James John HARRIS
Eyes brown, Hair dark brown, Complexion florid
Private James Harris – service number 3819
Irish-born Private James John HARRIS was a member of the 55th Battalion and was killed in action at the Battle of Fromelles in France in July 1916. The following is an article provided by James’ father in response to a request for personal details of the soldier for the Roll of Honour of Australia in the Memorial War Museum.
In his response, James snr also provided additional details noting that his son had emigrated to Australia in 1911 aged 20 and, prior to enlistment, had been working as a general farm hand in Charleville, Queensland.
Details about James’ life and how he died are sketchy but we do know that his battalion was engaged in the Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916. James was reported missing after that battle and his name eventually appeared on a German Death List, as described in the following letter from the Red Cross to his father.
While his final burial place is unknown, Private James John Harris is commemorated at V.C. Corner at the Australian Memorial Cemetery in Fromelles, France, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia and at the Mariners' Church in Dun Laoghaire (formerly Kingstown), County Dublin, Ireland (pictured below).
Searching for DNA
As his name was on the German Death List, researchers were keen to find DNA donors as those on the lists have a higher probability of burial at Pheasant Wood.
However, progress in the DNA search was stymied as they quickly encountered brick walls on both sides of the family. This led to two crowd funding events and the commissioning of a professional Irish researcher to investigate the family further. More is now known about the Harris family but any DNA lines are still elusive.
So, what has been discovered about James’ family?
He was born on 30 April 1891 to James HARRIS and Kathleen (aka Kate) SMITH. James Snr, as a retired Gunner in the Royal Artillery, was caretaker at the East Pier Battery in Dun Laoghaire near Dublin where he died in January 1936. Kate continued to live there until her death in 1939.
There is reference to the Harris family in the online history of the East Pier Battery. It includes the following memo dated 5 October 1948 which reads:
James Harris was placed in the quarters by the British War Office. He was employed by the Bd. [Board of Works?] as a labourer from 1891 to 1920 when he was appointed caretaker of the Battery. His services were dispensed with in 1933, but he was allowed to remain on [as] a tenant in view of his advanced age.
Another memo referenced in this history states that a grandson of James and Kate, a Thomas Sutherland, followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and took over the responsibility as a caretaker at East Pier Battery. Thomas occupied the quarters until 1940 when the Department of Defence took possession of them for the duration of World War II.
From census records, James snr was born in England, Kate in county Wicklow and all other family members were born in Dublin. All the family were Church of Ireland (i.e. Protestant).
In 1911, James John was listed as aged 19 and living in Patrick Street East Side in Kingstown, County Dublin with his parents - James, 64 and Kate, 52. Kingstown, Co. Dublin was the former name of Dun Laoghaire but the Kingstown name was used up until independence. The census also revealed that James Snr. and Kate had been married for 26 years putting their marriage year at 1884-85 and had had three children, of whom two were living at the time of the count.
His father - James Harris Snr.
From the census returns of 1901 and 1911, James HARRIS snr was described as a general labourer and van man and born in England in 1846/47. His marriage record of 1885 revealed that James snr was a gunner with the Royal Artillery and that his father was John HARRIS who was a labourer.
To confirm James snr’s date of birth, a search of civil and church records was undertaken for England. This uncovered a baptismal record for a James HARRIS who was born to John and Elizabeth HARRIS and baptised on 6 September 1846 in Studland, Dorset in England.
James’ parents are most likely John Harris (1798-1884) and Elizabeth Foot (1808-1866) who had a family of twelve – nine sons and three daughters.
In terms of James snr’s occupation, British Army records show that James HARRIS (regimental no. 30099) served in the Royal Artillery. From his key record sheets, his army service is summarised below:
- Born at Studland, near Swanage in Dorset, England in about 1847, a labourer, Church of England.
- Attested for 12 years’ service on 22 April 1867 at Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
- Served as a gunner in the Royal Artillery in Malta and Gibraltar.
- Completed 12 years’ service 21 April 1879 and re-engaged for a further 9 years.
- Joined No. 8 Battery 1st Battalion South Irish Division Royal Artillery as a gunner.
- Married Kate SMITH on 7 January 1885 in Kingstown, Dublin.
- Discharged on 24 April 1888 at Dublin. Residence given as Kingstown, Co. Dublin
These records confirm the marriage of James and Kate and also support his change of occupation as he left the army in 1888.
His mother, Kate Smith
While still in the army and aged 38, James Harris married Kate Smith on 7 January 1885 in the Church of Christ at Kingstown in county Dublin. Kate, believed to be about 29 at the time of their marriage (i.e born about 1856) and was the daughter of labourer, George Smith. Later census records show that she was born in county Wicklow but her age varies across different records with years of birth varying from 1856 to 1862. It is likely that Kate never actually knew her exact date of birth.
As to further information about Kate’s family, the name Smith makes it quite like seeking a needle in a haystack and definitive information has remained elusive.
Kate and James had three children – our soldier, James John, and two daughters, Kathleen and Elizabeth Anne.
His siblings – Kathleen and Anne
Kathleen was the first born in January 1888 while her father was still in the army. He was discharged three months later at the end of his period of service. She is listed with the family in the 1901 Census but is working as a servant in 1911 for the family of Kingstown accountant, Frederick Clay.
In September 1915, Kathleen (27) married William Anderson Sutherland (1882-1959), a soldier and son of a Scottish born watchmaker. It is possible that Kate and William’s marriage may not have lasted and certainly, by May 1935, William remarries in Ontario Canada and states that he is divorced. There are shipping records for both Kate and William travelling (separately) to and from Canada in the early 1920s. A record of death for Kathleen has not yet been located.
In terms of seeking suitable DNA donors, efforts have been made to confirm if the Thomas Sutherland who took over as caretaker after the death of James Harris senior in 1933 was the son of Kate and William. At that time, he would have been almost 21 years old assuming he was born around the time of his parents’ marriage. Unfortunately, researchers have yet to find any records confirming the birth of any children to that marriage.
It should also be noted that William had a brother called Thomas and there is a chance that there was confusion about the Harris/Sutherland family relationships – particularly in a memo written more than a decade after events occurred. William’s brother was a motor mechanic and researchers wonder if this fits with the caretaker role? Or was ‘caretaker Thomas’ the son of Kate and William?
The youngest child, Elizabeth Anne, was born on 29 March 1893 almost two years younger than James. She is listed as a scholar, aged 8, in the 1901 census but is not listed with the family in 1911. Sadly, her death from typhoid fever is registered under the name of Anne at the age of 9 on 29 August 1902 so there will be no descendants on this line.
Accordingly, researchers have struggled to identify suitable DNA lines but work continues in the hope that earlier generations of Smith or Harris families may be found and provide leads to possible donors.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||James Joseph HARRIS 1891-1916|
|Parents||James HARRIS 1846-1936 Studland, Dorset, England|
|and Kathleen (Kate) SMITH c1860-1939 County Wicklow, Ireland.|
|Both died in Dublin, Ireland.|
|Paternal||John HARRIS b. 1798 Studland Dorset. Married in 1823 to Elizabeth (Betty) FOOT and had at least 12 children.|
|Maternal||George SMITH. Mother unknown.|
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