The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Backhouse, James
Backhouse, James, son of James Backhouse, of Darlington, Durham, England, and Mary his wife, daughter of N. Dearman, of Pindar Oaks, Darfield, Yorkshire, was born at Darlington on July 8th, 1794. The Backhouse family were well known throughout the North of England as bankers, but James Backhouse was early attracted to the study of botany, and in 1815 he purchased the nursery grounds of Messrs. Telford at York, in which business he found an occupation congenial to his tastes. He early became a minister of the Society of Friends, of which body his family were prominent members. In 1827 he married Deborah, daughter of Richard Lowe of Worcester. For some years he was impressed with the belief that it was his duty to visit the Australian colonies, and eventually, in the year 1880, he determined to leave his business for that purpose, and he was accredited by the Society of Friends on a religions mission to the "Colonies and Settlements of New Holland, Van Diemen's Land, and South Africa." Mr. Backhouse was accompanied by Mr. George W. Walker (q.v.). The two friends arrived in Hobart in February 1832, and began the work which was to occupy them more than eight years. They spent three years in Van Diemen's Land and two years in New South Wales, travelling in all places where settlers were to be found, and systematically visiting every chain-gang and convict station, including the penal settlements of Macquarie Harbour, Norfolk Island, and Moreton Bay (now Brisbane). The Governors of the Colonies offered them every facility and encouragement in their benevolent efforts for the welfare of the prisoners, and their reports had no small influence in promoting reforms of the penal system, and in bettering the condition of the convicts. Leaving Hobart on their way to the Cape, they visited (1837) Melbourne, Adelaide, King George's Sound, and Swan River,—settlements then in their infancy. After a few months' stay at Mauritius, they reached Cape Town in 1838. They spent nearly two years in Cape Colony, travelling in their ox-wagon to the most remote parts, visiting mission stations, and specially devoting their efforts to benefiting the coloured people and the poorest classes of the population. Mr. Backhouse returned to England in 1841, and published an account of his travels in two works of much interest—"Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies" (London, 1843); and "Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa" (London, 1844). These volumes contain a mass of interesting information concerning the condition of the Colonies, and are full of valuable observations with regard to the natural history, and especially the flora of Tasmania and Australia, Mr. Backhouse being an enthusiastic and accomplished botanist. From the date of his return to England in 1841, to his death, Mr. Backhouse devoted his attention to business at the well-known Nursery Gardens at York, and introduced many new ferns and other plants into English gardens. Besides the works above mentioned, he was joint author of "The Life and Labours of George W. Walker" (London, 1862). He died at York on Jan. 20th, 1869.