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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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White, George Boyle (1802–1876)

by M. J. Saclier

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

George Boyle White (1802-1876), surveyor and diarist, was born on 24 August 1802 at Bantry, Cork, Ireland, elder son of Boyle White, R.N., and his wife Honoria, née O'Sullivan. His father, reputedly a cousin of the earl of Bantry, died in 1806 and in 1814 his mother married George Henry Green, paymaster in the 57th Regiment. He left Croydon School in 1814 and was at Startforth Hall School near Barnard Castle, Yorkshire, from 1815; he had some skill in navigation and probably went to sea, visiting Sydney in 1819 and China in 1821-22. He returned to Sydney in the Cawdrey on 7 January 1826; his family had arrived the day before.

A month later White was appointed a third-class clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Office at a salary of £100 but resigned when he saw no prospect of advancement; his letter of 30 December to the colonial secretary showed his abrasive style and resentment of his reduced social position and lack of influence, characteristics which later hardened into paranoid misanthropy. On 1 February 1827 he was appointed assistant surveyor in the Surveyor-General's Department and worked in the Hunter River district; he farmed and ran stock at Singleton, Maitland and Raymond Terrace at various times, uniformly without success. On 17 June 1830 at St Philip's, Sydney, he married Maria Greig (d.1856), daughter of James Mudie.

As a surveyor White impressed (Sir) Thomas Mitchell who chose him for his expedition in 1831-32 to the Barwon River. He kept a detailed journal, the earliest surviving substantial fragment of the diary which he wrote for at least fifty years. The journal, often libellous, sometimes scurrilous, is a daily commentary on life, personalities and events in the colony in general and the Hunter Valley in particular from 1843 to 1875 (with some gaps). White surveyed much of the Hunter Valley and in 1844-45 the river itself. He continued until mid-1853, being promoted surveyor in 1838; he suffered a lean period in 1844-46 as a licensed surveyor, but survived with his job intact despite financial difficulties in the mid-1840s which led to his first insolvency in 1847. On 1 July 1853 he retired and after two years was granted a pension. A magistrate, in 1846 he was auditor of the Australian Union Benefit Society.

In 1858-59 White represented Northumberland and Hunter in the Legislative Assembly; as chairman of a select committee to inquire into the management of the Survey Department he elicited evidence central to any study of the department or land settlement in New South Wales in the first half of the century. His last years were spent in increasing ill health and declining fortune at Raymond Terrace. Again insolvent in 1867, in 1873 he made an offer of 6d. in the pound. He died of 'disease of stomach etc' at the home of his son Timothy at Double Bay, Sydney, on 25 May 1876 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery without religious rites. He was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 1, 937, 3, 759
  • White papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • insolvency files, 691/2, 8045/6 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

M. J. Saclier, 'White, George Boyle (1802–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

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