Edgar William Whitelaw was born on 15 Jan 1879 in Adelaide to Andrew James Whitelaw (1852-1942), a draper, and his wife Mary Ann Elizabeth Markham. He was the grandson of James Whitelaw (1820-1912) and Elizabeth Chamberlain Thompson (1831-1919). The family came to Tasmania before 1888. Edgar worked for Hopwood & Company, wholesale and retail booksellers and stationers, music sellers and fancy warehousemen in Brisbane Street.
Edgar Whitelaw married Susanna O'Halloran on 16 Apr 1900 in Launceston. Their four children were born between 1901 and 1905, but Jack died when he was nine months old. Edgar and his wife lived at 85 Cameron Street, Launceston. When his eldest child Leila was 10, Edgar 'took off' to Melbourne and left his wife to care for the children alone.