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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Whyte, Hon. James

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Whyte, Hon. James, who was the last surviving member of the first wholly elective Legislative Council of Tasmania, was the son of George Whyte, a captain in the Yeomanry Cavalry, by his marriage with Miss Walker, cousin of Thomas Pringle, the well-known South African explorer and poet and Anti-Slavery Society secretary. He was born near Greenlaw, Scotland, in March 1820, and arrived in Tasmania with his father in 1832. So far back as 1838, when the colony of Victoria was in its infancy, and Mr.Whyte was only seventeen years of age, he crossed the Straits, and, with a good stock of sheep, settled on the station at Portland Bay known as Kononwotong. He and his brothers traded on a large scale under the firm of Whyte Brothers, and were the pioneers of the present township of Coleraine. The difficulties with the savage aborigines were very great, and Mr. Whyte had his vicissitudes, like all early settlers in squatting life. In connection with Mr. Robert McDonald and Mr. William Lane, he afterwards became the proprietor of a large station at Clunes, on which at a subsequent date the Port Phillip Gold Mine was discovered, which for years yielded a handsome royalty to its owners. Mr. Whyte, satisfied with his handsome returns from the Clunes goldmine, returned to Tasmania about the year 1853. His means were ample, and in 1854 he made his first appearance on the stage of public life, when, in the half-nominee and half-representative Legislature of that day, he contested the seat for Brighton with Dr. Butler, but was defeated. In the latter part of 1856, however, when, under the new Constitution Act, two representative Houses were established, he was elected for Pembroke without opposition, and retained his seat, being for several years Chairman of Committees, until it became vacant by effluxion of time on March 21st, 1876, when, holding an office of emolument under the Crown, he was no longer eligible for re-election. Mr. Whyte held a seat in the Gregson Ministry as a member of the Executive Council without office from Feb. to May 1857. Having been a prominent member of the Opposition to the Chapman Ministry, Mr. Whyte was entrusted with the formation of a Cabinet on their defeat in Jan. 1863, and took office as Premier and Chief Secretary. He, however, resigned in Nov. 1866, on the condemnation by the Assembly of the proposal to impose an income and property tax. In 1870 Mr Whyte, as a private member, carried a bill for the suppression of the scab disease in sheep, which was then making fearful ravages, and accepted the office of Chief Inspector under the provisions of the measure. This, as before stated, necessitated his retirement from parliament. He died on August 21st, 1880.