce' (1902-03) for the Royal Exchange building, Sydney. A founding member of the National Guild of Applied Arts and Crafts, he had moved to Melbourne by 1906.

White's reputation as an artist was shattered by the costly (£6218) marble Queen Victoria monument (1907), Melbourne. He had intended the Queen to be in bronze, but accepted the committee's demands for allegorical figures and marble. While publicly acceptable, the work was anathema to such arbiters of taste as Bernard Hall. Although White received a few more commissions, by 1909 his large-scale operations ceased. His last work of any size was the marble funerary monument (1912) in Waverley cemetery, Sydney, for Harry Rickards.

Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, White died of cancer on 14 July 1918 while visiting Brisbane and was buried in Toowong cemetery with Baptist forms. His estate was sworn for probate at £70. There are hints that White's career owed much to his ability to compromise, to his persuasive tongue, to his bombast and to his great reserves of physical energy.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Scarlett, Australian Sculptors (Melb, 1980)
  • Australasian Builder and Contractor's News, 12 Nov 1892, p 238
  • All About Australians, 2 Mar 1903
  • Australasian Art Review, 1 Apr 1899, p 20, 1 July 1899, pp 18, 21, 1 Sept 1899, p 12
  • Lone Hand, Aug 1907, p 380
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 Nov 1903
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1904
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 June 1904
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 May 1907
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Sept, 29 Nov 1910, 20 July 1918, and camera supplement, 1 Dec 1928
  • Annual exhibition catalogues, Art Society of New South Wales, 1892, 1894, and Society of Artists, 1896, 1897.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Noel S. Hutchison, 'White, James (1861–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 December, 1861
Liverpool, Merseyside, England


14 July, 1918 (aged 56)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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