John White (? 1756 - 1832)

Naval surgeon who joined the navy in 1778, after receiving his diploma as a surgeon in 1781, he served in the West Indies and India.

In 1786, he became the surgeon of the Irresistible, and shortly after, he was appointed chief surgeon for the expedition to establish a convict settlement at Botany Bay, recommended by Captain Sir Andrew Snape Hamond. During the voyage to Botany Bay, White and his assistants managed to keep the death toll low, despite many convicts being in poor health from prolonged imprisonment. They faced challenges with outbreaks of scurvy and dysentery, as well as inadequate medical facilities. However, within a year of arriving in the colony, they reduced the incidence of sickness, built a hospital, and White even accompanied Governor Arthur Phillip on exploration journeys.

White maintained a journal during his time with the First Fleet and documented many birds in the colony. His journal, along with engravings illustrating the colony’s natural history, was published in 1790 as “Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales,” which became a great success. Amidst food shortages in the infant colony, White helped build a signal station and volunteered to fish to supplement rations. The arrival of the Second Fleet in 1790 and the Third Fleet in 1791 posed significant challenges, but White and his team managed to nurse many of the convicts back to health despite limited resources. The strain on White became too much, and he requested leave in England in December 1792. He continued his natural history studies and sent specimens and drawings back to England. He finally left the colony in 1794, leaving it in a healthier state.

Upon his return to London, White served on various ships for three years later becoming a navy surgeon at different yards until he retired in 1820. He passed away in 1832 at the age of 75, leaving behind an estate worth £12,000. He had married around 1800, and at the time of his death, he had three living children.

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