Fonds - William Vallance Whiteway fonds

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William Vallance Whiteway fonds

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  • Textual record

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  • Variations in title: Formerly known as Court Diary
  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of the fonds

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36 p. of textual records

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Biographical history

William Vallance Whiteway (1828-1908), lawyer and Prime Minister of Newfoundland (1878-85; 1889-94; 1895-97), was born on 1 April 1828 in Devon, England, the youngest son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Vallance) Whiteway. He married Mary Lightbourne of Bermuda in 1862 and they had one daughter. Following the death of his wife, he married Catherine Anne Davies of Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1872 and they had six children. Whiteway died on 24 June 1908 in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Whiteway was educated at Tomes Grammar School, Totnes and at a private school in Newton Abbot, England. As a result of his family's participation in the Newfoundland trade, Whiteway was sent to St. John's in 1843 as an apprentice in the mercantile firm of Stabb, Row and Holmwood. Instead, he elected to article under Robert R. Wakeham, a prominent local lawyer. He was called to the Newfoundland Bar in 1852.

While practicing law Whiteway was encouraged by businessman Charles Fox Bennett to stand for the Newfoundland House of Assembly in a by-election in 1858. He was elected member for Twillingate-Fogo District and was re-elected in elections held in 1859, 1861, and 1865. He was named Queen's Counsel (1862) and nominated Speaker of the House (1865). Defeated in 1869 as a Confederate candidate, he returned in 1873 to represent Trinity District (1873-85). He was Solicitor General (1874-78) and Attorney General (1878-85).

In 1878 Whiteway replaced Frederick B. T. Carter as Prime Minister and won a general election, based on Conservative-Protestant support. Following dissension in the administration, heightened by the aftermath of the Harbour Grace Riot (1883), Whiteway temporarily retired from political life in 1885.

In 1887 Whiteway announced his return to politics. After the defeat of the Reform Party (1889), Whiteway became Prime Minister and was re-elected in 1893. Following the election scandals (1894) he was disqualified as an MHA by the Supreme Court. Special legislation enacted by the Liberal government allowed him to take his seat in 1895. During his final term as Prime Minister (1895-97) Whiteway represented Harbour Grace District. Whiteway served in the Newfoundland House of Assembly for a total of 30 years, 14 of these as Prime Minister.

Whiteway devoted most of his political career to the construction of the trans-insular railway, completed in 1898. He was also an early supporter of confederation with Canada as a means of developing the natural resources of the island. He abandoned the idea only when it led to his defeat in the 1869 general election. Whiteway's commitment to resource exploitation led to the construction of a dry dock in St. John's, and agreements with France regarding the development of French Shore. Whiteway was also instrumental in securing a $1,000,000 award for Newfoundland as compensation for fisheries concessions granted to the United States by the 1871 Treaty of Washington. Whiteway prepared the Newfoundland case, and argued it successfully before the 1877 Halifax Fisheries Commission.

Whiteway was chosen first Worshipful Master of the Avalon Masonic Lodge in 1859 and eventually became Grand Master in Newfoundland. He was the first Newfoundlander to be made a member of the Imperial Privy Council, and in 1880, he was knighted in recognition of his service to the British Empire.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of a photocopy of part of a handwritten diary kept by William Whiteway, recording details of cases heard in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland from 1888-1899.

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Acquired from a dealer in the 1980s.


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  • English

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No restrictions

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Created - April 30, 2013

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  • English

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