Compass of Thomas White, shipbuilder

Compass of Thomas White

Whitea??s built, well-built!

This compass belonged to Thomas White (1773-1859), a member of the most famous shipbuilding family on the Isle of Wight.

The Whites came to the Island in the opening years of the 19th century, and had purchased the former Nye shipyard by 1803. They were already shipbuilders with an established reputation based in Broadstairs, Kent, but the Medina estuary offered the chance to build larger boats, closer to the Navy’s Portsmouth headquarters. Shipyards and docks were established on both sides of the river, in Cowes and East Cowes.

White’s slogan was “White’s built, well-built!” White’s built a huge variety of craft, for clients all over the world from Chile to New Zealand. As well as destroyers and frigates, yachts, lifeboats, seaplanes and a few submarines were among the work carried out at the yards. The shipyard closed in 1981.

Quick Facts

  • Accession number COZMM:1993.1209
  • Owned by Thomas White
  • Shipyards based at Cowes and East Cowes, Isle of Wight
  • Shipyard closed 1981
  • Date of compass Georgian


  • John Lee White, one of the last members of the family to be directly involved in the running of the firm, was one of the founder members of the Isle of Wight Motorist’s Association. In July 1905, with the permission of the deputy governor of the Island, Thomas Cochrane, it held its first motor meeting up at Carisbrooke Castle.

Did you know?

A boat being built for the Polish Navy, the Blyskawica, was used in the defence of Cowes during the bombing raid of the night of 4th May 1942, the guns being used to try to keep enemy planes at bay.

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