Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Whitefoord (1809–1892)

by G. H. Stancombe

This article was published:

John Whitefoord (1809-1892), magistrate, was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of Caleb Whitefoord (1734-1810), F.R.S., a wit and diplomat, who had been secretary to the commission negotiating a peace with America in 1782. Whitefoord studied for the Bar but was attracted to Van Diemen's Land by letters from his brother-in-law, Malcolm Laing Smith, and sailed before qualifying. He arrived in Hobart Town in the John Craig in November 1832, bringing a letter of recommendation from the Colonial Office, where he had been introduced by Lord James Stewart. He was placed on the Commission of the Peace in February 1833 but was not given an expected official appointment until September, when he was sent to Oatlands as police magistrate. He was transferred for a year to Campbell Town in 1834 and then returned to Oatlands, where he later filled the offices of commissioner of the Court of Requests and deputy-chairman of Quarter Sessions and coroner. In 1847 he applied for eighteen months leave in England to cure a pulmonary complaint. His leave was extended for six months, but he returned still weak and had to exchange offices for nine months with John Lee Archer, police magistrate of Circular Head, where the climate was less extreme. On his return to Oatlands he was given the additional duties of the Bothwell district; later these were removed but the districts of Green Ponds and Brighton were included in his weekly itinerary.

In October 1857 his long service in the southern midlands was rewarded and he was appointed chairman of Quarter Sessions and commissioner of the Court of Requests in Launceston. Three months later the new office of recorder was created to dispatch court hearings more efficiently and Whitefoord, reputed the only bearer of the title in Tasmania, was empowered to preside at some criminal hearings and hold courts whenever necessary. In 1871 he became also commissioner in bankruptcy and three years later commissioner of circuit Courts of Requests. From 1858 to 1887 he continued to be re-elected annually by the judges as chairman of Quarter Sessions.

After a stroke in May 1886 he retired and parliament voted him a pension equivalent to his full pay. He died in Launceston on 28 September 1892. A special requiem was held in Holy Trinity Church where he had worshipped regularly. His wife Albinia Jane Martyn, daughter of a London actor, R. W. Elliston, and sister of William Gore Elliston, had died in 1891. Their two daughters and one of their three sons survived them.

Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin complained that Whitefoord's financial necessities interfered with the proper discharge of his duty as a magistrate, and promotion during his term of office was withheld. He had spent a large sum on improving a rented farm near Oatlands, on which he lost money when he had to sub-let it because Franklin directed him to live in the township. An unreliable innkeeper then financed him and in return had his hotel licence continued, much to the annoyance of other residents. Other governors highly estimated his quiet demeanour and the discretion and efficiency with which he discharged his magisterial duties. He was popular in the Oatlands district and the residents turned out in force to carry him into the town on his return from England in 1850.

His family name is commemorated in the Whitefoord Hills surrounding his brother-in-law's property in northern Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Whitefoord (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. H. Stancombe, 'Whitefoord, John (1809–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Ayrshire, Scotland


28 September, 1892 (aged ~ 83)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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