Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Kerrison James (1814–1883)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

Henry Kerrison James (1814-1883), Anglican official, was born in England, son of John James and his wife Harriet Eliza, née de Yough. His father migrated to Sydney in 1823 and soon became deputy-sheriff. Henry arrived at Sydney in the Ferguson on 26 March 1829. He was appointed clerk to the archdeacon in 1834 and then became secretary to Bishop William Grant Broughton. In 1836 the diocesan registrar refused to keep the records of births, marriages and deaths, and James offered to do it. In the next twenty years he compiled meticulous indexes to all existing registers, from which he was able to satisfy inquirers. On 24 January 1838 he had married Leonora Margaret Bannatyne. In 1857 they suffered a crushing blow when their eldest son was drowned in the wreck of the Dunbar.

In December 1856 the diocesan registrar proposed that the new Registrar-General's Department take over all Church of England registers and indexes and that the government pay James £3000 compensation for his services. The money was put on the estimates but the bill lapsed in October 1858. For searches James had imposed an arbitrary scale of fees based on what the traffic would bear and in December 1859, when he began to refuse searches, his right to compensation was questioned. Three years later a bill for arbitration failed and the problem remained unsolved.

In 1862 James became registrar of the Sydney diocese and ex officio secretary of the Moore College Trust. In July 1866 it was discovered that all trust moneys had been lodged in his private account without any record of disbursements. Though pressed by the trustees he refused for a year to provide adequate accounts and in October 1867 was permitted to resign. In 1864 he had secured a personal loan of £2000 from Bishop William Tyrrell of Newcastle by a lien over his rights to compensation, and in 1867 executed a second deed assigning the registers and his compensation to George Hart, a New Zealander, as security for the payment of several debts including that to Tyrrell. The assignee had power to dispose of the collateral.

When James asked a fee of twenty guineas for the baptismal certificate of the Earl of Limerick, the Colonial Office was aroused. In response to a dispatch of October 1877 a bill was prepared early in 1879, proposing compulsory transfer with arbitrators to determine compensation. Threats of legal action by the Church authorities and Hart's representatives caused delay, and the Clergy Returns Transfer Act was not passed until late in that year. James received £5000 compensation and the records were taken over by the registrar-general in 1881. Aged 69 James died on 1 February 1883 and was buried in Haslem's Creek (Rookwood) cemetery. He was survived by six daughters and predeceased by six sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Bradshaw's Railway Guide, A Narrative of the Melancholy Wreck of the ‘Dunbar’ (Syd, 1857)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 2, 1220, 1859-60, 2, 49, 1860, 465, 1878-79, 7, 879, 1879-80, 1, 453, 1881, 5, 621
  • Australian Churchman, 19 Oct 1867
  • Australian, 26 Jan 1838
  • Town and Country Journal, 23 Nov 1878
  • Bishop Barker diary, 1867 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'James, Henry Kerrison (1814–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




1 February, 1883 (aged ~ 69)
New South Wales, Australia

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