A man and his harpoon.


White-haired Thomas White and his family.
Photo courtesy of Judith White.

In March 2006 we received an email from Judith in New Zealand regarding a fellow named Tom White, who she saw briefly mentioned in the March 15, 1884, edition of Sidney Rider's "Book Notes." Rider noted that Tom had been instrumental in capturing a Right whale off Conanicut in February 1828.

Judith believes she knows more about Tom White and sent the following information, including a photograph:

I read the story about the whale capture and Thomas White on your site. This is Thomas White, an American whaler born in Rhode Island in 1810, and maybe the Thomas in the article.

The picture was taken in the 1860s at Pigeon Bay in New Zealand, and shows Tom with his family in front of the house he built himself. Captain Tom is sitting on the right with a light-coloured jacket on. You will notice that he married a local dusky maiden, a Maori girl called Sarah. They were married by the very famous Bishop Pompallier from France whilst he was out in New Zealand to start a Catholic mission. The occasion was the engagement of the eldest girl, also named Sarah, to William Innes of Scotland. The younger girl is daughter Amelia and the young boy is son George.

The complete photograph showing the White homestead. Photo courtesy of Judith White.

Tom's parents are recorded as Job and Maria White, and his father's family were from Taunton, Massachusetts. It is written that Tom was orphaned young, went to sea in 1824 at fourteen years old, and sailed up the Thames on the day of the coronation of King William IV, September 8, 1831. Later he shipped in a London whaler called the Timor and was to serve on her for three years. His first port of call was the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. He then shipped on the William Wallace and Caroline, working all around New Zealand waters and the Pacific.

In 1849 he settled in Pigeon Bay, married Sarah (Maori name: Piraurau), and had nine children, all of whom led successful lives.

There is much about Thomas White's life here in New Zealand written in history books. He used his whale boat well into his eighties to ferry people around the bays. He also built ships and worked at times for the government building houses for the early surveyors, some of whom he assisted in their work. One such surveyor was Charles Heaphy, whom he assisted on his trek to the rugged west coast of New Zealand. One of the best and well-known tourist draws in New Zealand is the Heaphy Track, which people come from all over the world to walk.

It is believed Thomas White died in New Zealand on September 9, 1896.

Judith may be correct in her identification of the New Zealand immigrant with the young man who threw the harpoon. A note from A.H., included in the March 29, 1884 issue of "Book Notes," identifies Tom White as his co-worker in Newport in 1831. Lacking any contrary evidence, it's possible this Tom White is the same who, that September, sailed up the Thames on the day of King William IV's coronation.

If you have additional information linking these two Tom Whites, either pro or con, please drop us a line at stuffie@quahog.org.

This article last edited June 6, 2017

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