Person Index

Sinclair, James Leask

James Leask Sinclair
b: 1828
d: 12 NOV 1895
also see Taita School

JAMES LEASK SINCLAIR (22) - second son and eventually (1880) sole surviving issue of the late William Sinclair (see Number 10), sometime merchant and Harbourmaster of the Port of Kirkwall - was born at Stromness, Orkney, on the 15th April 1828 (St.Magnus'' Eve). He was named after a brother of the late Henry Leask of Boardhouse - the Capt. James Leask who had charge of the "Lavinia," when William Sinclair was next in command.

He went first to school in May 1836. When about ten years of age his mother remarked in jest that a new jacket she was finishing was for him to go to Russia with on his father''s ship. He made good her words by going down that same afternoon to the vessel, on which be stowed safely away, nor did he show himself until too far from port to put back with him. So he got his trip to Russia after all, returning safely after an absence of several months, to be the hero of his school-mates for having at so early an age travelled over the "Viking Path".

His school course was ended in about his fifteenth year, when he became a junior clerk in the warehouse of Messrs. R. Brotchie and Company, tea merchants in Leith, with whom he remained for about five years, rising from a junior to a senior clerkship. While in Leith he attended the classes in Edinburgh at the Watt Institution, and otherwise endeavoured to increase his knowledge by every possible means, commencing his studies at half-past three every morning in summer. As a consequence he made the most marked improvement, and letters written by him at the age of eighteen show the finished composition that is usually attained by persons of literary gifts only in their thirties or forties, and a beautifully clear hand characteristic penmanship that we only expect to see from an accountant with a standing of years.

Leaving Leith, he secured a clerical position with Messrs. Harrison & Crossfields, of 3 Great Tower Street, London, E.C. But he had imbibed a love of travel, and so left and went to America. He was a short time in New York City, and had he made up his mind to stay could have done very well. At one time he was boating on the Mississippi, at another in Cincinnati, seldom staying long in any one place, as he preferred to travel as much as possible.

About two years were thus spent, when he had an attack of fever and ague, ailments general to persons travelling through, but not permanent in those parts. In 1851 or 1852 he returned to Kirkwall to recruit his health, where, staying with his parents, he pursued his studies at pleasure, occasionally, for, his personal delectation, contributing local news to the John o'' Groats or the Scotsman, and afterwards to the Orcadian, a local paper which he was instrumental in establishing.

He married at Kirkwall 29th January 1857, Mary, only child of John Mowat, of Rarewick, Tankerness, in the Earldom of Orkney, by Mary Muir, his wife. Shortly after this event he reentered the service of Messrs. Harrison & Crossfields, but the excessive heat of the following summer impaired his health, and he was compelled to return to Kirkwall where he took over his father''s business, but meeting with poor encouragement, he removed to Stromness in August 1862, and tried there in the same line of business, but without success.

Then he went to Scotland and took up a book agency for the Rev. Charles Rogers, and removed his wife and four children to Stirling, where a very trying winter was experienced.

The next year, accompanied by his wife and children, he took passage to New Zealand by the "King of Italy," arriving at Auckland on the 6th September, 1865, after a voyage of ninety-three days from Gravesend, the second son William dying on board ship, 8th July 1865. By virtue of being a passenger he was entitled to a Crown grant of 180 acres of land, which he selected at Hokianga, and subsequently be received an additional grant of 60 acres from the Auckland Provincial Government for arrears of salary. A few weeks after his arrival he received an appointment from the Auckland Board of Education, but upon that institution suspending payment he took to journalism and private tuition.

He held Board appointments at Kaurihohore, Auckland, in 1871-72; Taita, Wellington, 1873-75; Board of Education Office, Auckland, 1876; and at Ardmore, Auckland, 1884-85, when he came in for a small inheritance, which enabled him to retire from arduous duties. Early in 1893 he settled at Otahuhu, a suburb distant some eight miles from Auckland City, where he interested himself in the progress of the local Mutual Improvement Society. He left his residence in his accustomed health on the evening of the 11th November 1895, to attend an entertainment on the occasion of the breaking-up of the Society, on returning home from which he was seized with an apoplectic or paralytic attack, and must have lain on the roadside all that night - the stormiest of the season - unmissed by the members of his household who had retired, and untended save by a faithful house dog, "Spot". Mr. Sinclair was found early the next morning, and at once conveyed home and medical attendance procured. There appeared some glimmerings of pleased consciousness in response to expressions of affection from his family, but he was gradually sinking, and expired late at night on the 12th November 1895.

The New Zealand Herald has this reference to him: -
"His familiar figure will be greatly missed in Otahuhu. He was a kind, genial man, well read, and full of information. His grasp of the general character and methods of science - particularly what is called natural history science - his knowledge of literature and all literary subjects, combined with great kindness of manner, were invaluable in a community like Otahuhu. Up to the very last he kept up a correspondence with the leading literary and scientific men in England and America. It may be truly said of him that he tried to learn what is true, in order to do what is right.

"BOARD OF EDUCATION. - The late Mr. J.L. Sinclair: At the Board of Education on November 19th, 1895, a well deserved tribute of respect was paid to the memory of Mr. J.L. Sinclair, an old servant of the board, and one who had done service in the office and in the schools, on the motion of the senior member of the Board, Mr. S. Luke, who moved that a letter of coudolence be sent to the widow and children of the deceased gentleman, and in speaking in support of it he said the deceased gentleman was an estimable man, and a personal friend of his own. Since his retirement from the Board''s services he had taken much interest in educational matters. Three of his daughters were now in the service of the Board, and another, who had to resign on account of ill-health, graduated from their own University College, and had taken her degree as a Master of Arts, with honours in Latin and English. Under the circumstances it seemed to him (Mr. Luke) only right that the services of such an old teacher should be recognised. The motion was seconded by the Rev. Canon Bates, and supported by several other members of the Board, who referred to Mr. Sinclair''s faithful services in the cause of education. It is needless to say that Mr. Luke''s kindly motion was carried unanimously".

At the twenty-third session of the Otahuhu Mutual Improvement Association on 1st May 1896, the attendance was very large. After the minutes had been read, a vote of condolence and sympathy with the widow and family of an old member, the late Mr. J.L. Sinclair, was passed, When the motion was put the whole audience rose from their seats and remained standing.

Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair conjointly produced "Orcadian Rhymes" a volume of poems which they published at Kelso in 1864, and each have from time to time written fugitive verses. Mr. Sinclair wrote an excellent Ode on the occasion of the Shaksperian Tercentenary, and won a prize of five guineas for forty lines in verse appropriate to the opening of the Opera House in Auckland in 1882: the five guineas went forthwith to the fund then in course of collection for the distressed Jews in Russia. He identified himself with politics when in Orkney, and continued to do so until the last.

He has left a vast amount of epistolary literature extending over many years from persons eminent in Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. In these the signatures of Sir John Lubbock, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bright, etc., frequently come under notice. He left some 3,000 volumes, which by testamentary disposition 25th March 1886, were bequeathed to the Auckland University College, and from which number that institution has selected 580 volumes. James Leask Sinclair, heritor [landowner] of Kirkwall, Orcadian verse writer, and New Zealand colonist, is survived by his wife, by whom he had issue -

ELISABETH, born at Kirkwall 13th February 1859; resident Pollok, New Zealand.
JANE FLETT, born at Kirkwall 2nd January 1861; resident Hautapu, New Zealand.
ROWLAND WILLIAMS, born at Kirkwall 9th July 1862.
WILLIAM, born at Stromness 9th Mar 1864; died 8th July 1865 on board "King of Italy"
JOHN WILLIAM COLENSO, born Takapuna, N.Z., l0th April 1866; died Auckland, 2nd January 1867.
MARY MUIR, born Onehunga 2nd June 1868; graduate M.A., 1889, N.Z. University; resident Otahuhu.
JAMES LEASK, born Auckland City 18th April 1870, and died same day.
JOHN JAMES, born Kauriholtore 23rd January 1872; died Taita, 29th December 1873.
WILLIAM HENRY, born Taita, 29th December 1873; died Taita, 31st October 1874.
ELLEN EVANGELINE, born Taita 21st December 1875; resident Otahuhu
CLARE, born and dead Auckland, 13th September, 1878.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, seventh son, born at Auckland 17th March 1880; collegiate; resident Otahuhu; is Secretary of the Mutual Improvement Society there.
ROLAND WILLIAM ST.CLAIR (28) came to New Zealand with his parents in 1865.

At the age of six he was in the highest class in the Newton Academy, an Auckland primary school; at twelve he passed highest of all scholars in the State schools of the Wellington Province, N.Z., and was proxime accessit for the College Scholarship of that year - 1874; he passed the Junior Civil Service Examination in 1883. In July 1876, he entered the office of the Wellington agency for McMeckan, Blackwood & Company''s line of steamers in the Melbourne-New Zealand trade, and during his fifteenth and sixteenth years he occasionally went as acting purser on the steamers "Tui " and "Huia". In 1879 he transferred to Messrs. W. & G. Turnbull & Company, who had taken the agency of the "Tui " and "Huia," and remained in the service of that firm for seven years, retiring on the 31st May 1886, to rejoin his relatives in Auckland.

On the 9th July 1886, he varied his name by public announcement to the form he at present uses, and joined the staff of Messrs. T.H. Hall & Company, wholesale merchants in Auckland, on the 1st August 1887, in whose employ he continues to hold the position of accountant. Mr. St.Clair has been ardently interested in rowing and swimming, more especially the latter pastime. He was Deputy-Captain of the Wellington Rowing Club in 1886, and has since 1888 been a prominent official of the Auckland Swimming Club, of which he has been a director and is a gold-medallist life member. Mr. St.Clair was on the Committee of Management for the Jubilee Celebration at Auckland, and secured the inclusion of a Swimming Carnival on the 30th January 1890. It was held in the Calliope Dock. [See illustration "Swimming," Badminton Library, 1893] Over 10,000 persons paid for admission. The proceeds formed the nucleus of the fund towards endowing the Jubilee Institute for the Blind. He was first to apply the racing usage of numbering athletic competitors, a practice now general throughout New Zealand and elsewhere; and inaugurated the celebration of the 1st October in each year as "Natation Day," when Australasian clubs and associations assemble in re-union and exchange intercolonial courtesies by electric telegraph. Mr. St.Clair founded the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association in 1890, and edited the Annuals published by that institution, with which he has, however, ceased to be identified. The numerous rules codified by him in the 1894-95 Annual have been adopted by the swimming centres throughout Australasia, and utilised by other athletic bodies in adapted form. The New Zealand Government ordered 500 copies of that issue for distribution amongst the primary schools.

In compliment to him the ST.CLAIR CROSS [See Vignette in Chapter V] was introduced into the design for the registered die, and to him is due in no small degree the decision of the New Zealand Government to reward bravery and merit in the saving of life by the presentation of gold, silver, and bronze medals. [Press Association telegram, 29th January 1896]

Reference to the author''s ancestry discloses how essentially Orcadian is his origin. The northland names of Sinclair, Mowat, Flett, Tulloch, Berwick, Peace, Foubister, etc., marshall themselves in the list of his predecessors; and last century several of his ancestors spoke the Norse language. Mr. St.Clair accounts himself absolutely Norse by race.

Mr. St.Clair met with an accident in 1892 that compelled him to use crutches for nine months. During the evenings at home of that period this book was evolved and completed in the summer of 1893; the years intervening between then and now have been occupied in finishing off the work and collecting replies to outstanding queries.
from web site accessed 28/8/2011

Evening Post 31 December 1873
SINCLAIR.- On the 26th instant, at Taita, John James, son of Mr James L. Sinclair, aged 23 months
could not see a funeral notice

Hutt Valley Cemetery Records John James Sinclair, Date: 29/12/1873, St. James Anglican, Lower Hutt, Burial Record


Evening Post 31 October 1874
On the 31st inst, at Taita, Wellingtion, William, youngest son of James L. Sinclair, aged 10 months
could not see a Funeral Notice

Hutt Valley Cemetery Records William Henry Sinclair, Date: 31/10/1874, St. James Anglican, Lower Hutt, Burial Record


Evening Post 21 December 1875
At Taita, Wellington, on the 21st December, the wife of Mr. James L. Sinclair, of a daughter


Wellington Independent 24 November 1873
A correspondent writes, under date 20th November:— At the conclusion of the afternoon service on Sunday, the Rev Mr Fancourt, on behalf of the children attending the Sunday school, presented Mr John Rayner with a magnificently illustrated Bible, as a token of their appreciation of his services as Superintendent of the Sunday school for the last fifteen years. Inside the cover there was a scroll containing 150 names of scholars that had been in attendance, but these do not comprise all the names. Mr Fancourt, in a few appropriate remarks, pointed out the value of such self-sacrificing labors in a practical directions. Mr Beetham (Hutt) explained that the Bible had been purchased with money collected by the Sunday school children, and was entirely the result of their own little subscriptions. Mr Rayner expressed his gratitude for the valuable volume which had been given him, and which he would prize highly as coming from those whom he had endeavored to instruct in accordance with its precepts.
The departure of Mr and Mrs Williams, for Sanson, will be felt by many as a loss to the neighborhood, as both were efficient teachers, and had conducted the school for upwards of three years with great credit to themselves and satisfaction to the parents. I hope they will be equally successful at Sanson, and I confess to feeling a deep interest in the welfare of this "small farm association," and all other special settlements. In other provinces, religion and race have been found to be the best bonds for keeping little communities together. Where a minister formed the connecting link, the settlement has invariably prospered; in other cases language has kept them united, as in the case of German and Scandinavian immigrants. It remains to be seen whether a band of British settlers can work in harmony for the common weal, and become as thriving and prosperous as those possessing a common creed or speaking a foreign language.

Wellington Independent 3 March 1874
Education Board
The letter to the Provincial Secretary

relative to the votes already passed by the

Board for school building was read, as

Taita, in addition to 17 pounds collected

by residents 50 pounds; the Secretary

stating that the same had been verbally

sanctioned by the Provincial Secretary, but

that no written answer as yet been


Wanganui Herald 23 January 1875
We learn from the Times that out of seven candidates from the primary schools of the Province for Wellington College Scholarships, session 1875, only six presented themselves for examination, of whom the successful candidate was William H. Field, of Aramoho School, near Wanganui, he being closely followed by Rowland Sinclair, of Taita School.

check Evening Post Rowland Sinclair between 23/1 and 28/1

Evening Post 4 January 1876
Taita School Placards
J. L. Sinclair,

Evening Post 11 March 1876
To Painters
Tenders will be received up to Saturday, the 18th March, for Painting the Taita School and School-house.
Full particulars can be obtained at the School-house, where Tenders, addressed to the Chairman of the School Committee, can be sent.
The lowest or any tender not necessarily accepted.

Evening Post 13 April 1876
On Saturday afternoon next Mr. Sinclair, master of the Taita school, will deliver a lecture at the Terrace school on "The Economic Application of Heat."

Evening Post 1 March 1877
The Inspector''s Report
Mr. Sinclair''s complaint regarding Mr. Lee''s report on the Taita School was then taken. Mr. Lee''s report on this school was to the effect that several members of Mr. Sinclair''s family had alleged that they had experienced feelings of dislike on the part of Mr. Lee towards them. It was also alleged that ten pupils, who were absent on the day of inspection, were marked as "unsatisfactory."
Mr. Lee denied that he entertained any feelings of dislike towards Mr. Sinclair or any of his family. He had marked the pupils referred to as unsatisfactory, for the simple reason that they were so.

Evening Post 25 April 1877
Mr. Sinclair, the master of the Taita school, was in attendance for the purpose of making certain statements with reference to the Inspector''s report on his school. Having come into the room he said that he had given a written statement of his complaint to Mr. Pharazyn. This complaint, which he now repeated, was to the effect that on various occasions his wife, son, and daughter had been unfairly treated by Mr. Lee. His son, for instance, had been told by Mr. Lee that he was not fit to be a pupil teacher, because he could not manipulate a paper fastener. He (Mr. Sinclair) said that if he were to describe some of Mr. C. C. Graham''s statements in connection with this matter he would have to use some of the strongest expressions in the English language.
Mr. Graham asked Mr. Sinclair to explain what he meant.
Mr. Sinclair said that he meant that Mr. Graham''s statement that he (Mr. Sinclair) had told him that he had boxed his wife''s ears in the school-room, was false.
Mr. Graham said that his statement was founded on what Mr. Sinclair himself had told him.
Mr Sinclair asked to be allowed to take a copy of the written statement he had first read, but he was not allowed to do so.
Mr Sinclair then withdrew, and consideration of the matter was postponed until the Inspector could be present.

Evening Post 6 July 1877
Education Board
Mr. Robert Johnson, formerly of the Kaiwaewae (sic) School, was appointed to the Taita school, vice Mr. Sinclair.

Death Detail
1895/5551, James Leask Sinclair, Aged: 67Y - Date of Death 12/11/1895 from Death Registration

Auckland Star 13 November 1895
SINCLAIR.- On November 12, 1895, at his residence, Otahuhu, in his 67th year, James Leask Sinclair, last surviving issue of the late Capt. William Sinclair, merchant, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Auckland Star 13 November 1895
A deplorable occurrence is reported from Otahahu (sic). It appears that Mr James A. (sic) Sinclair, a gentleman living with his family in Station Road, Otahuhu, who had been to the Otahuhu Mutual Improvement Society meeting, was returning home by himself, when he was seized with a fit. He must have lain in an unconscious state all night, for early the next morning he was fonnd by a young girl, who at once informed her father, Mr Manders, of the occurrence. He at once conveyed Mr Sinclair to his residence and sent for Dr. Bewes. Mr Sinclair, however, never rallied, and expired last night. The deceased was formerly a school master, and was much esteemed by all who knew him.

Star 14 November 1895
James A. (sic) Sinclair, an ex-public school teacher, while going home alone from the Otahuhu Mutual Improvement Society, took a fit and lay unconscious all night on the public road. When found in the morning he was taken home, but expired there.



Auckland Star 18 July 1899
SINCLAIR.- On July 17, 1899, at Owen''s Raod, Epsom, Mary Muir, third daughter of the late James Leask Sinclair. Beloved by all who knew her.
  • 1828 - Birth -
  • 12 NOV 1895 - Death - ; Otahuhu, Auckland
James Leask Sinclair
1828 - 12 NOV 1895
Family Group Sheet - Child
MJames Leask Sinclair
Death12 NOV 1895Otahuhu, Auckland
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