WHY PARENTS DESERVE A MEDAL
South Australia was founded on high ideals that weren’t always embodied by some of its most famous forefathers, including Sir Samuel Way, the powerful judge who lived a secret double life in Tasmania
Ten thousand South Australians turned up to Adelaide Oval on a September day in 1891 for the crucial game that would decide the champion of the year’s SA Football Association season – and young Frank White for Norwood had a lot to play for.
The 18-year-old had enjoyed a cracking season and now a victory over Port Adelaide would see the team claim the title.
As it turned out, the youngster turned in a top effort, being named best player for a sterling defensive display as Norwood clinched its 10th premiership with a two-goal victory.
It’s easy to imagine that some of the loudest cheers among the boisterous crowd would have come from young White’s father.
But if he did join the hoi polloi that day, South Australia’s chief justice Samuel Way might well have kept his approval for the efforts of young Frank relatively low-key.
After all, the judge had a secret: the boy from Geelong Grammar was his illegitimate son – one of five children that the unmarried Way, one of the most prominent pillars of colonial South Australian society, fathered with a woman of convict stock in Tasmania.
Way was a legend in the state’s history, as chief justice for nearly 40 years. In 1890 he was made lieutenant governor for life. In 1896 he became a privy councillor, with imperial status next after the royal family. He was knighted in 1899, a Royal Commissioner, a stalwart of the Methodist Church and Grand Master of the Freemasons Lodge. He was a member of the Adelaide Club. Local wags dubbed him a “Pooh-Bah”. Today he stands proudly in bronze outside the University of Adelaide, which he served as chancellor.
And while he did not marry until his 62nd birthday in 1898, that did not stop him starting a family.
In Hobart during summer vacations, young Sam Way, son of a preacher man, fathered five of the seven children of Susannah Mary Gooding, a Tasmanian-born chambermaid of convict heritage. Sam saw that his children – one girl and four boys born between 1869 and 1881 – went to good schools. Two of the boys became eminent doctors who performed great public service in war and peace, earning a knighthood for one of them.
Details of Way’s double life has emerged in recent times, recorded in learned publications and debated in academic circles – although not given headline treatment. Now it can be revealed for the first time that Way’s second son, under the name of Frank White, studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College and was a key member of that champion Norwood Football Club premiership team in 1891.
When I began researching the mysterious White for the NFC History Group late last year, the first clue uncovered from old newspaper reports was that he was a Victorian student at Roseworthy. University of Adelaide archivist Sue Coppin searched the Roseworthy records and discovered that the player Norwood had recorded as T.B. White was in fact Frank Brook White. He was 18 when he began his one year at Roseworthy and his parent or guardian was listed as R. Chambers Norman.
Armed with that information, fellow NFC researcher Michael Coligan uncovered the link to Way and his secret family. Frank White, born in Hobart on October 4, 1872, was the second child of Way’s liaison with Susannah Gooding. His second name, Brook, memorialised Way’s recently deceased legal partner, James Brook. His guardian, Robert Chambers Norman, had been secretary of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital for five years up to 1886, when he was warmly farewelled by Way before moving to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.
Norman also was the guardian of Frank’s elder brother James Samuel Rowden White, who was 22 when enrolled at Roseworthy in April 1893 and left in July the same year.
Seven years or so before he became chief justice, Way had formed a relationship in Tasmania with Susannah, whose mother, Lydia Hines, and paternal grandparents had been transported to Australia as convicts. Susannah would have been about 26 when she met Way and already had two children.
Susannah was a housewife, aged 41, when she died in Carlton in 1888 and by then had been living in Victoria for seven years. Her death certificate showed she had married John White in Hobart. Her children all took the surname White.
Susannah’s death had a profound impact on Way. He suffered a breakdown, explained as due to pressure of work, and went on a world tour for a year.
Short lifespans were the fate of three of Samuel Way’s children – Florence Eliza Jane White (1877-1880), James White (1869-1895) and Frank White (1872-1902) – but the other two boys enjoyed long and productive careers.
Way gave three of his sons his grandmother’s maiden name, Rowden. His two youngest sons, Alfred Edward Rowden White (1874-1963) and Edward Rowden White (1881-1958), became eminent doctors. It is appropriate that both were called Edward, as they were no doubt named after Sir Samuel’s younger brother Dr Edward Willis Way, the leading gynaecologist in colonial South Australia.
Way sent his four sons to Geelong Grammar School, where Frank was an important member of the champion football team from 1888 to 1890.
“White is certainly one of the best all-round athletes in the Schools,” wrote ‘Barracker’ in
The Sportsman of October 15 1890. “Nevertheless, his performances at football have this year been exceedingly disappointing. Too much flashiness and too little solid hard work were the main features of his play. He never seemed to have his heart in the team; and to all appearances a victory to him was just a little pleasanter than a defeat.”
Despite that criticism, ‘Barracker’ included Frank as a rover in his best team chosen from the Schools.
Frank did make his mark in his one season with Norwood. Still only a teenager, he was named best player for a sterling defensive display against Port Adelaide as Norwood clinched its 10th premiership with a two-goal victory before a crowd of 10,000 at Adelaide Oval in September 1891. In his endof-season summary in The South Australian
Chronicle, ‘Onlooker’ described White as “a clever little mark and a useful player”.
Frank White vanished from the scene after his moment of glory. He was only 29 when he died on March 7, 1902, at Mrs Madden’s Private Hospital, a salubrious establishment in Nicholson St, Fitzroy, opposite Melbourne’s Exhibition Gardens. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Samuel Way was born in 1836 in Portsmouth, England, the son of a poor Bible Christian preacher, James Way, and his wife Jane, who emigrated to Adelaide in 1850. Sam joined them three years later and soon began his rapid climb to the top of colonial society through a combination of great natural ability, burning ambition and good luck.
Three deaths aided his ascent. In 1858 he was articled to the lawyer Alfred Atkinson, who was declared insane just before Way’s admission to practice in 1861 and died soon
afterwards. Way rebuilt the firm with James Brook, whose untimely death in 1872 left Way in charge of a strong practice all his own. He took silk in 1871 and was elected to the House of Assembly as the member for Sturt in 1875. Barely four months later he was attorneygeneral and after just nine months in that job somewhat controversially recommended himself for the chief justiceship, left vacant by Sir Richard Hanson’s death. He joined the Supreme Court on March 27, 1876, and dominated it for the next four decades.
“Way knew both joy and regret,” says Peter Moore in SA Greats – The men and women of
the North Terrace plaques, edited by John Healy (Historical Society of South Australia Inc. 2001). “Behind the glory lurked the secret life of a devoted family man . . . with a difference. From about 1868 Way passed his summers in Tasmania with former chambermaid Susannah Gooding (1842-88). He was the father of at least five of her six [seven] children, all named after his parents, siblings and associates, and each christened with his own surname.
“He set the family up at good addresses in Hobart and then in Melbourne. When he presented his commission as Chief Justice in Adelaide, he adjourned the court for a fortnight to attend the christening of his fifth child in Hobart.”
Actually, that most likely would have been Susannah’s fifth child and Way’s third. The couple never married and their relationship was kept secret, presumably because Susannah’s background would have been socially unacceptable for the wife a rising young lawyer and distinguished judge.
“Way looked after Gooding and her children with diligence and affection,” says Stephen James in The Australian Dictionary of Biography (MUP, Vol 16, 2002), “and in the 1880s moved them to Melbourne. By that time they were using the surname of White.”
Alfred White graduated from the University of Melbourne and embarked on a long, varied career in medicine. As a major in the Australian Army Medical Corps, he served in France with the 2nd Australian General Hospital in World War I. He helped to found the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
Edward White, known as Teddy, was senior prefect at Geelong Grammar School in 1900. He was an obstetrician when commissioned as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1914 and posted to the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, serving at Gallipoli and in Sinai and Palestine. He played a leading part in the early development in Australia of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Although approaching his 60th birthday when World War II broke out, he joined the AIF on New Year’s Day 1941 and sailed to Malaya soon after as commanding officer of the 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital. He
“He set the family up at good addresses in Hobart and then in Melbourne.”
was mentioned in dispatches before Singapore fell to the Japanese army in February 1942. He endured his ordeal as a prisoner of war in Formosa and Manchuria with dignity and strength of character despite his age and news of the death in March 1942 of his only son, James Northcote Rowden White.
Way dominated almost every important cultural, educational, artistic, scientific and charitable element of life in South Australia since he was appointed to the court in 1876. He turned down at least four offers of knighthood, holding out for an hereditary honour, perhaps a peerage, though he had no lawful heirs.
On 11 April, 1898, his 62nd birthday, he married the 44-year-old widow Katherine ‘Kitty’ Blue – who had links with the Downer and Rymill families – and the following year accepted a baronetcy “to please Mrs Way”.
“Polished, cultured and proud, Way was a jumble of aspirations and contradictions,” says Peter Moore. “Wearing judicial robes at University events covered his lack of a degree and he appears this way in the bronze statue that stands in front of the University of Adelaide. His residence ‘Montefiore’ at North Adelaide, set in an exotic if miniature garden, was a monument to his hospitality, bibliophilia and the arts and craft movement. He also had two country properties for relaxation, income and scientific experiment.
“Way supported Federation but not a High Court unless he could be Chief Justice. When he failed to achieve this, his star began to fall. After 1907 he was occasionally appealed against and once overruled by his own Full Court. In 1914 he had his left arm amputated in Sydney, due to cancer, but he nevertheless succumbed on 8th January, 1916. A State funeral was held three days later and he was buried at West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide.”
Beatrice Webb, the English Fabian, met Way in Adelaide and found him “a grizzled, bearded little man, insignificant in features, voluble and diffusive in speech, with more authority than dignity in his manner, he neither pleases nor impresses . . . At first he seems a fussy little Methodist . . . presently you discover that he is both good and wise”.
And a lot of other things that the good citizens of Adelaide never dreamt of.
Frank White, left, in the 1888 Geelong Grammar School football team; Chief Justice Samuel Way with Lady Way (Picture: Chronicle, July 19, 1902)