The Naturalist

Gilbert White was the eldest son of John White of Selborne, Esq. and of Anne the daughter of Thomas Holt, rector of Streatham in Surrey. He was born at Selborne on July 18, 1720; and received his school-education at Basingstoke, under the Rev. Thomas Warton, vicar of that place, and father of those two distinguished literary characters, Dr Joseph Warton, master of Winchester school, and Mr Thomas Warton, poetry-professor at Oxford. He was admitted at Oriel College, Oxford, in December 1739, and took his degree of bachelor of arts in June 1743. In March 1744 he was elected fellow of the college. He became master of arts in October 1746, and was admitted one of the senior proctors of the university in April 1752. Being of an unambitious temper, and strongly attached to the charms of rural scenery, he early fixed his residence in his native village, where he spent the greater part of his life in literary occupations, and especially in the study of nature. This he followed with patient assiduity, and a mind ever open to the lessons of piety and benevolence which such a study is so well calculated to afford. Though several occasions offered of settling upon a college living, he could never persuade himself to quit his beloved spot, which was, indeed, a peculiarly happy situation for an observer. He was much esteemed by a select society of intelligent and worthy friends, to whom he paid occasional visits. Thus his days past, tranquil and serene, with scarcely any other vicissitudes than those of the seasons, till they closed at a mature age on June 26, 1793. — Biographical note from 1813 edition of "Natural History of Selborne".

Gilbert and his brothers shared an interest in natural history. Benjamin White was a publisher and bookseller in London (Benjamin White & Son) who published many important natural history books in the 18th century. Gilbert’s youngest brother, the Rev. Henry White, was Rector of Fyfield, in Hampshire. His son, Charles Henry White, married Christian St Barbe, who died at the tragically early age of 22. Their elder daughter, Eleanor St Barbe White, was born on April 15, 1803, their second daughter Christian in 1804.

Eleanor St Barbe White married David William Gregorie on February 14, 1833.


Charles White (1766-1859) by Clive Burton

"Parson, farmer, sportsman, volunteer soldier: Charles Henry White was born on October 4, 1766, the second son of the Rev. Henry White, Rector of Fyfield, near Andover. The Whites had resided for many centuries in various parts of Hampshire and nearby counties. In most generations there were members of the family holding ecclesiastical appointments. Other members were successful merchants in London and elsewhere.

["The Rev. Henry White’s wife, Elizabeth Cooper, was a remarkable woman. She was 40 when her first child was born and 56 when the tenth arrived. Despite this, she lived until she was ninety, having been a widow for some 27 years." — Natalie Mees, Librarian, The Oates Memorial Library and Museum and the Gilbert White Museum.]

"Charles White received his early education from his father, the Rev. Henry White, a brilliant scholar and a graduate of Oriel College, Oxford. As a youth, Charles served in the army, serving as a volunteer, which delayed his entry to university until he was aged 21.

"At Fyfield, Henry White conducted a most successful Academy for Young Gentlemen, where about ten young men were prepared for entry to university. Their parents, who lived in various parts of the country, paid very substantial fees—£100 or, in some cases, £150 per annum.

"Several members of the White family kept ‘Log Books’ recording daily events, but very few have survived, among them, the diaries written by Charles’s uncle, Gilbert White, of Selborne, which were published in the last century.

"Charles was ordained in 1790, serving as curate to Fyfield for the next 12 years. In 1797, he was appointed Rector of Shalden, but for the next five years continued to live at Fyfield, serving as curate to that parish. Shalden was a parish of only 158 inhabitants, a few miles north of Alton.

"On 3 June, 1802, Charles married Christian, daughter of Alexander St Barbe, of Southampton. Their first daughter, Eleanor St Barbe White, was born in 1803 and their second daughter, Christian, in 1804. In the summer of 1806, Charles and his family were staying at Fyfield where his wife died, aged 22. In 1810 he married Elizabeth Wise, of Wokingham, Berkshire. There were two children — Catherine Mary, born in 1812, and Charles Henry, born in 1814.

"Charles White was the last of the old-fashioned country parsons who personally farmed their glebe lands and brewed beer. He was active in many country sports, in the summer playing cricket, frequently attending meetings of the Selborne Common Cricket Club, in winter shooting partridges.

"Although not a ‘hunting parson’, he was a keen horseman, regularly making journeys to quite distant parts of the country. Up to extreme old age, he was constantly in the saddle and very active.

"Charles White’s second wife died in 1835, but Charles, who lived to the age of 93, died on October 25, 1859, and was buried at Shalden.

"The church with which Charles was familiar was demolished in 1863, and the present building erected on an adjacent site. The rectory, rebuilt in 1801, survived until 1940, when it was destroyed by fire — through improper use of a blowlamp to unfreeze water pipes."— An article in "Country Life", October 4, 1979.