White, William Arthur (DNB00)

WHITE, Sir WILLIAM ARTHUR (1824–1891), diplomatist, the son of Arthur White, who was in the British consular service, and Eliza Lila, daughter of Lieutenant-general William Gardiner Neville, was born in 1824, and educated at King William's College, Isle of Man, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He entered the consular service on 9 March 1857 as clerk to the consul-general at Warsaw. He frequently acted as consul-general; and on 9 Jan. 1861 he became vice-consul, again acting as consul-general for the greater part of 1862 and 1863. Here, with strong Polish sympathies, he nevertheless comported himself with such judgment as never to offend Russia. On 9 Nov. 1864 he was appointed consul at Danzig, where in 1866 he acted also for six months as Belgian consul, and during the war of 1870 took charge of French interests. On 27 Feb. 1875 he was transferred to Servia as British agent and consul-general. This post at last gave him some scope for employing the knowledge which for many years past he had been acquiring, and laid the foundation of his great influence in dealing with Eastern nationalities. Within a few months of his arrival in Servia the old Eastern question began to assume an acute phase, and in June 1876 the Servians, following the lead of Herzegovina, declared war against Turkey. Their defeat was followed by the conference at Constantinople in December 1876. There Lord Salisbury was assisted by White, and was deeply impressed by his knowledge and ability. Through the succeeding Russo-Turkish war he remained in Servia, but on the erection of Roumania into a kingdom he was appointed envoyextraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary at Bucharest on 3 March 1879. On 18 April 1885 White was nominated envoy-extrordinary at Constantinople, and was at once brought face to face with a question of first importance—the legality of the annexation of Eastern Roumelia to Bulgaria in defiance of the treaty of Berlin of 1878. Russia took the ground that the treaty must be upheld at all costs. White was convinced that the breach of the treaty was really in the interests of Europe; and eventually he carried his point with the representatives of the powers. His action directly contributed to the consolidation of Bulgarian nationality, and the Bulgarians were not slow to recognise this. Early in 1886 he was specially thanked by the government for his action. He was created C.B. on 21 March 1878, K.C.M.G. on 16 March 1883, G.C.M.G. on 28 Jan. 1886, G.C.B. on 2 June 1888, and sworn of the privy council on 29 June 1888; he was made an honorary LL.D. of Cambridge on 17 June 1886.

On 11 Oct. 1886 White was confirmed as special ambassador-extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople. He died at Berlin, at the Kaiserhof hotel, on 28 Dec. 1891. He was buried in the Roman catholic church of St. Hedwig, Berlin, on 31 Dec. in the presence of representatives of the whole diplomatic and political body. A special memorial service was held at Constantinople.

White showed facility in acquiring the languages of those with whom he had to deal. He spoke Polish like a native, and was equally conversant with Roumanian. In Bucharest he would go out into the marketplace in the early morning and pick up news from the peasants. He had a faculty for devoting himself to all that bore immediately on his work; he was a great reader of newspapers and blue-books, sifted his matter with great acumen, and retained what he needed with extraordinary accuracy and method; his recollection of personal and official occurrences was of the same precise and useful character, and he utilised to the full, and was appreciated by, the correspondents of the press. He applied his knowledge with a quick insight into motives and consequences which enabled him to check intrigue without resorting to it himself. He was a great lover of Germany, and is said to have urged Great Britain to join the triple alliance (Times, 1 Jan. 1891, p. 3). The French press paid him the compliment of congratulating themselves on his death as on the removal of an obstacle to French ambition and expansion (ib. 31 Dec. p. 5).

White married, in 1867, Katherine, daughter of Lewis Rendzior of Danzig, and left three daughters.

[Times, 29 and 30 Dec. 1891, and 1 and 2 Jan. 1892; Foreign Office List, 1891; Burke's Peerage, 1890.]

C. A. H.