Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Whiteway, William Vallance

WHITEWAY, Sir WILLIAM VALLANCE (1828–1908), premier of Newfoundland, was younger son of Thomas Whiteway, a yeoman farmer of Buckyett House at Little Hempston, a village near Totnes, where he was born on 1 April 1828. Perpetuating the old-time connection between Devonshire and Newfoundland, he was presented at the time of the diamond jubilee of 1897 with the freedom of the borough of Totnes. Educated at Totnes grammar school and at the school of Mr. Phillips, M.A., at Newton Abbot, he went out to Newfoundland to be articled to his brother-in-law, R. R. Wakeham, a prominent lawyer in the colony, in 1843, when he was only fifteen years old. He qualified as a solicitor in December 1849, was called to the Newfoundland bar in 1852, and became Q.C. in 1862. In 1858 he entered the legislature. From 1865 to 1869 he was speaker of the House of Assembly. In 1869 he went with Sir Frederick Carter, then premier of Newfoundland, and Sir Ambrose Shea to Ottawa to negotiate terms of confederation with the then newly formed dominion of Canada. The terms were decisively rejected in the same year by the Newfoundland electorate. When Sir Frederick Carter returned to power in 1873, Whiteway became solicitor-general in his administration, with a seat in the cabinet; and when Carter took a seat on the judges' bench, Whiteway succeeded him in 1878 as premier and attorney-general. In the previous year, 1877, he had been appointed counsel for Newfoundland at the Halifax fisheries commission. This commission met, under the terms of the treaty of Washington of 1871, to assess the value of the difference between the privileges accorded to Great Britain and those acquired by the United States under the treaty. The commissioners awarded to Great Britain money compensation to the amount of 5½ million dollars, of which sum Newfoundland subsequently received one million dollars. For his services Whiteway received the thanks of both houses of the Newfoundland legislature. He was made K.C.M.G. in 1880. In 1885 his government made way for the Thorburn administration. He returned to power as premier and attorney-general in 1889, and held office till 1894. After the general election in 1893 petitions were filed in the supreme court against Whiteway and many of his colleagues and supporters on the ground of corrupt practices. As a result, Whiteway was, in 1894, unseated and disqualified under section 17 of the Elections Act of 1889. His government resigned on 11 April 1894; but critical times followed. In December a great bank crisis took place. On 27 Jan. 1895 an Act was passed by the legislature removing the disabilities of members who had been unseated by the decision of the supreme court. On 31 Jan. 1895 Whiteway again became premier, and held office until 1897, when he resigned, and practically ended his public career. He made an effort to re-enter public life in 1904, largely as a protest against the Reid contract of 1901 [see Reid, Sir Robert Gillespie, Suppl. II], but was unsuccessful, partly because he was supposed to favour confederation with Canada. In 1897 he represented Newfoundland, as premier, at the diamond jubilee and the colonial conference of that year, and was made a privy councillor, being the first Newfoundland minister to attain that honour. He was also made a D.C.L. of Oxford.

Whiteway played a prominent part in the negotiations respecting the Newfoundland fisheries and French shore questions, and went to England four times as a delegate from the colony to the imperial government. In 1891 he was heard at the bar of the House of Lords, when the French fishery treaty bill was before that house. The net result was that, as an alternative to imperial legislation, the Newfoundland legislature passed temporary measures for the purpose of carrying out the treaty obligations of Great Britain to France in respect of Newfoundland. Whiteway, too, was premier when the abortive Bond-Blaine convention was, in 1890, negotiated with the United States. It is as a promoter of railways in Newfoundland that his name will be principally remembered (Prowse's History of Newfoundland, 1895, p. 495 note). In 1880 he carried the first railway bill through the island legislature for the construction of a light railway from St. John's to Hall's Bay, and though he was personally in favour of construction by the government, the work was entrusted to an American syndicate with unsatisfactory results. When he returned to power in 1889 he took up again with vigour the policy of developing the colony by railways, and during his second administration he concluded the earlier contracts with Robert Gillespie Reid of Montreal under which the railway was subsequently constructed via the Exploits river to Port aux Basques in the south-west of the island, the nearest point to Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia. The later Reid contracts of 1898 and 1901 were not in accordance with his views.

A leading member of the Church of England in Newfoundland, and district grand master of the Freemasons, Whiteway died at St. John's on 24 June 1908, the natal day of Newfoundland, and was buried in the Church of England cemetery at St. John's.

He married (1) in 1862 Mary (d. 1868), daughter of J. Lightbourne, rector of Trinity Church in Bermuda; (2) in 1872 Catherine Anne, daughter of W. H. Davies of Nova Scotia. One son and two daughters survived him.

[The Daily News, St. John's, Newfoundland, 25 June 1908; The Times, 26 June 1908; Blue Books; D. W. Prowse's History of Newfoundland, 1895; 2nd edit. 1896; Colonial Office List; Who's Who.]

C. P. L.