LIEUTENANT ANDREW DOUGLAS WHITE (1793–1835)
A convict’s son who served on the Duke of Wellington’s staff at Waterloo was Australia’s first returned soldier.
Andrew Douglas White was the illegitimate son of the First Fleet’s chief surgeon John White and his convict housekeeper Rachel Turner. The family lived in the Surgeon’s House, on the site now occupied by the Orient Hotel, on the corner of George and Argyle streets.
White had an older foster brother, Nanberry, a Cadigal boy who had been rescued and nursed back to health by Surgeon White during the smallpox epidemic of 1789. Nanberry later figured prominently in the exploration and charting of Australia’s shoreline.
White was sent to England to be educated. At the age of 15 he joined the Royal Military Academy as a cadet, and at 18, in 1812, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Promoted to first lieutenant in 1813, he was sent to the Netherlands in a British force supporting the Dutch insurrection against Napoleon’s occupying forces. He saw action in the failed attempt to lay siege to Bergen-op-Zoom.
Appointed to the Duke of Wellington’s staff as a junior officer, White rubbed shoulders with counts, barons and other assorted members of the peerage, and was both the only Australian and the only illegitimate son of a convicted felon on His Grace’s staff.
In order for the Duke to plan the Battle of Waterloo, White, among others, was tasked with hurriedly surveying and producing a map of the terrain and defences. The finished map was nearly lost twice: once when a young officer riding to deliver it was caught up in the Battle of Quatre Bras, and again during the actual Battle of Waterloo when Sir William De Lancey, who was carrying it, was fatally wounded. It is said that the map was stained with De Lancey’s blood. Waterloo was won and Napoleon defeated, bringing to an end almost 20 years of hostilities between France and the rest of Europe.
White survived the battle, went back to England, and received his Waterloo Medal in 1816. He returned to Sydney in late 1822 and was reunited with his mother, Rachel, after nearly thirty years. In the meantime she had married Thomas Moore, Master Boat Builder at His Majesty’s Dockyard (Port Jackson) and a wealthy philanthropist. Rachel and Thomas lived on the corner of George and Globe streets in The Rocks before moving to land granted to Thomas on the Georges River, which he named Moorebank.
White went back to England in 1824 and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1831. Two years later he returned to Australia for good, marrying Mary Anne MacKenzie at St John’s Church, Parramatta in June 1835. He died of unknown causes two years later at the age of 44, leaving his prized Waterloo Medal to his mother, and is buried in Liverpool Pioneer Memorial Park Cemetery, NSW.