WHITE, EDWARD, sealing captain, shipbuilder, Methodist lay leader, and politician; b. 9 Oct. 1811 at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay, Nfld, the eldest of four children of William and Mary White; m. in 1835 Anne Weir of St John’s, Nfld, and they had eight children; d. 1 June 1886 at St John’s.
Edward White came from a family of fishermen of West Country origin who had lived in Newfoundland for three generations. From the age of eight he sailed the northern Newfoundland and Labrador waters with his father. Self-educated, White went to St John’s as a young man and built up a small fleet of coastal schooners with which he engaged in the Labrador, Canadian, and Brazilian trade. In 1850, because he had an accident-free record, White was called to give evidence at Quebec to an inquiry by the Canadian assembly on navigation of the wreck-prone Strait of Belle Isle and provided the Canadian authorities with his own charts of the area.
White is remembered principally as a sealing-master. He made his first voyage to the ice in 1838 and for the next 45 years he engaged in the hunt in his own vessels or in ships owned jointly with Job Brothers and Company of St John’s and Liverpool. A pioneer in the introduction of large wooden steamers, White supervised the building of the Nimrod (used by Ernest Henry Shackleton in his 1907–9 Antarctic expedition), the Hector, and the Neptune at Dundee, Scotland, and commanded them at the seal-hunt. Between 1866 and 1882 he landed nearly 300,000 seals worth close to $1 million. As a sealing-master he was characterized, by contemporaries and in traditional sealers’ ballads, as having great skill, experience gained during a career which reached back to the early days of the hunt, impetuous energy, and Spartan discipline.
A leading Methodist lay figure at St John’s, White was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1861 by Hugh William Hoyles; in 1882 Sir William Vallance Whiteway* named him to the Executive Council where he represented the Methodists in Whiteway’s administration as minister without portfolio. During the 1860s White had been a strong advocate of confederation with the other British North American colonies and campaigned for this cause in 1867. He introduced the first sealing regulations in 1870, arguing for a fixed opening date for the hunt to ensure that the pups were mature enough to kill, and throughout this period he also supported the stipulation against Sunday killing. A strong advocate of measures to open the interior of the island to development through railway construction and mineral exploration, he took out exploration rights himself in many parts of the island and brought several properties into production. White was also involved in experimental farming; on his 50-acre farm west of St John’s (now part of Bowring Park) he attempted to raise celery, tomatoes, corn, strawberries, and other “exotics.”
Edward White family papers are in the possession of G. M. Story (St John’s). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1851, I, app.T. Colonist (St John’s), 12 Sept. 1888. Evening Mercury, 12, 13 Jan. 1883, 1 June 1886. Terra Nova Advocate and Political Observer (St John’s), 2 June 1886. Chafe’s sealing book (1923), 23, 31, 36, 41–42, 48–56, 95, 97, 100, 102. G. M. Story, George Street Church, 1873–1973 (St John’s, 1973), 18, 23, 50–51, 53; “Hon. Edward White: a great sealing captain,” Newfoundland Record (St John’s), 1 (1962), no.3: 21–22.