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James Kimber (c. 1810–1895)

James Kimber (c.1810-1895) was the only son of John and Jane Kimber, agricultural labourers who lived at Milton Lilbourne near Pewsey in Wiltshire. He had one older sister, Elizabeth, and four younger sisters — Sarah, Jane, Mary (who died as an infant in 1822) and Caroline. Each member of the family, including the daughters, was an agricultural labourer.

Agricultural labourers found themselves in a parlous position in the early 19th century and in many counties of England were no longer able to earn enough to support themselves or their families. Their poverty and frustration exploded in 1830 in a series of local protests and uprisings. There was no political organisation behind the protests which took the form of ritualised smashing of threshing machines by groups of men, inciting each other, excited by the stories of similar outbursts in neighbouring counties and fuelled by the hope that farmers and landowners would be forced to raise wages.

In Wiltshire, nightly meetings were held and people assembled with flags flying and horns blowing in an atmosphere of great excitement. Mobs of men, some inebriated, marched around farms and villages breaking threshing machines and levying donations of food, drink and money under threat of dramatic language.

It was at the height of the disturbances in Wiltshire that farmersʼ labourers in the Milton area, including 18-year-old James Kimber, became involved.

Concerned that the protests might spread to industrialised areas, and with the lessons of the French revolution in their thoughts, the government acted quickly to restore stability. In Wiltshire, about 300 men were arrested and charged with machine-breaking and related offences and brought before a Special Commission set up specifically to hear these cases and reassert government control. The Commission opened its session in Salisbury on 27 December 1830. It completed the trials of over 300 men in eight days and then moved on to perform a similar task in a neighbouring county.

James Kimber was found guilty of breaking a threshing machine and on 8 January 1831 was sentenced to seven years transportation, one of 150 men from Wiltshire sentenced to transportation for periods varying from 7 or 14 years, to life. Kimber was held at Fisherton gaol in Salisbury until 26 January 1831 when he was taken to the prison hulk York at Portsmouth. The next day he was put onto the ship Eliza for transportation to Van Diemenʼs Land (Tasmania). The Eliza commenced its journey from Portsmouth on 8 February 1831 with over 200 convicts on board, every one of whom had been convicted of machine breaking or related offences. Kimber was described as being 5 feet 3 inches (160 cms) tall, with a pale complexion, a large round head, brown hair, grey eyes, small nose and large chin.

The Eliza docked in Hobart in May 1831. Reactions to the menʼs arrival were mixed. Concerns about the political behaviour of the convicts were counterbalanced by appreciation of their value as an agricultural labour force at a time such skills were in strong demand. When the Eliza docked on 29 May 1831 the local newspaper encapsulated these mixed feelings, noting the arrival of 'rioters, incendiaries, and machine breakers' but also commenting that the greater proportion of them 'are said to be able-bodied, hard-working countrymen' — much more useful to the colony than London pick-pockets!

James Kimber was one of 25 Eliza men assigned to work for the Van Diemenʼs Land Company located in the far north west of the colony. The company held 300,000 acres and ran its operations from three establishments — one at Woolnorth in the far north west corner of Van Diemenʼs Land; a company headquarters situated at Circular Head (Stanley), and a property at Surrey Hills. Kimber served the first 4 years of his sentence at Woolnorth, and then in January 1835 was moved to Circular Head. He moved stock (horses and sheep) from Woolnorth to Circular Head, acted as guide for travellers between the two establishments, and was involved in shoeing horses at Woolnorth. After his move to Circular Head, he became a house servant to the companyʼs Chief Agent Edward Curr in February 1835, but from March to September, was back working as a farm labourer, and in October, as a gardener in the extensive fruit orchard and vegetable gardens at Circular Head.

Despite agitating for a ticket of leave, Kimber was never granted one. The companyʼs manager, Edward Curr, was loath to lose skilled agricultural workers and used Kimbersʼ conduct record to deny, then delay, support for an application for a ticket of leave. Kimbersʼ record sheet shows two offences committed in Van Diemenʼs Land — 'insolence' in 1834, and then in 1835, 'improper conduct in being found in his masterʼs plantation in company with the female convict, servant of Curr, after dark'. Apparently this was not the first such offence by Kimber – Curr wrote that he had committed this offence several times. The punishment meted out for insolence in 1834 was a reprimand. For the dalliance with the convict servant, Kimber was given 12 days solitary confinement on bread and water, and Curr was given a reason not to support an application for a ticket of leave.

In February 1836, James Kimber, along with almost all the men sentenced to 7 years transportation for involvement in the Swing Riots, was granted an absolute pardon. Now a free man Kimber left the service of the Van Diemenʼs Land Company. By 1838 he was employed by Mr Richard Dry as a gardener on his large estate near Launceston. In December 1838 Kimber was awarded three first prizes — for cherries, peas and cucumber, the latter being 23 inches long — at the first Launceston Horticultural Show for the quality of the fruit and vegetables he produced for Mr Dry.

Kimber married 21 year old Rosa/Rosanna Kenny on 25 February 1839 at St Johnʼs Church, Launceston. Rosa was born in Burr, Kings County, Ireland and had emigrated to Van Diemen's Land on the Amelia Thompson in 1836, which had been chartered by the London Emigration Committee to bring young, single, free, 'respectable' women to the Colony. She was the daughter of William Kenny, a tailor, and Mary Dillon and on arrival, was employed by the Misses Capon as a needlewoman in their shop in Launceston for 3 pounds per year.

At the time of their marriage, Rosa was seven months pregnant. Even so, she was hardy enough to travel with Kimber on the schooner Perseverance, to Port Phillip in late March 1839. A few days after their arrival in Melbourne, on 3 April, their first daughter, Sarah Jane Kimber, was born. The date of James Kimber's first arrival in Melbourne is contentious. All sources most closely connected to him give 1838 as his first arrival date — eg his funeral notice and the headstone over his grave proudly assert he was 'a colonist of [Victoria] 57 years'. He also proclaimed this status in the pocket biography published during his life time in 'Victoria and Its Metropolis', and in 1867 he was one of the 'Victorian Pioneers' who signed a Loyal Address to the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his visit to Melbourne, giving 1 April 1838 as the date of his arrival in Melbourne. Perhaps he first visited Melbourne for a look-see, before deciding to move there permanently in 1839.

Kimber worked as a carter and a market gardener in Melbourne. By 31 December 1839 he had enough money to buy half an acre of land in Rotherwood st, Richmond, on which he lived and cultivated a market garden. In 1851 he left for the goldfields to try his luck. One of the lucky ones he found ₤1,500 of gold in fifteen months. He used the money to purchase 15 acres of land in South Preston, on the corner of High and Miller Streets using most of it for a market garden. He called his property in Preston “Poplar Grove” and worked there as his children grew up, married and established their own homes. He had some success as a market gardener winning first prize for his cucumbers at the Melbourne Horticultural Society in 1858 and third prize for wine grapes in 1859.

In 1857 Edwin Collins was charged with stealing cucumbers from James Kimber described in court as a 'gardener on the Plenty River'. Kimber appeared in court, swearing that five cucumbers — which he produced in court — were his and had been stolen from his garden at night. A determined persistence in his character comes through the brief press report of the case. He had spent two days in town looking for the cucumbers and eventually found them in a shop in Russell Street. He said he could identify them as grown by him as he knew his own cucumbers 'by their habits'. Collins was found guilty.

By the 1870s, Kimber had established on his property three acres of orchard, nine acres of cultivation, three acres of English grasses, a four room cottage, sheds, stables, a piggery, fowl houses, and a small bacon curing business. After working on his land in Preston for 15 years, Kimber retired, returning to live in 'Mulberry Cottage' in Rotherwood Street, Richmond in about 1871. Before moving back to Richmond, Kimber sold in May 1867 no fewer than six cottages on allotments of land in Union and Mulberry Streets. Then, in March 1871, he also put on the market for sale or lease part of his property in Preston — a house and 15 acres of market garden, advertised as located opposite the Junction Hotel. His bacon curing business was leased to a Mr Hearn.

The first of his children to marry was Elizabeth who in 1861 married Harry Bouverie-Isworth, a man at least ten years her senior. Elizabeth and Harry lived in Wood Street, Preston. Harry was bankrupt by 1866. He appears to have recovered, to run a horse-drawn cab business into Melbourne, and was the contractor for conveying mail between Melbourne and Preston, advertising 'Harry Bouverieʼs Royal Mail Line of Waggonettes' in local newspapers. Elizabeth and Harry had 11 children. After Harryʼs death in 1881, Elizabeth married Martin Cagney. They lived at a property called 'Bondi' in High Street, Preston and she had three more children.

Kimber subdivided his land in Preston in the 1880s. While there was a new land-boom in progress, his motivation appears to have been more about ensuring security for his daughters and their growing families than about taking advantage of the rising price of land. He also gave away to his daughters and their families a number of properties in Richmond – in Union, Swan and Lord Streets.

Rosa died on 24 December 1894, aged 76 years, of pneumonia. Kimber died less than a year later, at Mulberry Cottage in Rotherwood St, Richmond, on 11 September 1895 at 85 years of age. The cause of death was given as 'asthenia after tram accident'. In the certification relating to his death, Kimbersʼ profession was given as 'Gentleman'.

James Kimberʼs will contains great detail of his assets at his death (valued for probate at close to ten thousand pounds).

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Kimber, James (c. 1810–1895)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kimner, James
  • Kimbler, James
  • Kimmer, James

c. 1810
Milton Lilbourne, Wiltshire, England


11 September, 1895 (aged ~ 85)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

tram accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: machine breaking
Sentence: 7 years
Court: Wiltshire
Trial Date: 8 January 1831


Occupation: farm labourer


Children: Yes (8)