William Henry Whiteley

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William Henry Whiteley III (June 5, 1834 – August 18, 1903) was a businessman, politician and sea captain. He is best known as the inventor of the cod trap, a large box-like device consisting of netting with an opening where the cod are directed by a long net extending to the shore, which he invented in 1871.[1][2]


Willian Henry Whiteley III was born on June 5, 1834, in Cambridge, Boston, Massachusetts to William Henry Whiteley II (1812–1844) and Ann Marie Kelson (1812–1887).[1] He was born into a prominent inventing family, His grandfather William Henry Whiteley (1790–1863) and his sons William II, Edward and John had all been assistants in the family business which was based in Ilsington, London where William had been working as an inventor for kitchen appliance makers, he also worked for a company experimenting with photography. Most of William's inventing was funded by his late father William Whiteley, Squire of Morley (1754–1819).

After his son immigrated to Boston in the late 1830s, he and his two other sons soon followed and set up the family business. His son William later married and had children one of them being William Henry Whiteley.

William's childhood was spent in the Boston neighborhood of Cambridge, he was the oldest child of the family having 4 younger siblings Joseph ([1838), Louisa Mary (1840), and twins Alfred James and Charles (1842). As a child he apprenticed as a printer for the American Traveller, his duty was to run to the ships that docked in the harbour and receive the latest news from Europe.

In 1844 his father William II was murdered while crossing the Cambridge Bridge across the Charles River while returning from work. Thugs attacked him, took his earnings, and then threw him in the river where he drowned without regaining consciousness.

William's mother Marie shortly after remarried to a fishing merchant, James Buckle (1813–1894), and not much later the family sailed from Boston to the new family home in Labrador where Buckle's family had been Fishing since the mid-18th century. While there, William began learning the trade of fishing from his stepfather whom he called "Uncle Jack".

In 1858, William was called to England to receive an inheritance from his great-uncle William Jury (1799–1851), consisting of a number of cottages and land parcels in the Manor of Overton in Hampshire. Upon arrival William took up boarding with his grandmother's grandniece Lydia Thompson and her family. While staying there, Lydia's eldest daughter Louisa caught his eye, and he made a proposal of marriage to Louisa's father Charles, but after an extended argument William was banished from the house and was forced to seek lodgings. In his persistence, William eventually won Charles' approval and Louisa's hand. They were married in the Islington Chapel of the Congregationalists on February 9, 1859. After being wed, William finished up their affairs, and they took a short honeymoon in Brighton. In April 1859 they sailed to St. John's, Newfoundland on a schooner, bound for Bonne-Espérance, Quebec.

In Labrador, Whiteley used his inheritance to finance the beginning of his large scale fishing operations. The business employed a number of families in the cod, salmon, herring, and seal fisheries. Whiteley was the inventor of the Whiteley Cod Trap, which was in use until the decline of the cod fishery. He also enjoyed a successful career in politics, representing the district of Harbour Grace in the Newfoundland House of Assembly from 1889 to 1893. Whitely also served as fisheries inspector, as postmaster, as harbour master and as magistrate at Bonne-Espérance.[1]

He died in August 1903 in St. John's, Newfoundland. After his death, his sons continued to operate the fishing station at Bonne-Espérance.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Whiteley, William Henry". Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. p. 562. 
  2. ^ "The Invention of the Cod Trap". Whiteley Museum.