William Smallpeice Whitington, South Australian History

William Smallpeice Whitington

William Smallpeice Whitington was born on 27 February 1811 at West Clandon, Surrey, the son of Peter Whitington, William married Mary Emily, daughter of Aaron and Julia Martin on 23 January 1840. Already a successful shipping owner he and his wife soon after left for South Australia. They arrived in South Australia, on William’s own ship, the brig New Holland of 250 tons, via the Cape of Good Hope on 27 July 1840.

Mary was already pregnant and their first child, Lucretia Sturt was born on 3 October in Rundle Street. Their son George Falkland was also born there on 17 March 1842. The next child, Julia, was born on 2 August 1843 at Surrey Farm, Sources of the Onkaparinga. Julia died on 4 March 1845. They were to have a further 12 children.

On his ship Whitington had brought livestock, stores and merchandise and soon opened up for business in Rundle Street. Early in September 1840 he was seeking tenders for the supply of wood to be delivered at Port Adelaide. That same month the New Holland arrived at Sydney under Captain Russel with cargo and passengers. In October she was loading at the Queen’s Wharf for a return trip to Adelaide where she arrived on 6 November.

Apart from buying and selling anything and everything Whitington had also formed Whitington & Co which was operating as shipping agents. In October of 1840 he was advertising the arrival of Boar Pigs from London. He advised farmers who wanted to improve their stock to send their sows at 10 shillings each. But they had to hurry as the pigs would soon be removed to his property in the country. A month later he had rams for sale or to let for the season.

Although barely 6 months in the colony he had also been busy on the land for on 26 December 1840 he was referred to in the local paper as ‘the celebrated English wheat grower’. In January 1841 the Hobart paper reported that Whitington & Co., who was the owner of the Courier had 3 other steamers ready in London for the Australian colonial trade. A few months later Whitington had organised a meeting in Adelaide of the principal merchants and colonists interested in the introduction of steam navigation.

He became involved, with his partners in England, to bring livestock from Tasmania to South Australia in their own ships. This proved to be a disaster as they were beaten by overlanders who brought stock from NSW. One of his ships, Courier, was later used by Customs to chase the Ville de Bordeaux which was trading illegally in South Australian waters.

Putting his losses behind him Whitington now tried his luck on the land. By the early 1840s he owned a run near Balhannah and became a sheep farmer. He imported high quality breeding stock and was the first to import a thoroughbred horse from England. He soon grazed 1350 sheep and 15 cattle and continued with farming for the next 5 years. However due to scab, smut and low wheat prices he decided against further investments of this kind.

Having been unsuccessful in shipping and farming he now became interested in mining which at that time was the growth industry in South Australia. He became the original proprietor of the Hahndorf Silver Mine and held a large number of shares in it. In 1848 he was secretary for the Paringa Mining Company and a year later for the North Kapunda Mining Company as well. In November of that year he was appointed District Commissioner for the Hundreds of Kanmantoo and Monarto for the making and improvement of roads. In 1850 he became secretary for the Britannia Mining Company as well.

Meanwhile he had moved with his family to South Terrace in Adelaide where they occupied a stone and wood dwelling of 7 rooms on a large block. It was here that his recently born son Henry Walter died on 29 October only 6 months old. Never one to let a good chance go by, Whitington followed many other South Australians for the gold rushes in the eastern colonies where he was moderately successful. Upon his return to Adelaide in September 1852 he started work for Philip Levi and remained with that firm until 1860. While at Levi he leased sections 5003 and 5005, which had been Aboriginal Reserves, for £6 per annum. He still found time to be a judge at the Agricultural and Horticultural Show in 1855.

Whitington also took out mineral leases as early as 1856 when he took up two 80 acre sections near Mount Stuart and later in the Hundred of Waitpinga. By 1857 he had taken out mineral leases in the Northern Flinders Ranges, at first with others, but later in his own name. During the next few years he acquired numerous mineral leases, particularly in the Flinders Ranges but also in other areas of South Australia.

As early as 23 April 1859 he had applied for a mineral claim in the Bremer Ranges. By 1860 he was the local secretary for the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia, which operated the Nuccaleena mine. Whitington kept himself informed of all the mineral discoveries in South Australia and tried to cash in on as many of them as possible. No sooner had the Moonta and Wallaroo mines proved to be successful than he applied for mineral leases in that area. During his many travels to the Flinders Ranges and Yorke Peninsula, his wife stayed in Adelaide at their home on South Terrace. Whitington was home though on 30 September 1862 when their son Eustace Arnold was born.

After John McLeod had applied for a lease at Cape Jervis, which became the Talisker Silver mine, Whitington applied for two other leases, 1557 and 1558, in the same area, on 29 May 1862. During the next few weeks he also took out a number of other leases in the Hundred of Waitpinga and one south of Mount Craig and still more near Kanyaka Station in the Flinders Ranges. During this time he was a shareholder in the Talisker and Preamimma mines, discoverer of gold in the Bremer Ranges and was secretary of the Lyndoch Valley Mining Company and the Gold Prospecting Subscription Association.

Between 1865 and 1880 Whitington made, and lost, large sums of money searching for minerals. He remained secretary of several companies, including the Campbell Creek Silver Lead Mining Company and the Barossa Mining Venture. In December 1868 he made several dozen applications for mineral sections.

On 2 September 1869 he applied for 80 acres near Blinman. In March 1869 Whitington was appointed liquidator of the West Kanmantoo Mining Company along with William Wedd Tuxford and H. C. Uhlmann. Although Whitington had already been working as a liquidator for several companies, he became an official liquidator under the Companies Act of 1864 in November 1869. Being a liquidator was a lucrative business bringing in £20 or more per company. In June 1874 Whitington was appointed to wrap up the business of the New Gawler Copper Mining Company.

In 1869 he was also a shareholder in the Ophir Gold Mining Company, and secretary for the North East Moonta Mining Company and had formed an ‘influential company’ to mine gold near Blumberg. During these years he was several times appointed liquidator for companies that were forced, or had decided voluntarily, to be wound up.

Whitington was very concerned about the many instances of the less than honest behaviour of many promoters, directors, mining captains and even some miners. He felt strongly enough about it to write to the editor of the Register that as one of the oldest mining venturers in South Australia he ‘would take much trouble to obtain all the latest information about mining from all parts of the world’. He was also glad to see prosperity where legitimate mining was concerned wherever it might be.

Whitington was aware that it always was a hazardous speculation for capitalists, ‘as the law of nature was causing many mineral properties to be too complicated to believe the opinions of scientists or mining captains’. Often, he said, when a good discovery is made it had been by accident. These problems were more than enough to content with and he regretted the exaggerated statements made by many people to mislead the public.

By the 1880s Whitington was still involved with the mining industry, either as secretary, director, claim or leaseholder or as a shareholder. As late as 1883 he was involved with the Queen group of mines in the Adelaide Hills. Finally at the age of 75 and in poor health he retired. For a period of some forty years he had shown a great interest and confidence in the development of South Australia’s mineral wealth and never been afraid to invest his money to promote it.

Whitington died in October 1903 leaving a large family. Several of his sons had done well. One became Commissioner of Audit, another became Superintendent of the Wallaroo railway and later the Naracoorte railway while yet another became Archdeacon of Hobart. An interest in mining was to run in the family for a long time. His grandson Bertram became Director of the School of Mines in Stawell, Victoria while another grandson became a correspondent for the Barrier Miner at Broken Hill.


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