Stephen & Peggy White on Tristan da Cunha






Early Life of Stephen White

Their stay on Tristan da Cunha

Children born on Tristan da Cunha

Return to England



Early Life of Stephen White

                                                                                                  (c) Irene Schaffer


Stephen White was born in 1794 at Ore, Sussex.[1] Unfortunately his baptism has not been located. He was the son of William White and Sarah nee Tolhurst, and grandson of William White and Ann Thatcher. William jnr was recorded as a Yeoman and Inn Keeper. They had ten children: Sarah born 1788, William 1790, Thomas 1792, Stephen 1794 (not registered), Joseph 1795, James 1796, Robert 1799, Ann 1801, George 1804, and Barbara 1807. All were baptized at Ore.[2]


William White was born 2 February 1766 at All Saints Hastings, and died on 13 November 1837 at Ore, aged 72.  Sarah died 15 May 1827 aged 60.  William’s will dated 2 February 1838 named his sons and daughters, Stephen was mentioned as one of the sons.[3]


Why Stephen left his comfortable home in Ore for a life at sea is not known.  At the age of 27 he sailed on the Blenden Hall as a member of the crew in 1821.  He is referred to by name in a diary, written by the Alexander Greig the Captain's son. The first entry for Stephen was when he showed some kindness to the young maid named Peggy[4] during the wreck. Not as complimentary was the next report when he lodged with a turbulent character by the name of James Smith. This association was to lead Stephen into great trouble later on Tristan da Cunha.


On their arrival on Tristan the crew not being able to pay for their food and lodging were told by the Captain and Governor Glass that they were required to work for their keep. The crew were also expected to give part of their catch of fish to the passengers. This was not received well by some of the men and they refused to work.  Stephen White and James Smith became Fowler’s lieutenants and assisted him when he led the men to rush the barns where the food was held, and to take what they required. This failed and the three ringleaders were tried by Captain Greig on behalf of the British Government. All were sentenced to six dozen lashes (in Fowler's case this was doubled when called his followers' cowards.  Stephen and his friend James Smith received only half their amount, when they asked for mercy from the Captain and promised to change their ways. The extra three dozen were then given to Fowler.) 


Stephen seemed to then change his ways, and with the leaving of the passengers on the Nerina he decided not to continue as a crew member. He may have been too afraid what might happen to him back in England for the part he took in the mutiny. What ever the reason, he decided to stay on the island with the six other mutineers. He also persuaded little Peggy to stay and marry him. 





Their Life on Tristan da Cunha

Painting by A.Earle, Stephen at head of table Peggy standing by the door, 1824 

The six sailors soon left the island, leaving only William Glass, his wife, two children, two old residents,
[5]  and Stephen and Peggy. What a lonely future it held for the young couple. Glass married them and placed their names in his bible.[6] It was the first marriage to take place on Tristan.  As I have mentioned in the last chapter Stephen and Peggy's marriage was not registered, it’s possible Glass didn't bother to write the information down or it may have been lost, more likely the former.





Children born on Tristan da Cunha


Stephen and Peggy’s, first son Stephen was born on 28 December 1822, when Peggy was only fifteen. Maria Glass the only other woman on the island would have been a comfort to the young girl, in this her first confinement.


The inhabitants of the little island in 1824 now numbered eight adults plus five children - William and Maria Glass and three children; Stephen and Peggy and one child, sailors John Taylor and Richard Riley; and T. Gooch (Gouche) the sailor who rowed Earle to the island, and Earle himself. 


In his day-to-day diary Earle described his stay and tells of the backgrounds of most of the inhabitants.[7] Glass he found to be a hospitable and kind man, while the three seaman, he described as being honest rough British tars. The two women being Mrs Glass[8] born at Cape Creole and Mrs White, a half-cast Portuguese from Bombay who he hardly saw, as they were constantly in the cook-house. The children he observed were in abundance and all healthy and robust.


Earle observed that Stephen and his wife Peggy were two people who:


           ' could not have been more happy.'


 Stephen was the youngest of the party[9] and he and Earl were to spend a large amount of time together, hunting and rambling over the island. Of Stephen he found nothing very particular in his history, except that he was an excellent specimen of a young English sailor; he had all their characteristic warmth and feeling. Earle’s saw him as having a desperate courage, and a simplicity that was almost childish. His manner of expressing his admiration of what he saw being highly amusing. He also described Stephen as a very young man, no more than a lad. If his birth date on the Church of the Latter Day Saints data is correct he would have been about 27 years old. One of Augustus Earle's drawings of the eight inhabitants shows all the adults at Government House This painting and others that he had painted were displayed at his gallery in Sydney in 1829.


Sydney Gazette 28 July 1829.

The painting of `Governor Glass and associates at dinner at Government house, Tristan da Cunha. This picture represented the inside of the house, and is valuable for exhibiting exact portraits of the personages and amongst others of Mr Earle the painter. It is true of nature. The guests are seated at a table, which is covered with a white cloth, on which was the usual paraphernalia of a seal-fisher's dinner. It is quite English in its character and accompaniments. A woman (Mrs Glass pregnant with her third child) is employed in serving out the materials that constitute therepast. The subject is interesting, as an exhibition of manners in a rude solitarystate of existence, where the prospect of gain induces the hardy Briton to undergoevery danger. [10]



Of Peggy we know very little, she was the servant of Mrs Keys, an Indian women who was married to an English Commodore stationed at that time in Calcutta. The name Peggy was probably given to her as a nick-name.[11] Mrs Keys appears to have gone to England with her husband on a holiday and was returning to Calcutta when the Blenden Hall was wrecked at Tristan da Cunha.


Peggy's main responsibility was looking after Mrs Keys's two children. Mrs Keys was a very overbearing woman, who thought because she was married to a British Commodore that she had the right to demand instant obedience, especially from the crew. Except for Mrs Keys's niece, Peggy was only other young person on the island and it was not surprising that she and Stephen were thrown together, firstly with the sinking of the ship and later on Inaccessible Island and Tristan da Cunha.


Peggy gave birth to their second child while Earle was still on the island, this was Margaret born 20 July 1824. He was amazed that only a few days after the birth, she was again back at her work, and looking just as well as before.


An entry found in the White's family bible holds the key to the early part of Stephen’s adventurous life. It was written by Stephen's grand-daughter Charlotte, who was the daughter of William and Charlotte White, the information supposedly passed orally to her by her father. It had many little mistakes, but remarkably summarised the main parts of the story of the shipwreck on Tristan da Cunha, and his marriage to an Indian girl.


The entry in the Bible revealed that there were three children born on Tristan not two as previously thought. 


On 20 July 1824 Peggy gave birth to a baby girl on Tristan da Cunha. [12]


At the end of December 1826 Stephen, Margaret and their three children boarded the sloop Duke of Gloucester that was bound for Cape of Good Hope, from there they made their way to England.[13]


The first few years on the island must have been extremely wonderful for the young couple. With the departure of the survivors from the Blenden Hall their life together promised to be full of happiness. Stephen was completely accepted by the others on the island and he was asked to sign the Constitution for the future running of the island in 1822.[14]


Their day-to-day life would not have been easy however. They had to build themselves a small house, with the help of the other three men, maintain a garden for their potato crop as well as learn how to look after the stock. None of them were farmers but Glass had managed to set up paddocks, fencing them with stones to grow crops for their own use and to exchange when the sailing ships called for supplies. This experience seemed to be of great importance later in their life. Soon their little paradise was to end, as from 1824 many runaways and deserters arrived on the island and their hopes of finding continued peace was shattered. 




[1] After extensive research in Hastings and Sussex, Stephen White family was found.

[2] Research received from England.

[3] William White’s will.

[4] nick name for Margaret

[5] John Taylor and Richard Riley

[6] Their names do not appear in the Glass Bible. Only members of his own family.

[7]Earle. Augustus, Narrative of a Residence in New Zealand & Journal of a Residence in Tristan da Cunha.

[8]Born Maria Magdalena Leenders, she was half Dutch, she married William Glass at the Cape in 1814.

[9] This description was somewhat misleading and caused no end of trouble when trying to find Stephen’s birth date. Far from being a very young man, he was 29 when Earle was there and only two years younger than Earle himself. I think he may have looked young.

[10]Hand written on the back of the painting. It is not known who wrote it.

[11] Its possible that she had only one name this being an Indian name, which Mrs Keys changed to suit herself.

[12]Fausrini. Amaldo, Pro. The Annals of Tristan da Cunha page 25. This also proves that the woman standing at the door in Earle’s drawing was Peggy not Mrs Glass.

[13] Faustini. Amaldo, Pro. The Annals of Tristan da Cunha page 26.

[14] A copy of this document was forwarded by the British Library see Appendix 2, it was hoped that a copy of the original could obtained, but unfortunately it is too fragile to even photograph.

Extracts from my book "The Sea Shall Not Have Them"    Book now available from Tasmanian Family History Society Library 19 Cambridge Rd Bellerive Tasmania,   phone (03) 6244 4527.   For further information ring me on 0402 220 648.    Irene Schaffer.