The James Story

by Rosemary Richardson, London

William JAMES, my maternal great-great grandfather (c.1831-1889)

William was born in Great Torrington, Devon about 1831, the son of Charles and Elizabeth (Perryman) James. In 1841 he was aged ten, living with his parents and siblings Richard, Frances, George and Mary in Great Torrington. 

By 1851 he had moved 20 miles north to work on Thomas Priscott’s farm at Heanton Punchardon and by 1856 he was in Australia. Was he the William James who was an assisted passenger on the Persian which sailed from London and docked in Melbourne just after Christmas 1852?

Pam Missen, a descendant through William’s son, James Perryman James, shared the story that William rode on horseback from Colac to Ballarat to take a census, which was most probably the one of 1856. On this trip William is said to have recognised a man travelling in a covered wagon as a Mr Judd, whom he had known in England. The story bears out as in 1841 and 1851, Francis and Elizabeth Judd were neighbours of the James family in New Street, Great Torrington.

On 8 May 1861 William married Esther Stewart at the Wesleyan Church in the Colac. Both signed their names. William Priscott, one of the witnesses was the son of a Thomas Priscott, presumably a son or close relative of William James’s employer in Devon.  

William and Esther had eleven children. Their birth dates and those of several cousins were listed in a James family bible. William, their first child, born in 1862, was my great grandfather. He set up a bakery business in Murray Street, Colac. Pam Missen added that William used to travel to Geelong by bullock dray to buy flour for the bakery. The trip took two to four days, there and back.

Garnet James, a nephew of William and Esther, wrote in “Memories of the James Family” that all the family were musical: Old Grandfather William was the first musician in the old Wesleyan Church in Church Street, Colac: he played the flute for the hymn singing. His sons were enthusiastic members of the town’s brass bands.

William was 57 when he died on 9 September, 1889. His estate was worth £875. 

The Colac Herald, Tuesday
19 February 1889  p 2

Esther ran a boarding house in Colac and was 46 when she died on 15 February, 1891. A notice in the Colac Herald referred to her long residence in the town and that she was the principle means of raising a large and respectable family of seven sons and three daughters, “most of whom are now able to do for themselves”.

Colac Herald, 11 September, 1891

My great grandfather, William (born in 1862), married Eunice Ann Stephenson on 7 May, 1887 at Colac. William and Eunice carried on the bakery business started by William’s father. Electoral rolls list William James, baker, from 1903 to 1919. In his later years he ran a billiard saloon in the Union Club Hotel. He was later a billiard marker.

From his obituary in the Colac press we learn that William had been a keen cricketer, an effective left-handed bowler and a reliable batsman. He joined the Colac brass band when he was nine years of age and was bandmaster* for many years. “Although of retiring disposition, William made hosts of friends throughout the district.” He died in Bairnsdale on 6 June, 1921 at the home of his son, Dudley, with whom he had been living for several months.

*According to the booklet “Brass Bands in Colac” by R.M. Hammond it appears William James was the first bandmaster, followed by his brother Charles James, who was bandmaster for many years. .

William and Eunice had three sons:  Royden Stewart James born in 1889, Dudley Eastgate James, my grandfather, born in 1893 and Stanley Warren James born in 1895. Dudley married Olive Hellings in Bairnsdale in 1915. They had four children: Keith, Valerie (my mother), Lindsay and Bruce. Lindsay was 94 on 14 January, 2017. Eunice was 42 when she died on 3 April, 1907.

Earlier generations in England

Charles James, my 3 x great-grandfather, was a road excavator who was born about 1808 in Okehampton, Devon (ref. 1861 census). He married Elizabeth Perryman on 16 October, 1828 in Great Torrington, Devon. The 1841 census lists Charles and Elizabeth with four children. Elizabeth died in the 3rd quarter of 1851. Charles’s second wife was Elizabeth Bird whom he married in Great Torrington in 1862. They lived in Bideford, Devon, which is where he died in 1879.

Evidence points to Charles’s parents being the Richard James, road drainer, and Elizabeth, both aged 80 who in 1841 lived in Okehampton. Neither was born in Devon. Charles’s mother is probably the Elizabeth James who died in the fourth quarter of 1843 in Okehampton. (In 1841 ages were rounded down to the nearest five).

We learn from the 1851 census for Okehampton that Richard James was 93 and born in Donnington, a hamlet on the edge of Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. His year of birth, therefore, was about 1758. He was living in the household of his son, John, an attorney’s clerk, who was born in Stow. Richard died in Okehampton in the second quarter of 1852.

The James family apparently moved to Okehampton from Stow-on-the-Wold, no doubt for employment opportunities. Three children were born in Stow: Thomas in 1785, John in 1795 and George in 1798. Two more sons were born in Okehampton:  Richard in 1803 and Charles in 1808. If the research is correct, Elizabeth would have been at least 47 when Charles was born. It is possible she was a second wife and the birth mother of only some of the children.

In 1851 all of Richard’s sons were living in Okehampton apart from Charles, who lived in Great Torrington, 20 miles to the north.


Elizabeth Perryman, my 3 x great-grandmother, was born in Little Torrington in 1804, one of seven children of William Perryman and Margaret nee Alford who married in Torrington in 1798. Elizabeth’s grandparents, George and Margaret Alford, lived in High Bickington, a village 12 miles from Torrington. Perrymans were residents of Torrington from as early as the 1770s. Some worked in the glove-making industry which developed amid a thriving wool industry and was the town’s major employer in the 19th century.

Elizabeth married Charles James in 1808 in Great Torrington.


Esther Stewart, my great-great grandmother, was born about 1834 in Balieburra, County Cavan, Ireland, the third of six children of William Stewart and Ellen nee Ferris. In 1851 the family lived in County Cavan in the province of Ulster in the border region.

All that is known of the family’s life in Ireland comes from the baptism record of November, 1836 for Esther’s brother, George, “son of William and Ellen Stewart” at the 2nd Cootehill Presbyterian Meetinghouse, parish of Drumgoon, Co. Cavan. The family lived in the town of Errigal, parish of Kildrumsherdan, Co. Cavan. (Source: Patricia Doherty, an Australian descendant.) 

The Stewarts migrated to Australia on the Mangerton in 1852 and are recorded on the passenger list: 

William Stewart, 41, agricultural labourer, paid £18 fare, his wife Ellen, 35, from Co. Cavan, housekeeper, and children George 15, also an ag lab, Ann Jane 12, Esther 11, William 8, Ellen 5 and John 2. William and George could read and write while Ann, Esther, William and Ellen could read only. All were Presbyterian with the exception of William’s wife Ellen, who was Roman Catholic.

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer,
Monday 7 June, 1852

The Mangerton left Liverpool in January 1852, the first ship to be dispatched from the Mersey with emigrants to Australia. The ship sailed into heavy weather following a severe hurricane-force “tempest” according to the Illustrated London News of 31 January, 1852. After sailing for 13 days the vessel was forced to put into Greenock on the Clyde for repairs. The ship with 386 passengers eventually sailed from Greenock on 21 February, 1852. The staff included a schoolmaster and matron, a hospital assistant, a cook’s assistant and seven constables. The ship docked at Point Henry, Geelong on 5 June, 1852 after a voyage lasting more than five months.

Nineteen people died on the voyage and there were six births. The Mangerton was carrying a large, mixed cargo, that included hardware, haberdashery, ink, household items, books and beer.

Upon arrival in the colony William was hired by Hugh Murray of Colac, a grazier who was the first settler in the area. By 1856 William was a freeholder at Irrewarra just outside Colac. The Colac newspaper reported the burial of Mr William Stewart senior, aged 65, on 10 January, 1867. His wife, Ellen, died in Colac in 1897.

Rosemary Richardson. London W5, March 2017