Franklin White, son of shipbuilder Robert White, worked as a mining engineer and later as a mine manager in the Antioquia region of Colombia from 1870 to 1878. He was then engaged for a short time on railway surveys in Antioquia and published English translations of reports by F.J. Cisneros on two railways in the region (New York, 1878) before joining the Frontina and Bolivia Gold Mining Company in 1879 as assistant mine manager and later mine manager. From 1886 he was associated with other South American mines.
White came to southern Africa in 1889 to manage gold mines in the territory that is now Zimbabwe and in the Transvaal. From 1893 to 1899 he was associated with the Luipaard's Vlei mine, near Krugersdorp. There he developed the first dry crushing process, to overcome the effects of a water shortage on the Witwatersrand. His investigations into various methods of dry crushing, their efficiency and advantages, were reported in the following three papers over a period of some years. In October 1897 he presented a paper on "The estimation of gold in ore and data on dry-crushing experiments" before the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa, which was published in the society's Proceedings (Vol. 2, pp. 137-142). In January 1899 he presented his "Notes on dry crushing and cyaniding of Rand ore" before the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy in England. The paper was published as a pamphlet in London (1899, 16p). He reported further investigations on how to adapt dry crushing to best suit the cyanide process of gold extraction in "Dry crushing of ore preparatory to the extraction of gold", delivered at the first annual congress of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1903 (Report, pp. 362-368).
White became a member of the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa in 1895. He served on the society's council for 1898/9, but owing to unexpected absences from the Witwatersrand was able to attend only four council meetings and therefore resigned his position. However, he continued his membership of the society when it changed its name to the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa in 1902, following the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), and was still a member in 1905. In addition to his paper on dry crushing he addressed the society on "The position of the assay department in mining economics" (Proceedings, June 1898).
In 1895 he became a member also of the newly established Geological Society of South Africa and was elected a member of its first council. Though he did not present original papers before the society, he contributed to its proceedings by presenting substantial comments on a paper dealing with the westward extension of the Main Reef by David Draper*, and on two papers by Professor August Prister* on glacial phenomena and in the Rand conglomerates. These comments were published in the society's Transactions for 1896-1898. Later his comments on a paper by F.P. Mennell* on the stratigraphy of the oldest South African rocks were published in the Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association (1906).
In August 1897 White delivered a paper on "The weight of the Witwatersrand pyritic conglomerates" before the South African Association of Engineers and Architects in Johannesburg. The paper, dealing with accurate determinations of the specific gravity of the gold-bearing conglomerates and their use in estimates of the gold content of a mining property, was published in the association's Proceedings (Vol. 4, pp. 12-19; 21-24). The next month he became a member of the association and later was elected a member of its council for 1898/9.
In addition to geology, White's hobby was anthropological research. In 1899-1900 he visited the Khami Ruins, near Bulawayo, and noticed the presence of stone artefacts among the ruins. These occurred in soil and river gravel that had been brought to the site as fill for floors and building platforms. This discovery made him the first person to recognise prehistoric stone artefacts in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and drew attention to the country as a region for research into prehistory. He exhibited the artifacts at a meeting of the Rhodesia Scientific Association in January 1900 and in May that year presented his observations in a paper, "On the Khami Ruins near Bulawayo" (Proceedings, 30 May 1900), and in "On the Khami Ruins, Rhodesia" (Man, 1901). Settling in Bulawayo as a consulting mining engineer he became a member of the association, was elected a member of its council in 1901, served as joint vice-president for 1903/4 and 1906/7, and as president during 1904-1906 and 1908-1910. During these year he contributed a number of archaeological papers to the association's Proceedings. These dealt with "Observations on recent discoveries at ancient ruins" (April 1903); "Notes on rock paintings and stone implements near World's View, Matopos" (January 1905), based on an excavation he conducted in a cave; "The large elliptical ruin at Zimbabwe" (March 1905); an excavation he conducted in present Zambia, at a site investigated earlier by E.C. Chubb* and F.P. Mennell*, with a title that says it all: "Notes on a cave containing fossilized bones of animals, worked pieces of bone, stone implements, and quartzite pebbles, found in a kopje or small hill composed of zinc and lead ores at Broken Hill, Nort-West Rhodesia" (September 1908) - the paper includes a valuable list of vertebrate remains in the cave, by Chubb; "Further notes on Rhodesian stone implements" (1909, with others); "Further evidence of the occupation of the caves at Broken Hill" (1909); "Notes on stone implements from Selukwe" (January 1910); and "Rainfall in tropical areas and the variations observed corresponding to the changes in the moon's phases" (April 1911). The last paper presented rainfall figures for 1906-1910, a period too short to prove the presence of rainfall cycles. Other papers by him included "On the ruins of Dhlo-Dhlo in Rhodesia" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1901); and "The less known ruins of Rhodesia", read before the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1903 (Report, pp. 480-491).
White became a foundation member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1902 and represented Bulawayo on its council from 1903 to at least 1908. In 1905 he became a member of the South African Philosophical Society and remained a member when it became the Royal Society of South Africa in 1908. He became a member of the (British) Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (MIMM) in 1896.
By 1913 he had returned to England and was associated with Messrs Percy Tarbutt and Company, London. In 1922 he presented archaeological material from Colombia, and from the Matopo Hills and Khami River in Zimbabwe, to the British Museum (Natural History).