John White, 1757 or 8 - 1832

Biographical note

English surgeon and botanical collector. White was born in Sussex (some sources state he was born in 1750) and entered the Royal Navy on 26 June 1778 as third surgeon's mate. He was promoted surgeon in 1780, and was the principal surgeon during the voyage of the First Fleet to Australia. In March 1787 White joined the First Fleet transports at Plymouth, where he found that the convicts had been living for some time on salt meat, a bad preparation for a long voyage. He succeeded in obtaining supplies of fresh meat and vegetables for them, and arranged that they should be allowed up on deck in relays to obtain fresh air. His sensible and humane treatment was probably the reason why the number of convict deaths during the voyage was not higher.

White arrived in Australia in 1788 as Surgeon-General of New South Wales and organised a hospital, but was hampered by the lack of medical supplies. He became interested in the native flora and fauna of the new land and investigated the potential of Australian plants for use as medicine. He observed the olifactory qualities of eucalyptus and distilled eucalyptus oil in 1788.

White wrote A Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790), which described many Australian species for the first time. He was the first to describe the South-East Asian frog Litoria caerulea, which was subsequently named White's Tree Frog.

According to his journal, he severely disliked Australia, describing it as: "a country and place so forbidding and so hateful as only to merit execration and curses." He applied for leave of absence in 1792, and received it in 1794, sailing for England on 17 December 1794 and later travelled to Ireland. In 1796 he resigned his position when given the option of returning to Australia.

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