He was born in Yorkshire in 1811 and emigrated to the Cape with his parents as British 1820 Settlers. They were allocated land at Riviersonderend near the mission station of Genadendal, but resettled at Assegaaibosch in the Langkloof. He left South Africa for Australia in order to acquire road-building experience.
In 1836 Charles Collier Michell, Surveyor-General of the Cape Colony, had reconnoitred Cradock Pass and had been horrified by its steep gradients and poor condition. In 1843 he proposed that convict labour be used to build a road along an entirely new route over the Outeniqua Mountains. In due course this was approved by the colonial secretary, John Montagu, and work was started in 1844 with H.O. Farrel as superintendent of the project. The work turned out to be beyond him, and in his place Montagu appointed Henry Fancourt White, a qualified surveyor, who had recently become Road Inspector.
Some 250 convicts were used to carry out the demanding work of constructing the new road. The project was eventually completed after 4 years' work at a cost of ₤35,799 and opened to traffic in December 1847, with the ceremonial opening taking place on 19 January 1848 and the Hon. John Montagu personally attending.
Montagu Pass served as the main road over the Outeniquas for more than 100 years and it was only with the completion of the Outeniqua Pass in 1951 that this old pass became no more than a scenic route.