Introduction John White
From the many sources of information gathered and the scarcity of accurate evidence to illuminate the reader concerning the starting points of the Surgeon of the First Fleet, John White, I can now state firmly he was of a Fermanagh background. Of that there is no doubt. The question which remains unanswered, until now that is, from which townland?
Substantial biographical data is not readily available but having read, ‘From the Banks of Erne to Botany Bay’ by his descendant Charles Nelson, more specifically the notes of Reverend Dundas ,who was another descendant of White, there remains a mountain of material undiscovered about the man. The Reverend Dundas deposited his information about the White ancestry with the Enniskillen Museum.
Initially, contentious issues which sprang up occasionally were easily dismissed by both texts.
I must emphasise at this juncture that my input is certainly not to make any unworthy contradictions but merely to add some new information and thus assist the reader draw a satisfactory conclusion about the famous doctor and his beginnings. I fully agree with the most learned Mr. C. Nelson that some form of memorial should have been erected in Fermanagh to commemorate the marvellous achievement of the surgeon. He certainly deserved one based on the low death statistics on board his ship, his healing of many illnesses and his major fauna discoveries on land alone. His caring ways and professional integrity saved the lives of many.
My present and past research is based solely on the antique map as the starting point. With the accompanying research data supplied by Mr Frank Roofe of Enniskillen I have attempted to answer some of the many previous undiscovered truths of the surgeon of the First Fleet.
Dr. John White’s birth and early childhood seem very obscure as there are no obvious records available to substantiate relevant facts about him. Some existing records in the Registry of Deeds in Dublin shows that the family held land in lease in Drumarran but this does not lead us to affirm that their homestead existed in this townland.
The evidence in the antique estate map presents tangible contextual information that this White family held land and a house in the adjoining townland of Carrickabweehan as well as farmland in Drumarran and Gortahork. This very recent evidence in the map, is not registered or recorded ever before or held in any repository. It clearly illustrates that the named Sergeant John White was a tenant of Carrickabweehan indicated by his name located inside a garden boundary containing the dwelling house. This tenancy was leased from the proprietor Thomas Armstrong, as indeed were the bordering townlands forming part of the Armstrong Estate.
Where he learned his basic education especially for the medical profession still remains a quiet mystery. Within the boundary property of Sergeant John White perhaps rests a clue. There is a well pinpointed and verified by an old ordnance survey map. It was a holy well for scurvy. On a more recent map three wells are noted, one for scurvy, another for jaundice and one for ague. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1834-35 Volume 14 informs us that this scurvy well in the townland is close to Tampulmoyle. An old thorn tree stood beside it onto which rags were fastened. There was no saint named to whom it was dedicated and was referred to as the Carrickabweehan Well. Could these wells have been the motivation and inspiration for the young John to enter the medical fraternity? It is a possibility. He was familiar with the local environment.
School registers are not available although it has been suggested he attended Portora in Enniskillen but once again no records exist. Charles Nelson stated in his book, that he must have acquired at least some medical education somewhere. He needed qualifications for this naval adventure into the unknown.
With the present research material Mr. Roofe and myself have shown a White family presence in the townland of Carrickabweehan (Refer map) and the material presented is essentially positive not speculative. It coincides with the time frame, recognises the White Vault in Mullaghdun graveyard, acknowledges the demise of Dr White’s brother Thomas and his two sons, William and John, the nephews of the surgeon.
The circumstance of Thomas staying behind to manage the farming duties of his father, whilst his brother John went abroad to fulfil his ambitions is very creditable as in past history it usually followed that the eldest son inherited the farm and dwellings from the father especially so if he was the only person at home to take care of things. It appeared from the outset that it was the destiny of John White to journey into the profession of healing the sick and become a surgeon. On his return from Australia he made a short visit to Ireland but ultimately resided in Brighton, married at a later date in Sussex England. He died around the age of seventy-five years.
THE CARRICKABWEEHAN WELL
Early in 1975 a young schoolboy found some old coins in the same townland. The tradition was that people used to throw coins into the well to assist with obtaining a cure from their ailments. The boy thought that he might have some of these. When his mother found out she insisted he put these back through superstition of having them removed from a holy well. It is stated that these coins were never seen by any experts and though a search was made they were never found.
However there was an excellent description of these coins by the boy and it was later assessed that these were part of a hoard dating from around 1534 and 1537. This was the period of Tudor debasement of Irish coins and it appears that someone chose an easily identifiable hiding place.
The newspaper The Impartial Reporter had a notice in one of its pages issued in 1832 in the matter of John White an Insolvent (Refer Notice of Public Auction). It invited offers for lands which were the property of John White the son of Thomas.
It included in Lot 1 lands of Drumarran held by lease under John Armstrong. Lot 2 was lands in another portion of Drumarran. Surprisingly Lot 3 was a life interest in part of the lands of Carrickabweehan (Carrickabueghan) and Gortahork held by lease from the same John Armstrong for the lives of the insolvent and brother William. This is the only occasion when Carrickabweehan townland has been included as part of the White ownership of land. It was not mentioned before by either the Rev. Dundas or Charles Nelson. Surprisingly the same townland appears on my map with the outstanding name of Sergeant John White. Surely this presents dramatic new evidence to First Fleet White’s family homestead without question? Again there is no evidence to refute this conclusion.
In Charles Nelson’s book,’ From the Banks of Erne to Botany Bay,’ the author clearly emphasised with factual information to support his research, that “ it is certain that the White family farmed on the slopes of Belmore Mountain, in the townland of Drumarran during the late 1700s and early 1800s.”
The antique map of containing Carrickabweehan and Gortahork fits the exact same time frame.
As stated previously, there is no mention of a house in Drumarran occupied by a White family but only of land farmed and identified in the Public Notice of 1832.
The Carrickabweehan map visually illustrates the White homestead, unequivocally.
It was the childhood home of Surgeon John White of The First Fleet.