James Byrnes (1857-1932)

(born SEXTON)





(Parents of Peter Byrnes):









Line of Descent to Peter Byrnes:


James Byrnes


Thomas Byrnes

Peter Byrnes


Father Francis BURNS (b. 1806, Longford, Ireland)
Mother Mary WILSON (b. c1820, Ireland)

1857 in Wellington, New Zealand[1]

(birth registered as James SEXTON)

Occupation compositor, Qld Govt. Printing Office[3],[4]
Moved to: Qld, from New Zealand, c1859
Lived at: NZ-Qld: Toowoomba; Brisbane (between 1884 and 1932)
Death Jun 19 1932, of tumour of descending colon, carcinoma, exhaustion syncope[5] at 123 Baines Street, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland[6]
Burial Jun 20 1932 in Bulimba Cemetery (Brisbane)[7]
Marriage Grace POBAR (Dec 27 1882 in Toowoomba, Queensland)

Thomas BYRNES (Oct 19 1883-1973), married Amelia ("Lily") Dance, Ipswich, 1913

James Byrnes (1886) 

By all his own accounts, James was born in Wellington, New Zealand in the late 1850s; however, no trace can be found of a birth certificate in the name of James Byrnes.  What does exist, however, is a certificate [see below] for a James Sexton, born in 1857 to  Mary Wilson, in Wellington (Sexton was the surname of his motherís first husband William).  Itís probable that this is our James,  with James later taken his presumed fatherís surname, after Francis Burns and Jamesí mother formed a liaison , moving to Queensland very soon after James' birth, along with Maryís older children.

Itís not known where the five children lived immediately after their motherís death on a remote Queensland property near Gayndah in 1864, but by the time he was a young man, James was working as a printer, so presumably at some stage during that time, he at least went to school.


It appears likely he was living in Toowoomba when he met his bride-to-be, Grace Pobar, who came from a family of farmers and butchers on the Downs.  Jamesí brother and sister, Sarah and Joseph Sexton, lived in Toowoomba in the 1870s, and itís probable James was living with them.  Sarahís step-father, Francis Burns, was also a member of the household when she married in Toowoomba.  Coincidentally, Sarahís husband, a young Englishman William Smith was also a printer, so Smith may well have introduced his young brother-in-law to the trade.

By 1882, James was working in the Government printing office in Brisbane, and soon after his marriage to Grace in Toowoomba that year, the couple was living in Leopard Street, Woolloongabba, later shifting to Kangaroo Point.  James and Grace had only two children, Thomas and James (jnr). 


right: the Government Printing Office, in George Street, Brisbane (on the corner of William street) as it was in 1920, when James was a compositor there.


at left: three photos of the interior of the former Government Printing office, c1912 from the State Library of Queensland.

James has been described by two of his grandchildren as ďa quiet, gentle, lovely manĒ.[8]  

Grandson Peter Byrnes remembers him as  "a tall, well-built man, of kindly disposition".  James lived near the Brisbane Cricket Ground (the 'Gabba), and on one occasion, took young Peter and Peter's father, Tom, to see the West Indies play cricket there.  James was a keen gardener, and according to Peter, always kept the yard neat and tidy.

In 1932, James died of cancer at his home "Beira" (right) at 123 Baines Street, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane and was buried in Bulimba cemetery, South Brisbane.


Jamesí rather forbidding grave on a hill in Bulimba Cemetery, South Brisbane (left).   The plaques have been smashed by vandals, and decades of weathering have discoloured the concrete.

His granddaughter Eileen Boyle says that originally, the grave of James and his wife Grace was a more delicate affair, but after Graceís burial, it was remodelled to allow Graceís niece Gladys and her husband Terrence Ryan, to be buried with them.


The 1857 birth certificate of James Sexton, born in Wellington to Mary Sexton (nťe Wilson).  James grew up using the Byrnes surname.

[1] Birth certificate of James Sexton.

[2] Queensland Death certificate.  James' death certificate

[3] Queensland Marriage certificate (James and Grace Pobar)

[4] Queensland birth certificate of son Thomas.

[5] as above

[6] Queensland Death certificate (James)

[7] as above

[8] Peter Byrnes and Eileen Boyle (nťe Byrnes)