Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Charles Horsey James (1841–1899)

by E. Zalums

This article was published:

John Charles Horsey James (1841-1899), public servant, was born on 30 January 1841 at Rome, son of John James, rector of Avington, Berkshire, England, and his second wife Theodosia Mary, née Tennant, of Staffordshire. At 13 he went to Rugby, where he excelled in Greek and Latin, matriculated on 29 May 1860 and entered Exeter Hall, Oxford (B.A., 1864). He enrolled at the Inner Temple, was called to the Bar in 1866 and practised on the Oxford circuit.

Since the last convicts had arrived from England in 1868, the colony of Western Australia had continued to make steady economic progress. The increase in land transactions had led the government to introduce the Torrens system of land transfer in 1875 and, through the influence of his friend, the Earl of Carnarvon, secretary of state for the colonies, James was appointed first commissioner of land titles on 9 July. He arrived at Perth in September. James was anxious to maintain close contact with the authorities in order to succeed in his chosen career. Between 1876 and 1880 he was twice appointed acting registrar, master and keeper of records of the Supreme Court and for a time acted as a puisne judge. In 1887 he served as an official member of the Legislative Council while the surveyor-general was in London. On 29 September he became a police magistrate in Perth and resident magistrate in Guildford. Three years later he was appointed a special magistrate but refused admission to the Bar on legal grounds. In June 1897 he became a police magistrate for the whole colony.

Witty, genial and nicknamed 'Jimmy the Title', he was chosen to present enamelled cups to school children in 1897 during the diamond jubilee celebrations. He took an active interest in the affairs of the Victoria Public Library (State Library of Western Australia) and other educational institutions. He was an acknowledged amateur actor, well known for his knowledge of Shakespeare's plays. He was also interested in music, painting and sculpture, was prominent at race-meetings and enjoyed yachting and cricket. After a short illness he died on 3 February 1899 at Goderich Street, Perth.

James had published Historical Table of the Statutes and Alphabetical Index of Their Contents (Perth, 1891); Historical Table of the Statutes and an Alphabetical Index of their Contents, Together with Proclamations, Orders in Council etc… . (London, 1896); Statutes of the Realm Adopted by Ordinances and Acts of Council (London, 1896); The Statutes of Western Australia, 1832-1895, 3 vols (London, 1896). In Perth on 16 September 1885 he had married Rebecca Catherine, eldest daughter of C. H. Clifton, justice of the peace, and his wife Maria Elizabeth, née Glyn. Of their seven children, the youngest son, Meyrick Edward Clifton, had great acting ability and likeness to Field-Marshal Montgomery, and acted as his 'double' in 1944 during the campaigns in North Africa.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • M. E. C. James, I was Monty's Double (Lond, 1954)
  • F. M. Johnston, Knights and Theodolites (Syd, 1962)
  • West Australian, 10 Sept 1875, 31 Jan 1887, 15 Oct 1890, 4 Feb 1899, 16 Feb, 10 May 1863
  • WA Bulletin, 22 Dec 1888
  • Inquirer (Perth), 10 Feb 1899
  • Western Mail, 10 Feb 1899, 30 Sept 1954
  • H. G. Clifton, Yesterday and Today, 1829-1929-1949 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

E. Zalums, 'James, John Charles Horsey (1841–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 June 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]


30 January, 1841
Rome, Italy


3 February, 1899 (aged 58)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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