- See also  for two other James Backhouse botanists and nursery owners of York.
Early life in England
Backhouse was the fourth child of James and Mary Backhouse a Quaker business family of Darlington, County Durham, England. His father died when he was a child and his mother brought him up in a religious atmosphere. He was educated in Leeds and began work in a grocery, drug and chemical business, but he developed tuberculosis and he decided to adopt an outdoor life. An uncle helped him in the study of botany, and in 1815, with his brother Thomas, he purchased the nursery business of J. and G. Telford at York. In 1822 he married Deborah Lowe, and in 1824 he was admitted as a minister in the Religious Society of Friends. In December 1827 his wife died leaving him with a son and a daughter.
In September 1831, with George Washington Walker, he sailed for Australia on a mission to the convicts and settlers. They arrived at Hobart in February 1832, and the next six years were spent in missionary journeys all over the then settled districts of Tasmania, New South Wales, and as far north as the site of Brisbane. Port Phillip was visited in 1837, and South and Western Australia just before they left.
A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies (1843) by James Backhouse, tells the story of their travels and has much of interest relating to the aborigines, the convicts, the social conditions of the time, and the botany of Australia.
Both Backhouse and Walker then went to Mauritius and South Africa and continued their missionary work, preaching whenever a few people could be gathered together to hear them. Backhouse even succeeded in learning enough Dutch to be able to preach in that language. An account of his African experiences will be found in A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa (1844).
Backhouse returned to England and arrived at London on 15 February 1841. He took up the nursery again, and when his brother died in 1845, brought his own son James into the business. He kept up his religious work for the whole of his life, travelling and preaching much in England, Scotland and Ireland. In addition to the works already mentioned Backhouse wrote or edited A Memoir of Deborah Backhouse (1828), Memoirs of Francis Howgill (1828), Extracts from the Letters of James Backhouse (1838–41), The Life and Correspondence of William and Alice Ellis (1849), A Short Record of the Life and Experiences of Thomas Bulman (1851), and numerous sermons, addresses and tracts. With Charles Tylor he wrote The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker (1862).
His son, James Backhouse, was the author of A Handbook of European Birds (1890) and other publications.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Backhouse, James". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
- Mary Bartram Trott, 'Backhouse, James (1794 - 1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, MUP, 1966, pp 45–46.
- Claus Bernet (2010). "James Backhouse". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 31. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 35–39. ISBN 978-3-88309-544-8.
- David Rubinstein (social historian) (2009) The Backhouse Quaker family of York nurserymen: including James Backhouse : 1794-1869, botanist and Quaker missionary.