History of West Australia/John Charles Horsey James


IN the Civil Service of Western Australia there are men whose official careers have added valuable pages to the history of the colony, men who have ever been busy in works of public development and utility. If a man is to be known by his works, this oft quoted phrase applies in a most emphatic sense to those who have toiled in the discharge of a public office.

John Charles Horsey James HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

In the Crown colony days, Western Australia was fortunate in having worthy men of experience and resource appointed to various high positions, and this applies in an eminent degree to Mr. J. C. H. James, who for the past twenty-two years has held the post of Commissioner of Titles.

John Charles Horsey James was born at Rome, in 1841, and is the son of the late Rev. J. H. James, of Highfield, near Lydney-on-Severn, Gloucester, and of Kitcott Barton, Romansleigh, North Devon. The subject of this sketch was educated at Rugby, and later at Oxford, where he took his degree at the end of 1864. At Rugby he sat in the sixth form, under Dr. Temple, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, and at Oxford he invariably played cricket in the first eleven of the Exeter College. Choosing the law as a profession, he was called to the bar (Inner Temple) in November, 1866, and went the Oxford Circuit, where he showed promise of success. His talent at the bar was awarded by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Carnarvon, who offered Mr. James the Commissionership of Titles for Western Australia, on the introduction of the Transfer of Lands System (Torrens). Mr. James accepted the offer, being one of the last to receive an Imperial appointment in the colony direct from the Home Government. Coming to Western Australia in July, 1875, a task of some magnitude was essayed, but with great industry Mr. James set to work, and soon had the "machinery" of the Titles Office running smoothly under the new régime. He was an able administrator, and one whose legal training gave him the diplomatic ability so essential to the welfare of a large Government office. As the years rolled on so did the work increase, until of recent years it assumed considerable proportions. When one recalls the extensive land purchases which have taken place in Perth and the colony generally in the last few years, the enormous work to be transacted by the Titles Office can be better imagined than set down in cold print. The department under Mr. James has been something more than self-supporting, indeed, it supplies no small revenue to the State. Under the ægis of Mr. James, the now extended Titles Office worked with studied smoothness everywhere, and he is to be congratulated on the uniform order which prevailed throughout the whole department during his long service there.

But not only did Mr. James lead an exceedingly busy and useful life in his office. He went further afield than the limits of the Commissionership of Titles, and acted at different times as Registrar of the Supreme Court, Registrar in Bankruptcy, and Stipendiary Magistrate of Perth. He was gazetted as a Justice of the Peace for the colony in 1886.

Bearing in mind Mr. James's excellent judicial mind, and the success with which he had discharged his duties, the Government appointed him Police Magistrate in June, 1897. The manner in which Mr. James has, so far, conducted the business of the Court has won the unqualified approval of both press and bar.

In June, 1887, Mr. James was appointed fourth official member of the Legislative Council during the absence of Sir John Forrest in London. He sat for two sessions, and commanded from the first the attention of the House by his speaking and debating powers. He retired in February, 1888.

Since wielding the willow on the classic grounds of Oxford in his youth, Mr. James has retained an absorbing interest in cricket, and he may truly be said to be the most ardent votary of the glorious game in the colony. He has been president of the West Australian Cricketing Association ever since its inception, and he it was who, together with Mr. G. Parker and the Honourable J. G. Amherst, obtained the grant of fifteen acres of land which now forms the Recreation Ground. In all matters of sport Mr. James is an ardent enthusiast, and as a steward of the Turf Club he is well known. On the death of his father, in 1886, he succeeded to the Gloucester and Devon estates. His handsome and English-looking residence in Perth is named Romansleigh, after the Devon property.

Mr. James is a member of the historic Carlton Club, London, also of the Hurlingham and Royal Western Yacht Clubs of England. It seems superfluous for us to say that he is a leading social figure. He has the gifted courtesy, the dignified bearing, the scholarly attributes, and the educated manner of expression and action characteristic of the true English gentleman.