Notes by John Barnard
Updated 4 March 2021
Augustus Frederick James (also known as "Dick" or as "Nunks") was the uncle of my maternal grandfather Lionel James. He was the yougest of the eight children of Trevenen James (1794-1867) and Catherine Coulson (1805-1879).
Lionel's son Bob James noted that Nunks was born on 4 Feb 1842 (though I have not yet found a birth or baptism record for him) and that he spent many years as a bachelor in New Zealand, where my understanding (from Nunks's great-niece Peggy Scott) is that he was a gold prospector - a number of gold rings (which remain in the family) are supposed to have been made from a nugget of gold which he dug up.
This phase of his life is somewhat obscure and confusing, as there appears to have been a different (though probably related) gold prospector, also named Augustus Frederick James, based in Te Aroha in the Waikato region of New Zealand's North Island in the 1880s. He is listed as a shareholder in the Wellington Gold Mining Company (Limited), where he is described as a storekeeper in Te Aroha [Thames Star, Volume XIV, Issue 4596, 27 September 1883, Page 3, Col 4] and there are also records of several leases in his name from the same year for goldmining purposes in the Te Aroha district. On 6 Oct 1886, at Auckland, he was married [NZ BDM Marriages 1886/2677] to Mary Annie Trude, with his age given as 29 and his parents as John James and Susan Reed. These details correpond to a birth registered in Plymouth in the Apr-Jun quarter of 1857 [FreeBMD Jun 1857 Plymouth 5b 239], who is clearly not "Nunks". Further confusion is added as a son was born to this Augustus Frederick James and his wife Mary Annie on 10 July 1887 at Te Aroha and was named Frederick Trevenen James [NZ BDM Births 1887/5502]. The baby died on 12 Nov the same year [NZ BDM Deaths 1887/4871], but his middle name suggests that he had Trevenen ancestry, and was therefore very probably related to Nunks.
Two documentary sources do confirm Nunks's presence in the antipodes, at least in the 1860s (twenty years earlier than the above records). One is an advert in the Argus (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of 17 Feb 1863 (page 1, col 7):
AUGUSTUS FREDERICK JAMES, son of Trevenen James, of London, is requested to communicate immediately with Mr George, 100 Victoria Parade, Melbourne. Anyone being aware of the death of the above gentleman will oblige by writing to Mr George.
The other is a draft Power of Attorney dated 1867 to be executed by "Walter Coulson James [Nunks's brother] and Augustus Frederick James of New Zealand" which is part of a collection of family documents deposited at the Cornwall Record Office by Peggy Scott [Records of the Leah Family, Paul: X573/77/3].
At any rate, by the mid 1890s (when he was in his early fifties) "Nunks" had returned to Europe, where he met and married an artist named Katharine Anna Geale ("Kitty") in Freiburg, Gerrmany (her first name is variously spelt Katharine or Katherine in different sources, but in her Will (AFJ/12) it is generally, though not exclusively, spelt with an underlined 'a', which I have taken as definitive). A letter to his sister-in-law (and cousin) Ellen ("Nell") James (née Leah), dated 25 Sep 1898 [AFJ/3/14] begins "The sands of my bachelorhood are running out fast and Thursday [29 Sep] will soon be upon us". Tragically, Nunks and Kitty had only five years together, as she died in Florence on 17 November 1903. Several of Kitty's pictures remain in the hands of members of the family, and are listed below.
Nunks spent his final years living with his nephew Lionel at the School House in Monmouth, where the latter was Headmaster. During this period he wrote some extensive memoirs [AFJ/8] describing his childhood in London and Cornwall. At some point, these were typed up by an unknown transcriber, and in 1982 Bob James retyped them from a copy provided by Peggy Scott. Bob noted that this copy appeared to have a substantial section missing (which might possibly have given some information about his time in New Zealand): following the first 26 pages (of Bob's transcript) about his childhood and youth, it jumps to a couple of pages concerned with Kitty's family and various places in Germany, followed by a dedication "to the kith and kin who come after me". I do not know what has happened to the original manuscript notebooks.
Bob's covering note to his transcript says how his mother, Ethel Clabburn (who at that time was still the school matron, and not yet married to Lionel) was especially fond of Nunks and "as honest broker, he eased, encouraged and nurtured the relationship which resulted in my parents' marriage", which came just a few months after Nunks's death.
As well as some letters to his sister (Catherine Coulson Leah) and his sister-in-law (Ellen "Nell" James) - each was married to the other's brother - one other substantial (30-page) manuscript in Nunks's own hand has survived [AFJ/9]. This includes a poem to Kitty's remembrance, and an account of her family and the circumstances of his meeting her in Freiburg.
Nunks died at the School House at Monmouth on Good Friday, 5th April, 1912. His last letter [AFJ/10], to his sister-in-law Nell, is dated just a week earlier, and describes a visit to the neighbouring girls' High School "to see the pupils put through a series of dances and gymnastic exercises", as well as giving news on various matters at the boys' School. A letter to Nell from Lilian Culley, the widow of the former headmaster [Lilian Lena Bicknell (1862-1933) married Edward Hugh Culley (1860-1908) in 1897. www.pennyghael.org.uk/Harford.pdf], describes how, when he came to tea with her on Good Friday afternoon:
"Suddenly he put his hand to his head and stopped speaking. I said 'don't you feel well?'; he shook his head and at the same moment fell forward into my arms. He was never conscious after he fell, nor did he make any sign. I told the children to run away and asked Miss Clabburn to move the sofa and I put him on it. He breathed rather hardly, but with no effort, but his face became quite pallid and I was sure he was dying. In a few moments the breathing got slower and then quietly ceased. There was no struggle of any kind and no spasm. I sat by him and after a few moments I gently closed his eyes." [AFJ/7]
He is buried in St Peter's churchyard at Dixton on the banks of the River Wye, near Monmouth, and his grave is marked by a Cornish cross in Cornish granite. The inscription reads:
A.S. stands for the Latin aetatis suae ("of [his] lifetime"), while the Greek phrase PANTA ELPIZEI means "He hopes all things". Possibly a reference to the biblical "Love hopeth all things" (I Corinthians 13 vii), it was no doubt chosen by his classical-scholar nephew Lionel, who would have arranged his burial.AFJ-01] in the handwriting of Bob James, though his list includes two (10 and 11) which have nothing to do with Kitty, and omits one (shown here as no. 13). Bob's list indicates that the pictures were to be distributed to his daughters, though in fact some found their way to Bob's sister Mog Harrisson, and thence to her children [AFJ-02]. The typewritten labels attached to the backs of at least some of the pictures were probably prepared by Bob, though they contain incorrect dates for A.F. James's marriage (which was in 1898 not 1897) and for his birth (which was in 1842, not 1847).
|Bob James's Description||Notes and comments||Current Owner|
|1||Portrait of Italian peasant woman||Not signed. This does not strike me as a peasant woman, and seems more likely to be a self-portrait. N.B. Label contains incorrect date for Margaret Harrisson's death (2002 not 2001).||Brian Harrisson|
|2||Woodland scene - path through trees||Not signed.||Jean Barr|
|3||Urban scene - Florence? - street with figures and bell tower and buildings||The picture clearly shows the Palazzo Veccio in Florence. It does not appear to be signed.||Rosie Plummer|
|4||Village scene - sloping road, wooden fence, huddled roofs of houses, simple square tower in centre||Subject not identified. The picture does not appear to be signed.||Mike Harrisson|
|5||Canal scene - Venice ? - gondolas||Exact subject not identified, though could be Grand Canal. The picture does not appear to be signed.||Antonya Cooper|
|6||Interior of church with stone figure high on pillar, door at rear, figures of woman and child at right centre||Exact subject not identified. The picture does not appear to be signed.||Mike Harrisson|
|7||Church interior; slip decorated pillar left centre; winged cherubs above fountain, right centre||Exact subject not identified. Signed "K James" in bottom right.||Mike Harrisson|
|8||Portrait of a cardinal, full length, in red robes||58cm x 42cm. Does not appear to be signed. Exact subject not identified.||Antonya Cooper|
|9||Wooden bridge, roofed over as at Luzern, over a river||The picture is clearly of the well-known Spreuerbrücke in Luzern. It is autographed "K. James Luzern" in the bottom right (cropped in the image left). The date appears to be 91, but is probably 01, with a spurious downward stroke below the zero, as she and Nunks were not married until 1898.||Rosie Plummer|
|10||Drawing of [unspecified] ? signed Fanny Cochrane [sic] and dated 1841 (crayon)||This appears to have nothing whatever to do with Katherine Geale, and is a print of a portrait of Walter Coulson (1795-1860, a distant cousin of Nunks's) by Fanny Corbaux. There are two lithographs of this at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG D21709 and NPG D22198) from which the image left is taken.||Rosie Plummer|
|11||Ditto, coloured, without signature and date||This is a coloured copy of no. 10 above, and (unless it was made by her) has nothing to do with Katherine Geale.||Rosie Plummer|
|12||Painting of large garden courtyard with well, ivy and cloister surrounding||Exact subject not identified. The picture does not appear to be signed.||Mike Harrisson|
|13||Tuscan scene - not listed by Bob James||The tower seen through the arch appears to be the Torre del Mangia in Siena. The picture does not appear to be signed.||Mike Harrisson|