Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

William John Whitla

Hunter Valley Medical Practitioner

William John Whitla arrived in the colony as a convict.

The Belfast Newsletter of 1st April 1828 reported his crime -

William John Whitla, for knowingly having in his possessions a forged Bank of Ireland note. -- The prisoner pleaded Guilty and was sentenced to 14 years' transportation. [This is the same person who is charged with stealing, last summer, two bank post bills, for &pound100 each, from the trunk of Mr. Trotter, who had lodging at the time in the house of the prisoner's father, at Ardglass. This depraved young man had been educated, as a surgeon, by his father, who is a respectable retired Clergyman.]

The Belfast Newsletter of 8th April 1828 gave the latest sentences from the County of Antrim Assizes - Arthur Kenny, Thomas McGibbon, William Whitla and Philip Nugent were all sentenced to 14 years transportation for having knowingly forged Bank of Ireland notes.


On 9th May 1828 it was reported that a number of convicts had passed through Belfast on their way to the hulks at Kingstown near Dublin: - Sentence of death recorded, but commuted to transportation against James Hamill, Hugh McCann, John McGinley, Michael Sheals, William Martin, Robert Harper, James Thompson and John Flemming; Fourteen years' transportation against Arthur Kinney, Thomas McGibbon, William Whitla and Philip Nugent. Seven years transportation against Arthur McConville, William McBride, Patrick Burns, Thomas Wallace, Robert Campbell, William Whiteford, Alexander O'Boyce, William Stockman, John McBride, Andrew Conry, John Dougan, James Graham and Archibald McNeill. All but Philip Nugent and William Whiteford were later transported on the convict ship Sophia in 1829.

Convict Indents

According to the above news items and to the convict indents his name was William John Whitla, however he was later also known as William John Whitlaw or Whitelaw. He was 24 years old and was tried on 28 March 1828. His description was noted in the indents as 5ft 5 3/4in with ruddy freckled complexion, and brown hair and eyes. He had a horizontal scar under his right eye and a small one on the back of his left hand.

Port Stephens

In 1832 William Whitla commenced duties as assistant surgeon with the Australian Agricultural Company. He was visited by Sir W. Edward Parry and Thomas Ebsworth in February of that year and Parry thought he would do well, although he warned him of drunkenness which Parry considered to be Whitla's failing.


William Whitla received a ticket of leave in 1834. He was allowed to remain in the Windsor district on recommendation of the Port Stephens bench. His ticket was cancelled in January 1838 for giving malicious reports and being an habitual drunkard. The Colonist gave a few more details of the incident on 11 July 1838:

A Friend in Need! - We regret to learn that William Whitlaw, physician to the Rev. John Cleland, of Pitt Town, near Windsor, and who occasionally tendered his services to him in cases of Spiritual distress, has had his ticket of leave cancelled, on the ground of habitual drunkenness and improper conduct. This son of Aesculapius, we are credibly informed, was to be adduced as a witness in Mr. C's favour, to rebut the testimony of respectable persons whose affidavits Mr. C. thinks he could obtain at a dollar per head. Let him try.!


William Whitlaw's ticket of leave was restored in 1839 for the district of Maitland


He was 36 years old when he married Jane King at Windsor in December 1835. Jane King had arrived on the Roslin Castle in 1830 and was 25 years old. She was born in Oxford and had been employed for four years as a housemaid before transportation although had been out of work for several weeks when she committed her crime. She was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing a shawl on 10th September 1829. She was 5ft with light brown hair and grey eyes and a small dark mole under her left eye and on left side of nose.

By 1842 William Whitelaw had commenced a medical practice in East Maitland. In April of that year William Mutlow moved into premises in East Maitland that had lately been occupied by Dr. Whitelaw to commence his business as chemist and druggist. This was possibly in Melbourne Street.


By August 1842 William Whitelaw had moved to Morpeth. He fell victim to the financial depression and was declared insolvent in that month.

He was still in practice in Morpeth in 1844 when he testified at the trial of John Brown who was accused of maliciously wounding James McKay with a hammer. He gave evidence at the trial of Henry Sanderson in 1845 and attended the daughter of Charles Credland of Morpeth in July 1845.


He was probably resident in Windsor in 1856.