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23 Jan 2024
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George Boyle White, navigator & surveyor
(24 Aug 1802 – 25 May 1876)

What a remarkable man he was, not always terribly successful in worldly terms, but always true to his own, often embittered, or at least sardonic, inner light. I'd like to think that his shade is appreciative of the attention nowadays being focussed upon him.


(as of 12 Nov 2018)

Surveyor George Boyle White

George Boyle White sailed into Sydney Harbour, 7 January 1826, on board the Cawdrey.

Once before he had sailed into this welcoming deep-water anchorage. That was in 1819 when a junior officer in the navy of the East India Company in which he served for seven years as navigator. (1) He had witnessed life in the colony and observed the benefits bestowed on free settlers. He would be granted land and allocated convicts to do his domestic and farm work for little more than their keep.

White had social status but little wealth. In an industrialising Britain class was no longer an assured stepping-stone into a comfortable living. Young men like him often sought a military career. He had chosen to go to sea but now sought a more settled life. He could step into colonial life as a landowner. As it came to pass he entered into a career more suited to his talents than farming.

George Boyle's stepfather, Captain George Henry Green, paymaster in the 57th regiment, had been posted to the colony. He and his wife, Honoria, George Boyle's mother, had arrived with family at Sydney Cove on the Medway the day before. The family's migration no doubt influenced George Boyle's decision to settle in the colony. He seems never to have had any desire to visit the land of his birth, Ireland, where he spent only his infant years.

Honoria O'Sullivan had married Captain Boyle White, 22 May 1803, in the Church of Ireland, St Multose, Kinsale, County Cork, a naval base. During the Napoleonic war Boyle White was master of HMS Resolution operating in the Mediterranean. George Boyle, their first child, was born at Bantry in the southwest of Ireland, 24 August 1802, and his brother, William, in 1806. While on leave in London in 1806 Boyle, then captain of the Sandwich, died. Honoria, in her application for a pension gave her marriage date as 1802, not 1803, no doubt to conceal George Boyle being born out of wedlock. (2)

In 1814 Honoria married Captain George Henry Green in London. Honoria's children, George Boyle and William, spent much of their young life being educated in England firstly at Croydon School. For a year they lived in Gibraltar where their stepfather's regiment was posted. Returning to England they attended Startford Hall School in Yorkshire. In 1819 George Boyle joined the East India Company, serving the company until 1826 when he migrated to the colony of New South Wales.

Captain Boyle White is thought to have been related to the Earl of Bantry though some doubt surrounds what was the relationship. When a mail boat brought news from England of the Earl's death George Boyle noted in his diary: 'Richard White, [2nd] Earl of Bantry, died on 16 July, aged 69--[the aborted French invasion in] 1797 to thank for the Earldom--Dick White his father and Boyle W were brothers sons'. (3) Dick White earned the monarch's gratitude when he alerted the English army of occupation, stationed in Cork, to a threatened French invasion at Bantry and mobilising his small number of yeoman. The White family was ever mindful of its English ancestry.

Clearly, George Boyle was in no doubt about his ancestry and that his father, Captain Boyle White, was a first cousin to Dick [Richard], the first Earl, a son of Simon White (1739-1776). Simon also had a daughter, Margaret, and a son, Hamilton who, according to George Boyle, would have been Boyle's father and his grandfather. It seems that Hamilton never married. (4) Absence of family detail in Boyle White's naval and marriage records could be explained as family reticence about Boyle being born out of wedlock.

In his diary George Boyle tells us that his parents were from different religious denominations. He had forsaken the faiths of either parent and become a critic of church dogma of whatever denomination. He laments:

I had no friends on his [my father's] side for he was protestant. I had no friends on my mother's side for she was catholic--and she was soon married again--so may assume myself a waif left to the Father of the fatherless whose care left me little to boast of ... [although] better off than more deserving mortals. (5)

Soon after arriving in the colony George Boyle considered an offer to serve as navigator on the ship, HMS Success, about to undertake a marine survey of the Swan River region. He declined. It seems the salary was no match for his navigation skills. White was sensitive to any slight on his professional standing. He turned his back on a marine career and sought one on terra firma. For a short time he was employed as a low-grade clerk in the office of the Colonial Secretary.

Working voluntarily with a leading surveyor, Henry Dangar, he gained the skill to work as a land surveyor. On 1 February 1827, Surveyor General, John Oxley appointed White, upon Dangar's recommendation, to a position of assistant surveyor. Oxley no doubt sensed the stamina of White to withstand hardships of the bush that surveyors endured. He joined a small team of government surveyors given the impossible task of keeping up with a growing number of settlers squatting on the land they coveted.

To the European eye this was vacant country without boundaries begging to be possessed by those who could put it to profitable use, a vast open space bathed in fresh air and sunshine. However, boundaries there were, unmarked by surveyors' pegs but recognised and acknowledged by Indigenous inhabitants. Natural features defined land tenure of each Aboriginal clan. White's son, Henry, described the talent of Aborigines for memorising land features. They had names 'for every inequality of the surface of the land, each water hole and bend in the streams have their distinctive name ... each variety of timber is named; peculiarly formed trees are also noted'. (6)

Governor Philip was authorised to make small land grants to free settlers, emancipists--convicts who had served their time--and military personnel. However, Australia's wool had found a ready market in Britain. Sheep flocks multiplied, squatters occupied ever-larger tracts of land shifting the fringes of coastal settlement towards, and then over, the mountain range.

Most settlers took for granted they had a right to make productive what they saw as 'desert country'. The Colonist argued the need for 'a full equivalent being given to Aborigines by the invaders'. Prior ownership, said the broadsheet, was accepted by the imperial government and the 'virtuous portion' of the colonists. (7) Almost certainly White was not among the 'virtuous portion' nor would he have attended the inaugural meeting of the Aboriginal Protection Society, in 1838, where Sydney Stephens argued Aborigines had been 'driven from the lands where their fathers had lived and were endeared to them by associations equally strong with the associations of more civilised people'. (8)

White and fellow surveyors pegged out parish boundaries, towns and farms as well as mapping new country as the colony sprawled out over the coastal plains. One of his early tasks was to map the coast from Sydney Harbour to Broken Bay. Surveyors, assisted by convict labourers, carried equipment on drays up and down rugged mountain slopes, along narrow gullies and over soggy plains. Insects pestered, horses strayed and vehicles bogged. George Boyle was absent from his wife, Maria, and their infant family for long stretches of time.

Early in his career White worked mostly in and around the Hunter Valley surveying not only many of its towns but the river itself. On some surveying trips he was accompanied by Major Thomas Mitchell, who had replaced John Oxley as Surveyor General. Mitchell appreciated White's surveying abilities especially his navigational skills and endurance in the field. There began a working relationship, one of mutual respect but never without tensions.

White is best remembered for his surveying of the town of Maitland on Wallis Plain, according to Mitchell's plan, begun in 1829 and worked on over the next decade. He also surveyed the towns of Gosforth, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Paterson, Raymond Terrace, and Rothbury.

He took particular interest in recording flood levels. He determined the markings of the 1826 flood of the Hunter to have been ten feet higher than the disastrous flood experienced in 1857 when towns had grown and so become more vulnerable. With characteristic harshness he noted: 'When such another pouring of the waters comes to Maitland, many that deserve hanging will be drowned, John ... amongst them'. (9) Still he played his part in rescue operations during the 1832 flood, rowing a whaleboat to rescue an old marine, William O'Donnell, sitting on the roof of his hut. (10)

In April 1829, White contracted rheumatic fever attributed by him, not unreasonably, to having had to sleep in a tent in wet clothing. He was working on Patrick Plain and was taken to Castle Forbes, the nearby estate of James Mudie. White's personal servant, Dawkins, an old 'Tar' from the East India Company, rode to fetch Dr Francis Little of Invermein. After being bled several times White still remained ill with inflamed lungs. Surgeon Peter Cunningham was called urgently from Merton. White believed he would have died had it not been for Cunningham 'cupping' his chest. (11)

In Sydney, the Surveyor General waited for White to return to complete the detailed plans of the future Maitland. After three weeks on his sick bed, still very weak, White set off by boat in stormy weather for Sydney. He completed the plan of Maitland in time for it to be delivered to the Colonial Secretary on the due date. (12) At Castle Forbes White had been touched by the tender care given him by Maria Mudie. He wrote 'Never did I leave any place with greater regret'. (13) There would come a time when no place would he visit with greater reluctance than Castle Forbes.

George Boyle White married Maria Greig Mudie at St Phillip's Church, Sydney on 17 June 1830. They honeymooned at Tempe on Cooks River. James Mudie petitioned Governor Darling for a land grant for his daughter. She was granted land, 'Mirannie', located on a tributary of Glendon Brook, north of Singleton.

White aspired to own land on the Hunter River for he and Maria to build a homestead. About this time Paymaster, Captain George Green, was assigned to a post in India and he and Honoria were about to depart from Sydney. The captain desired to leave a legacy for Honoria and family in case something untoward should happen to him while serving in India.

Green and White purchased jointly 325 acres of land downstream from Singleton, not far from Castle Forbes. The property was:

... conveyed to Geo Henry Green & Geo Boyle White by Indenture 8th May 1830 by one Chas Farrell ... Also the whole of the said Geo Henry Green's valuable stock of sheep, horses and homed cattle. (14)

Consideration and how paid: Natural love and affection, which the said George Henry Green bears to his said wife and three children Mark, Timothy and Helena Green. And also 10/- paid him by said George Boyle White. (15)

White set about building a homestead on the land which he named 'Greenwood'. Building took over a year and was finished just in time for the arrival of their first child, Henry O'Sullivan, born on 11 November 1831. With his obsession for detail he kept careful record of the materials used, from the great lengths of cedar culled from the valley forests down to the last nail and hinge. He tallied the cost to be 579.10.4 [pounds sterling]. Ready on 18 October, the family moved into Greenwood.

When first settling in Sydney White would have gazed with a navigator's eye into the blue mist shrouding the mountains skirting the coastal plain and wondered what lay beyond. Only one outpost, Bathurst, connected by a rough track to Sydney, then existed on the inland side of the range. Soon he would have opportunity to glimpse what lay beyond those blue mountains. Towards the end of his first year as assistant surveyor, White joined a party led by Major Mitchell, to determine a line of road passing around Mount Victoria to Bathurst. (15)

Speculation of what lay at the heart of the interior ranged from an inland sea to mostly desert. A strait dividing the continent was ruled out once Mathew Flinders circumnavigated the island continent. But what really gripped the imagination of many was a vision of a river flowing into the sea along the far northwest coast. Such a river could provide a direct sea passage to India.

Hopes of finding a navigable inland river were revived with the capture of a runaway convict, George Clarke, known as 'George the Barber'. He had lived for five years with Aborigines. The Sydney Gazette, 1 November 1831, reported:

... the existence of a noble river to the northward of the Liverpool Plains from which it takes a northwesterly course and enters into the gulph of Van Diemen. The man states he traced the river to its mouth ... On looking at the map it will be seen that the bay or gulph of Van Diemen is very nearly opposite Timor.

Asked by the Acting Governor, Colonel Lindesay, to advise on a possible expedition to search for a northward-flowing river Mitchell made an unlikely comparison with another river system: 'Supposing the course of the desired river to be analogous to the Amazon we must believe its estuary to be among the unexplored inlets of the sea which Captain King saw on the north-western coast of Australia'. (16) The imagined river came to be known as the Kindur. Mitchell was only too willing to lead an expedition in search of it. The Acting Governor Lindesay approved. Mitchell appointed White second-in-command.

Accounts of colonial explorations, by their leaders, are mostly about territory traversed, its topography and vegetation, of encounters with Aborigines and trials and tribulations experienced along the way. Mitchell and White not only explored, they surveyed the terrain they traversed which enabled Mitchell to describe the landscape in great detail. (17) An inescapable impression from Mitchell's account is that he had determined the course of travel with some certainty.

He tells of when the party passed through the region between the Gwydir and Namoi rivers:

... at no great distance from either ... [It] was a primary object with us to travel on the highest or driest part ... midway between the two rivers. We could in this manner, trace out their direction with more certainty, and so terminate thus far the survey of both by the determination of a point so important in geography. (18)

In his journal White tells a different story. There was no certainty. While it was not for him:

... to animadvert on any thing directed by the Surveyor General but this being a private journal an opinion can be given without risk of my incurring censure from any--had we yesterday sighted the river we might have had confidence in the direction we have been this day keeping--as it is we are completely like men groping in the dark and are fearful wandering about losing time to no purpose. (19)

Perhaps the navigator, who was in the habit of carefully plotting direction, was stirring in White. He recommended 'all Explorers take out a small quantity of patience so when an obstacle to the direction presents itself it may be examined and the proper place of surmounting it be found'. (20)

His relationship with the leader is a recurring theme in his journal. White never felt particularly comfortable in Mitchell's presence because of 'something extremely overbearing'. He liked talking over things. But Mitchell simply issued orders in the manner of an army major. Travelling can be pleasant but not, complained White, when it is 'subjected to the petulance or caprice of one who may study to make you feel the power they have officially over you'. (21) Once, when arriving at their encampment, both men let loose their horses to drink at a nearby creek. Thereupon Mitchell commanded White to tether his horse immediately:

... [and] never to let me see him untethered while in my encampment--to which I replied his horse is untethered and received the following courteous answer--that his horse should be untethered when and where he likes but at my peril to let mine loose--that he was Surveyor General, leader of the expedition, and that I was Asst Surveyor and should obey his orders to which I answered of course I intended to do so. (22)

After two men of a support party bringing on supplies were killed by Aborigines Mitchell chose encampment sites for their defence advantage--'according to his knowledge of fortification, as if we were to expect an attack from an enemy who understood the matter'. Stopped to encamp after:

... toiling for nearly ten miles the bullocks and drays bogging in clay every ten minutes and the men of the party carrying a sample of about fifteen pounds of soil with each foot ... [we] were [once] again delayed for about an hour by the choice of position--wet and miserable as we all were.

It is to be regretted that when men give up one profession for another that they plague those individuals that belong to the one they have latterly embraced with the tactics of a profession they themselves have given up for one that suits them better and for which they are better suited. (23)

As they approached their journey's end Mitchell departed for Sydney leaving White in charge. He was once again his own master 'no longer dictated to on the most trifling matter' yet somehow he felt some regret since they had come to agree 'as well as two individuals can of such opposite temperaments'. (24)

In his report to the Colonial Secretary Mitchell said of White that 'he was an accurate and indefatigable surveyor--and being acquainted with the methods of observing the stars I took him into the interior where he was most useful'. (25)

The prevailing ethos of early colonial society was rooted in possession of land, its stock and produce. White spent much of his working life dividing land into farms. He left his surveyor's mark here, there and everywhere over a broad landscape of plain and mountain. In June 1987 Surveyor Garry Hamblin found 'an old corner tree' near Singleton blazed by White in 1837 'at the corner of 4 X 640 acre portions'. (26)

When working close to home White took every opportunity to cultivate the Greenwood estate. He spent upwards of a thousand pounds improving the house and fencing and developing the farm and vineyard--an investment which later became the subject of bitter dispute with his mother, Honoria. Maria gave birth to a daughter in 1834 but the child died soon after. In January 1836 a daughter, Helena Isabelle, was born and in the year following another son, Boyle.

George Boyle and Maria would have rubbed shoulders with the 'exclusives' but they were unlikely to have qualified as one of them. Exclusives had connections with persons in high places in the colonial service back home or were among the 'respectables' of the colony, those eligible to be invited to dine at the governor's table. They had received large land grants on the rich alluvial river flats. James Mudie, White's father-in-law, was politically active among the exclusives. He had been several times favoured in the number and skills of convict servants allocated him by Governor Darling who had graced his estate, Castle Forbes, by staying overnight on a visit. Mudie was a leader in a campaign by exclusives against the liberal policies towards convicts of the succeeding Governor, Richard Bourke. Their ultimate aim was to have Bourke recalled by the colonial office, in which they were eventually successful. They distributed a petition among landowners protesting against a regulation, issued in 1832, limiting the power of magistrates to impose corporal punishment. (27) Despite his conservatism it would be in character for White not to have signed. At the end of each day's work he issued a dram of rum to his convict servants, while his father-in-law subjected convict servants to cruel punishments for minor breaches of his oppressive rules.

Now personally well known as surveyor, White was highly regarded and invited to join a number of public committees. In 1836 he was appointed a Commissioner of Crown Lands and invited to join the Patriotic Fund Committee. He became a member of the Patrick Plains District Committee of the Australian Immigration Association, which lobbied for the indenture of low-wage overseas workers to replace convicts once their transportation to the colony ceased. In 1842 White petitioned the governor to allow the emigration and employment of coolies from India. The governor rejected the petition giving as his reason that it would reduce the quality of life in the colony. (28)

Though White was publicly active, and not averse to voicing his opinions in letters to local papers, he remained very much a person unto himself. He seemed inclined to confine his harsher judgements of those around him to his diary. When feeling offended he could write a scornful self-righteous letter. At times he felt emboldened to speak out. In March 1838, he questioned the judgement of a Port Macquarie magistrate and was suspended from his position of assistant surveyor until 'the pleasure of the Secretary of State is known'. Angered, White decided to leave the public service for good and apply for the 1280 acres of land granted him after his arrival in the colony. The grant, made on 6 January 1827, had been held in abeyance while he was employed in government service. However, before he could abandon his profession for farming he was not only reinstated but elevated from assistant surveyor to surveyor. (29) White's services were valued by the Surveyor General.

His considerable contribution to the development of the Hunter region finds passing mention in diverse publications. He is the subject of just one heritage address. (30) The diaries he wrote from 1843 until a few months before his death in 1876 tell of the trials of a colonial surveyor. They also reveal something of the life of colonial gentry in the Hunter Valley away from its hub in Sydney. His family relations would seem to have been unhappy ones though we are given only the father's version. He was fond of reading classical literature and filled notebooks with quotations. In the privacy of his diary he was intent upon casting himself as a tragic figure wronged by progeny, friends and society alike:

... [in] the days of Greenwood prosperity [those who] pursued their silver on old White's sleeve, eat his bread, drank his wine, spent his money and now hold influential positions through his connexions--have forgotten it. (31)

Perhaps he can best be understood as a thwarted intellectual living in a colonial backwater although he never seemed inclined to escape back to Britain. On an anniversary of his father's death he opines in his diary: 'Sixty-six years ago today my father died. Much trouble would have been saved had I gone with him'. (32) Seeing himself the victim of family extravagance he lamented: 'I must say I owe ruin to my sons, nephews and daughter--had it not been for a pension earned I should have been shepherding or begging this day'. (33) For some years he was estranged from his daughter, Helena. Their reconciliation reveals a softer side of the father: 'Helena came and kissed me--and the absurd feud originating with BW [her brother Boyle] has passed away--[she] has become a handsome bouncing woman. I dined with them--the family then proceeded by train to Newcastle en route to Deniliquin. I may never see them again'. (34)

If White felt neglected by society his wide social circle suggests he must have kept his feelings largely to his diaries. But even in his diaries, as well as gloomy reflections, he describes convivial home visits of friends and philosophical discussions with others including ministers of religion though he took pleasure in referring to God with mock reverence. 'In the morning' he notes 'the Minister called--had some talk on the Etruscans and then matters concerning the government'. (35) He conveyed an impression of aloofness, self-assurance and righteousness. He exercised a genuine, if ultra-conservative, interest in community affairs.

White's conservative outlook made him dismissive of almost any kind of political reform. He condemned the granting by the Colonial Office of a new constitution for New South Wales which allowed universal suffrage, saying 'responsible government [and] universal suffrage has thrown ... all patronage into the hands of scoundrels, mob leaders, stump orators--fellows who will do anything but honest work'. (36)

Feeling isolated in the colony, far away in the antipodes, he remained a keen observer of world events and with the arrival of each mail boat he would read and comment on the three-month old news from England. His diaries are sprinkled with comments about overseas events he had gleaned from English newspapers. 'The Suez and Panama mails are in. The Queen has arrived home from her travels'. (37) When he learnt Paris had fallen to the Prussian army he wrote:

English news has arrived. The war has terminated but that is all that has reached here. The capitulation of Paris to the Prussians in a war of six months duration is one of the most astounding events of the age. Had anyone presumed to predict such a thing a year ago in France he would have been stoned to death--Freedom, Equality and Fraternity--they are very good where Order has the whip hand over them. But Communism and Red Republicanism are not their representatives. (38)

George Boyle's step-father, Captain George Green, arrived back with Honoria and family from India in March 1836, on the Parrot suffering from a 'general disability'. A medical examination found this to be the result of having contracted dysentry. He died in December of 1836. Honoria, widowed, requested from her son what she considered her fair share of the Greenwood estate. Mother and son could not agree on who owned what. George Boyle understood the shared property to be no more than the undeveloped land. He wrote to his mother saying:

I have done all in my power and provided during the last two years ... close on 600 [pounds sterling] ... Had you or Captain G wished Greenwood for a residence it was your command. My turn next. Considering these circumstances I beg my dear mother that an arrangement be immediately made by the Arbitrator for division or sale of the land ... If sold the improvements will be charged against the estate ...

I now put it to yourself my mother whether it is possible any person in senses would purchase property [with the] purpose to bring it from a state of nature into that of cultivation and improvement had he proposed for a moment that others would benefit equally from his labour and capital. (39)

He was prepared to abide by 'any respectable man's decision' and 'the more practical he was the better it would be'. (40) Honoria could not agree and the case, Green v. White was listed for hearing in the Supreme Court. Mother and son were no longer on 'corresponding terms'. Honoria asked her son, Mark, to write to George requesting:

... arrangements be made to enable her to draw a small sum and proceeds of the wool to assist in her maintenance ...

It surely cannot be expected that while paying the Debts she is to live on air ... I do not see why this arbitration business should prevent letting us know how we stand as to cash transaction, whether we are in your debt or otherwise.

The influenza is raging here terribly ... it is worse than I ever saw cholera [in India] people are dying like rotten sheep ... kind regards to all our friends at Greenwood. (41)

In 1841 Mark visited his half-brother George Boyle at Greenwood. Seemingly amiable by nature, Mark sought to reconcile his half-brother and their mother. The outcome was the appointment of a new arbitrator, William McPherson, and negotiation of an 'amicable equity suit' whereby George Boyle would pay the other parties for their share in the land at Greenwood. An adjoining property had been sold recently for 7.10.0 [pounds sterling] per acre. Honoria insisted upon 10 [pounds sterling] and her son agreed. The Green siblings were prepared to accept 7.10.0 [pounds sterling]. The payment was written into a feoffment lodged in the Supreme Court on 31 July 1841. The land was 'all that piece or parcel of land containing by estimation 325 acres more or less situate lying and being in The County of Northumberland and the Township of Whittingham'. The settlement was for '1800 [pounds sterling] in hand paid on the execution of the Deed by the said George Boyle White to the [other] parties'. (42)

Up to the time of the departure of Governor Thomas Brisbane, it was customary for a governor to authorise grants of land to government employees. The land became available when employees retired. Grants were made not only to department heads but to such subordinate officers as assistant surgeons, assistant surveyors and clerks. When he succeeded Governor Brisbane, Ralph Darling restricted grants to senior public servants thus depriving those of lower rank, who understood they had been awarded grants. In a memorial, written on 28 December 1837, addressed to Acting Governor, Colonel Snodgrass, a group of clerks pointed to the injustice in the way grants were now only confirmed, when:

... made to Heads of Departments ... but that the subordinates were not then included in the arrangement ... they now suffer the mortification of being deprived of those privileges which they acquired by their emigration to the Colony without partaking of any equivalent advantage for so serious a loss'. (43)

Exceptions, they said, had been made to the ruling. In 1827, when George Boyle White resigned from the Colonial Secretary's Office:

... [he] immediately obtained 1280 acres. He shortly afterwards entered the Survey Department when the order so given was cancelled. Yet notwithstanding that Mr White is still in the Survey Department [Governor] Sir Richard Bourke was pleased recently to authorise a confirmation of the original order. (44)

Colonel Snodgrass sought a decision on the memorialist's plea from the colonial office in London. In his letter to the London office he described the circumstances of White's land grant:

With respect to Mr White referred to in the Memorial it may be proper to explain the gentleman who now holds the appointment that he will be allowed on his retiring from the Service a Grant of Land to the extent of 1280 acres being the quantity which in consideration of the capital he brought out to the colony Ralph Darling had ordered him to receive but which order was suspended so long as he holds an appointment in the Public Service ... These circumstances seem to bring his case within an exception to the new regulations. (45)

White had been much more blunt than the memorialists when he found his promised land grant being denied him under amended regulations. He wrote to Colonel Snodgrass saying:

It was not my object when I first contemplated a voyage of 16000 miles if individual exertion could prevent it that twelve years should elapse without bolstering my position. I should add that by accepting service under the Government my success in the colony bears but poor proportion to that of most of my fellow voyagers.

Snodgrass acceded to White's request for confirmation of his grant but he ordered his clerk to inform him:

... that if he intends to continue any correspondence with the Government I expect he will abstain from such very improper language as that in which some part of the letter now under reply is couched ... However much I might regret the necessity it will be my duty if anything disrespectful shall again appear in his communications with the Government to visit the offence with my highest displeasure. (46)

When White felt he was not being given the respect and rewards due to him he could be quite abrupt in the manner in which he responded to authority. However, he could not appropriate land illegally as others in his position, like Dangar, had done. His integrity was never in question.

But depriving some, to the advantage of others, can be concealed, or justified, by the rule of law or government edict. After almost two centuries family history was to repeat itself. Five generations back, in the seventeenth century, Cromwell had granted an ancestor, Simon White, land confiscated from the Irish after the English occupation of Ireland. Now as the result of the English occupation of Terra Australis George Boyle was granted land confiscated from Aborigines.

White's interest in land went beyond apportioning it to others. He aspired to acquire it to the limit of the finance available to him. The 1830s were prosperous times. In the closing years of the 1820s the colony had suffered drought and depression but after 1831 the economy thrived and 'the next eight or nine years were the most prosperous the colony had ever seen'. (47) Imbued with the optimism of the 1830s White acquired property at Lochinvar and land adjoining Maria's property, Mirannie. He accumulated large debts in order to develop Greenwood and Mirannie into flourishing farms. The beginning of the 1840s saw wool prices declining and the value of the White properties and livestock dropping drastically. A depressed economy meant less work for surveyors in Hunter Valley. White was deployed to Sydney where he surveyed the reserve in the village of Waverley. (48)

In 1844 White was made redundant and went into private practice as licensed surveyor of the North Hunter River. He now had to rely on whatever surveying work came his way. In March 1844 he sold off some of his cattle, sheep and horses to pay off his debts but it was far from enough to meet claims of his creditors. He was forced to sell his farms at Greenwood, Lochinvar and his land alongside Mirannie.

The advertisement of June 1844 for the sale of these properties reveals how White had become a large landowner. However, even after this extensive sale he still lacked the funds to repay fully his creditors. And in the following August he sold his beloved library which would have caused him much pain given his love of classical literature from which he was so fond of quoting. Through all his financial trials White managed to hold on to his Greenwood house, with its large garden and vineyard.

Despite being declared insolvent in 1847 and losing farms and library White seems to have weathered his misfortunes with considerable fortitude. (49) He continued to tend the house garden of Greenwood with the same care as before. In the midst of his financial woes he occupied himself: 'grafting the vines of the centre walk with some of my best table grapes--this will spoil the trellis for the next year but the following year will amply repay with grapes'. (50)

He continued to play a prominent role in valley community life. His musings on happenings around him and religious belief occupied his mind as ever before. Persuaded, he notes in his diary, to attend the Episcopal Church of Singleton to hear Mr Cameron preach, he was impressed by the preacher's endeavours to convince his audience 'of the need to observe the Sabbath and the necessity of religion'. But while agreeing on the need for religion 'to keep the mind in awe' when a parson asserts there is only one path 'to the throne of the all powerful a feeling of dissent arises within me'. After the church service he stopped to chat with friends before 'they returned to Greenwood and dined'. (51)

Mitchell put work in his way. He was able to pursue his special interest, the study of the rivers, surveying in detail the length of the Hunter River from its outlet at Newcastle to the west of Maitland as part of a program to dredge the river. At times the only available work took him far afield. In 1847 Mitchell gave him the broad mission of proceeding over 'the dividing ranges between eastern and western waters to start the feature survey of that part of the colony, that is, to traverse the water courses and ranges that they may be charted'. (52) It was essentially unknown territory except for some squatters, their stockmen and shepherds.

Henry O'Sullivan, White's 19 year-old son, himself set on a career path of surveyor, accompanied his father as assistant upon this long journey along the inland rivers. In all there were seven members in the party. One of the party was Paddy Tighe, an Aborigine. Henry thought he might have got his name, 'from his burnout, for he was full of it, and decidedly Irish in its character ... Paddy was a very intelligent black, he knew all the fixed stars as well as the planets ... and where to look at them at particular seasons'. (53)

Indefatigable as ever White led his survey team from the lower Darling as far north as Fort Bourke and along major tributaries. This was to be White's last lengthy exploratory survey.

Many years later Henry O'Sullivan gave an account to the Maitland Scientific Society of what he had witnessed of Aboriginal life while travelling with his father on this extensive river survey. He demonstrated a deeper appreciation of the Aboriginal way of life than his father. From a young and impressionable age he had had the opportunity to look in on their ceremonial customs. He could recall how, during his boyhood and youth, Aborigines would assemble in large numbers on land adjoining Greenwood to perform their corroborees. When older and 'better able to observe I took more notice'. (54) The party camped on the banks of the Macquarie River, where Dubbo now stands. Henry witnessed the death of an old Aboriginal man and the burial ritual. With the old man's last breath men began doubling up his body, wrapping possum skins around it and binding it with belts taken from their loins:

The body was buried on a sand ridge about a mile from the river. Making a hole some three or four feet deep in the soft sand they placed the body in a sitting posture and covered it up. They then described a circle about sixteen feet in diameter ... then with small wooden spades removing the earth from within the circle and with it formed a dome-shaped mound over the grave'. (55)

By the early 1850s White began to contemplate retirement. He was becoming disillusioned seeing before him only slaving away for little thanks. On 1 July 1853, White retired after being diagnosed as having liver disease and 'bush scurvy'. Two years later he was granted a pension. In the 1856, now separated from his wife, Maria, and living in Maitland, he went into partnership with M. de Courcy Nagle offering civil engineering and surveying services. In April of that same year Maria, 45 years old, died.

Soon after he was appointed a justice of peace and became auditor of the Australian Union Benefit Society. Then in January 1858 50 prominent citizens petitioned White to stand for election to the Legislative Assembly to represent the combined electorate of Northumberland and Hunter. Elected, he served as chairman of a select committee inquiring into the administration of the Surveyor General's Department. From the questioning of surveyors and the gleaning of department papers White assembled a detailed record of land settlement in the first half century of the colony's existence. (56) The findings of the Select Committee became a prime reference in future deliberations on land settlement. No doubt it was with personal feeling from remembering his own remote survey expeditions, and long absences from family, that he quoted from the reflections of the late Sir Thomas Mitchell on the fate of surveyors:

The fate of surveyors employed has in general been unfortunate. Some have died miserably, amongst them two of my sons. Madness has deprived the service of others. The premature old age brought on by constant exposure in the field has been but too apparent even in cases where old surveyors have left the service without any retiring provision. (57)

Two of the staff of the Survey Department had appeared before the committee. Subsequently the Surveyor General had subjected them 'to a series of questions of a most inquisitorial character'. In a Progress Report to the Legislature Chairman, G. Boyle White, suggested that this was an interference in the work of the committee calculated:

... not only to deter subordinate officers in public service from affording to Select Committees of your Honorable House information which may be of the utmost importance but even entirely to destroy the utility of instituting any inquiry into the conduct of the Public Departments of the Colony. (58)

In 1858 White gave evidence before the Select Committee on Navigation of the Murray River and its Effluents. (59) He was well qualified to speak on the subject having had such a long experience studying the traverses of the major rivers of New South Wales. Questioned on his survey of the Darling River he turned to his special interest, flood levels of past times:

I saw flood marks when I was there so high that if a flood had come at that time of the same height we would all have been lost ... I am sure there must have been one hundred and fifty miles of country under water.

White was a member of parliament for only two years. The shortness of his parliamentary career could have had to do with a new constitution, which bestowed self-government and universal suffrage on the colony, affecting adversely his prospects for either nomination or election. Certainly it was a reform that did not meet with White's approval: 'I think that little can be more fairly demonstrated than that the Colony of New South Wales is totally unfit to govern itself and that universal suffrage is a dead failure'. (60)

More than a decade after retirement White was still surveying though, with ill health taking its toll, his surveys were limited to lots close to town centres. On 25 February 1868 he had:

... a most oppressive afternoons work. I felt the heat most oppressive, thought once or twice to give the work up. Finished the survey and reached Candow in the dark. It is a splendid road from Cordenets to Termoxton on the right bank of the Paterson for a Buggy. [I] had a comfortable bed but cramp said no sleep. [Next morning] plotted Coleman's survey. There was no foolscap in the house and had to send for it. (61)

With the father pursuing a vocation as a surveyor, while indulging himself in farming, Henry turned to surveying while Boyle chose farming. Henry went off to New Zealand to pursue his vocation as surveyor and there met his wife, Anastasia Strange. He returned to Sydney to join the Lands Department. Later he worked, like his father, in the Hunter region. Boyle loved horses and in his father's words he was 'a maniac' where horses were concerned. After his father died he moved to Bulahdelah to work as a packhorse postman.

Boyle convinced his farther to lease a farming property at Coulston, which he would work with another Greenwoodian, and a nephew of White, Charlie Long. They were just a few years into the venture when the father became unhappy at the way the farm was being managed:

Boyle is no farm manager and is perfectly reckless in the spending the money of others ... and now four years since I was induced to aid him in farming and he has fairly sank 6 [pounds sterling] for every day he has been at it and then he would take no other advice. (62)

Though the father grumbled about Boyle in his diary nonetheless there was a personal attachment, even mutual dependence, between the two: 'I am much cut up' says the father, 'by his present worldly prospect even though he has his own self will to blame for it'. (63) The father could express his concern in a most perverse way:

I trust that BW will not be victimised by the Great God of the elements. His corn and tobacco are on debatable ground and it is all he has. If they are to be drowned why not drown him and his belongings too--he has sweated for it--but I am afraid there is little faith to be put on the powers of Heaven as on powers of earth. (64)

Whoever was to blame, father, son or both, the White farming enterprises invariably came to a sad end. After the failure of the venture at Coulston and faltering attempts at tenant farming around Raymond Terrace, George Boyle White was declared bankrupt in 1867. In 1873 he made an offer of six pence in the pound to his creditors. (65) Retired from farming he settled in the locality of Gostwyck a short distance from the town of Paterson. Gostwyck had been farmed since 1823 by White's friend, Edward Gostwyck Cory. Boyle and his family settled nearby.

Life on the banks of the Paterson had its convivial moments for White. New Years Day, 1869, his friends, Cory and Black, came to suggest a fishing trip along the river. 'After taking some brandy and water we started, Boyle's sons accompanying us'. They returned after dusk without, as White says he predicted, catching any fish. Cory invited him 'to the mansion to see the demise of the old year'. They dined and played whist remaining up 'until 1869 no longer existed absorbing gin and water in moderation' and talking over events of the last decade and the prospects of the future. 'Time, the hoary giant, who with noiseless pride has so long ruled the world that nations pale beside his silent step, has taken 1869 to itself'. (66)

Mr Campbell, brother of a farmer living nearby, visited White when in his sixties. His host appeared to him to be a venerable and interesting gentleman:

I was invited to spend a night with an old gentleman who lived not far from the village [St. Clair] and whose name was a kind of "household word" in the Surveyor General's office. This was the late G. B. White ... I enjoyed my visit and conversation of this communicative old gentleman, who was of a type not often to be seen in Australia in the present day. He entertained me with almost endless information respecting old people and old events until long past midnight. In the morning I was taken to Mr White's stables and shown one of the most beautiful little Timor ponies I had ever seen. (67)

A quiet life among friends fishing, being rowed along the river to Paterson, visiting or being visited to chat on issues of the day or some deeper philosophical matter made for a pleasant enough life spoilt at times by bouts of illness. In the early hours one morning, suffering spasms of stomach pain, he left Boyle to await the arrival of Dr Scott and retired to bed. At another time he vowed if his painful paroxysms occurred again, he would give up keeping house and 'seek a town lodging to die--some hole convenient to a graveyard'. (68)

Nonetheless he felt gratified to read an article in Town and Country Journal 'with honourable mention of my name in respect to the early survey of the district'. (69) The writer told of a visit to White's retreat on the riverbank. His party arrived on the opposite bank at 'a most romantic spot' where 'we cooey for a boat and swim the horses'. He had come, said the writer, to visit 'the best living authority on the history of the district'. White had 'kept a journal for about half a century, his information therefore is valuable especially upon the land question, for he is not only an historian and an eye-witness but a prominent actor in the parts he has recorded'. With the exception of Singleton this 'fine old gentleman' had laid out all the towns on the three rivers:

Look at this splendid map, the scope of the country it embraces and the excellence of the work, compiled and drawn by himself from his own surveys.--unfinished, I am sorry to say but perhaps to be completed some day. Mr White served thirty-five years in the Royal service and twenty seven years in the colony. (70)

White made his last diary entry on 1 October 1875. The social activity that day reflected his feeling somewhat better though he wondered how long the improvement would last:

Had a visit from Mr Sims and a long chat--I find him a much pleasanter man than I thought. This is court day. Our new chaplain John seemed to have something to do. Had a long outdoor talk with McGregor--he knew all the notorious I knew on the other side of the country 40 years ago. (71)

His last months were spent with his son Henry at Double Bay, Sydney. He died in his 74th year, on 25 May 1876. He was buried at Rookwood cemetery, Sydney, without religious rites, no doubt as he wished it to be.


The transcription of the diaries of George Boyle White is an ongoing collaborative project with Jenny McCarthy.


(1) Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 6, p. 387, Melbourne, 1976. See also W. A. Enright, 'Notes and Comments', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 7, pt 1, 1921, pp. 54-5.

(2) National Archives (Britain), ADM/6/343.

(3) G.B. White, Diary, 30 October 1868. See G. B. White Mitchell Library Catalogue (ML) Series B, Card Index Drawer 24: B598-628 and A1449-7. See also, George Boyle White-Correspondence, 1827-1899, and diary, 1847 ML A 1449 digital version on ML catalogue. The term Diary is used here for his daily notes written during his lifetime and Journal for his daily record of the expedition with Mitchell, 1831-1832.

(4) Bantry Bay Collection, Cork University Archives.

(5) Diary, 21 February 1872.

(6) H. O'S. White, 'Aborigines of New South Wales in 1848-1850', Mankind, vol. 1, no. 9, May 1934, p. 224.

(7) The Colonist, 12 December 1838.

(8) The Colonist, 27 October 1838.

(9) W. Alan Wood, Dawn in the Valley, The Story of Settlement in the Hunter River Valley to 1833, Sydney, 1972, p. 265.

(10) Maitland Mercury, 7 July 1857. Wood, p. 264.

(11) Wood, p. 247.

(12) Wood, p. 247.

(13) Wood, p. 247.

(14) Land Titles Office, Memorial D 243, Nature of Instrument: Conveyance by lease and release, 7 March 1831. C 407, Assignment 8 May 1830.

(15) Harry F. Boyle, Heritage Address 1995, Paterson Historical Society, George Boyle White 1802-1876, p. 6.

(16) J. H. L. Cumpston, Thomas Mitchell--Surveyor General and Explorer, London, 1954, p. 73.

(17) Thomas Mitchell, Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia: with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and the colony of New South Wales, vol. 1, Adelaide, 1965, pp. 1-141.

(18) Mitchell, p. 81.

(19) Journal of G. B. White surveyor from Nov 26 to Mar 14 1832 on Expedition with Sir Thomas Mitchell, 14 January 1832. (Hereafter Journal). G. B. White, Mitchell Library Catalogue Series B, Card Index Drawer 24:B598-628 and A14497. For transcription of the Journal by Jenny McCarthy and Les Dalton see Mitchell Library Call No 919.44/52. See also, Brian McCloskey and William Moore, Surveying New South Wales, the Pathfinders: an archive of those surveyors who assisted in the development of New South Wales since 1788, CD ROM, Sydney 2005, ML MAV/DISC10/451, pp. 172-213.

(20) Journal, 14 January 1832. 2

(21) Journal, 15 December 1831.

(22) Journal, 15 December 1831.

(23) Journal, 14 February 1832.

(24) Journal, 1 March 1832.

(25) T. L. Mitchell, 'Report of Surveyor General', ML, A2146, 1832.

(26) G. Hamblin, Azimuth, August 1987.

(27) B. T. Dowd & Averil Fink, 'Harlequin of the Hunter--Major Mudie of Castle Forbes' (part II), Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 55, March 1969, p. 83-85.

(28) Daniel Golenia, George Boyle White--pioneer surveyor, SV 481 Project, BSurv Course, University of Newcastle, 1980, pp. 39-40.

(29) Golenia, p. 40.

(30) Harry F. Boyle, Heritage Address 1995, Paterson Historical Society, George Boyle White 1802-1876.

(31) Diary, 21 March 1868.

(32) Diary, 21 February 1872.

(33) Diary, 3 June 1868.

(34) Diary, 9 January 1873.

(35) Diary, 26 March 1850.

(36) Diary, 25 February 1872.

(37) Diary, 30 October 1868.

(38) Diary, 15 March 1871.

(39) Letter, 28 May 1838, George Boyle White to his mother, Honoria Green. G. B. White, ML MSS A1449(6). Transcribed by Susan Tracey.

(40) Letter, 28 May 1838.

(41) Letter, 27 November 1838, Mark Chas Green to his half-brother. G. B. White, ML MSS A1449(6). Transcribed by Susan Tracey.

(42) Memorial to the Supreme Court of NSW, 31 July 1841, No 688, Book T, p. 181.

(43) Colonial Secretary Letters, Letter to Colonel Snodgrass CB, Acting Governor: 'The respectful Memorial of the undersigned Individuals lately and at present employed in the Public Service at Sydney New South Wales', ML Reel A 1197, pp. 106-7.

(44) Letter to Colonel Snodgrass CB, p. 111.

(45) Memorial, Letter to Lord Glenelg from Colonel Snodgrass, ML Reel A 1197, pp. 99-102.

(46) Boyle, p. 8.

(47) Graham Abbott & Geoffrey Little, The Respectable Sydney Merchant--A. B. Spark of Tempe, Sydney, 1976, pp. 32-33.

(48) Golenia, p. 42.

(49) Insolvency Files, New South Wales Archives, 1691/2, 1847.

(50) Diary, 24 July 1845.

(51) Diary, 13 July 1845.

(52) Golenia, p. 44.

(53) H. O'S. White, p. 224.

(54) H. O'S. White, p. 233.

(55) H. O'S. White, p. 225.

(56) Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, vol. 1, 1858, pp. 973-992.

(57) Boyle, p. 8.

(58) Proceedings, vol. 1.

(59) Proceedings, vol. 3, 1858, pp. 757-761.

(60) Diary, 30 January 1875.

(61) Diary, 25-26 February 1867.

(62) Diary, 5 July 1865.

(63) Diary, 21 March 1868.

(64) Diary, 1 March 1870.

(65) Insolvency Files, 8045/6, 1867.

(66) Diary, 31 December 1869.

(67) W. S. Campbell, 'Incidents on Unfenced Cattle Stations in New South Wales and Queensland in the Early Sixties', JRAHS, vol. 6, 1920, p. 269.

(68) Diary, 28 January 1872.

(69) Diary, 28 January 1872.

(70) Town and Country Journal, 27 January 1872.

(71) Diary, 1 October 1875.