Born in Ireland in 1815, James made his way to NZ in 1841, becoming a successful businessman and farmer, accumulating significant wealth through his various interests. James was a founding trustee of Auckland Savings Bank, Elected member of Auckland Provincial Council and a supporter of the Kindergarten movement and the YMCA;
James bequeathed the bulk of his estate to establish the Dilworth Ulster Institute which was charged with setting up a school for boys.
Today Dilworth School is the largest boarding only school in Australasia and the endowment which funds the scholarships for students has grown to a level of $550 million. The boys are drawn from low decile environments and receive a robust education fulfilling James wish that they become "good and useful members of society".