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James Charles White (1809–1894)

by David Denholm

This article was published:

James Charles White (1809-1894), pastoral superintendent, was born on 28 October 1809 at Jaffna, Ceylon, son of Abraham White, military surgeon, and Theodora Elizabeth Rodolphina, daughter of Commander Frederick Willem von Drieberg. Failing to obtain a commission in the British army, White accompanied C. D. Riddell to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on 15 August 1830 in the Ceylon. He joined the Van Diemen's Land Co. but soon became superintendent of works to the Australian Agricultural Co. at Port Stephens. On 13 May 1837 he married Sarah Elizabeth, only child of Robert Hoddle. Her death in childbirth on 3 October 1841 left three sons, the eldest of whom was Robert Hoddle Driberg White. In 1848 he married Ann, sister of J. D. Macansh. They had three sons and one daughter.

In December 1841 White became superintendent of Glanmire station at Bathurst and a magistrate on 10 September 1844. Later he was associated with T. S. Mort, and in June 1854 rejoined the A.A. Co. In 1858 he managed Robert Tooth's Queensland stations, Jondaryan, Goomburra, Callandoon and Pikedale. Resident at Jondaryan where he built a famous woolshed, he joined the Drayton bench. Seeking independence he bought Widgee from Tooth in November 1862, but lost £5000 and all his stock through disease. Later he was appointed police magistrate at Warwick, Dalby and Drayton-Toowoomba in turn; he retired on 16 October 1867. Apart from an overseas trip in 1870 sponsored by a group of pastoralists, his working days were over.

White was stern, imperious and unyielding; he attracted controversy. In a duel with a bench colleague at Bathurst, White declined to return his opponent's fire because he had been drinking all night and was not 'fair game'. His report in 1854 on the use of the Port Stephens estate was partly responsible for an unfair view of P. P. King as the A.A. Co.'s commissioner. He was also said to have falsely accused Arthur Hannibal Macarthur of theft at Goomburra in the late 1850s. In 1862, in the suit Beit v. Zahn, White's alleged packing of the Drayton-Toowoomba bench to secure Zahn's conviction angered many. His posting at Warwick in 1866 was probably terminated by the political in-fighting of squatter-politicians.

In 1867-94 White was supported by his eldest son and visited his children in New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand. He died as imperiously as he had lived; on 28 October 1894 he was lost with 124 others when the New Zealand-bound Wairarapa struck Great Barrier Island. He was said to have given up his chance of rescue for someone 'who still had their life to live'.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1866
  • R. H. Pocock, ‘James Charles White’, Descent, 5 (1971), part 2
  • Darling Downs Gazette, 6, 27 Mar, 10 Apr, 1, 15, 22, 29 May, 12 June 1862
  • Australasian, 19 Jan 1895
  • A.A. Co. papers (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

David Denholm, 'White, James Charles (1809–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 October, 1809
Jaffna, Sri Lanka


28 October, 1894 (aged 85)
at sea

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