Family and education
Burnie was born in Bootle, Lancashire, the son of Joseph Burnie a local businessman. He was educated at St John’s School, Bootle and at Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby. In 1910 he married Ruth E. Thornton. They had one son and a daughter. His wife died in 1939.
Burnie went into his father’s business, eventually becoming Director of Bell & Burnie Ltd, specialists in cold store insulation. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Burnie was mobilised as a Sergeant. He retired as a Major in Bootle Battalion, 7th King’s Liverpool Regiment, having gained the Military Cross in 1918. He retained his commission after the war and retired from the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers on reaching the age of 50. In 1922, Burnie was chosen to unveil formally the new War Memorial dedicated to the memory of over a thousand men of Bootle who had fallen in the First World War in a ceremony which took place on 15 October that year.
Burnie was elected to Parliament as a Liberal at the 1922 general election for his home town of Bootle, gaining the seat from the Conservatives by a majority of 3,409 votes. He held the seat at the 1923 general election, this time in a three cornered contest with the Conservatives and Labour but with a decreased majority of just 453 votes.
In March 1924 he was one of 24 Liberal MPs who voted with the Conservatives and against his own party in a division on a Liberal motion deploring the construction of five new naval cruisers  Around this time the Liberal Party in Parliament was frequently divided over its stance towards the First Labour Government of prime minister Ramsay MacDonald. Even on the initial vote to bring down the government of Stanley Baldwin and install Labour’s minority administration, ten Liberal MPs voted with the Conservatives.
The sort of difficulties which beset the Liberal Party in Parliament were apparent nationally at the 1924 general election. The Liberals were finding it difficult to define their political position in relation to the Labour and Conservative parties and electorally, as the third party in a two party system, they were being targeted and squeezed by the others. These electoral currents proved too strong for Burnie and in another three-cornered fight in Bootle he lost his seat to the Tory candidate Vivian Leonard Henderson and dropped behind Labour in the poll.
Burnie did not stand again until the general election of 1935 when he again contested Bootle for the Liberals, only just managing to save his deposit. The following year he was elected Mayor of Bootle  He was adopted as Liberal candidate for Chester after the 1935 election  but never fought the seat. He did return to the political fray for the 1950 general election however, contesting one of Bootle’s near neighbours, Crosby  but this seems to have been his last attempt to get back into the House of Commons.
Burnie died on 15 May 1975 aged 93 years.
- Who was Who, OUP 2007
- The Times House of Commons 1935, Politico’s Publishing 2003 p51
- Who’s Who of 475 Liberal Candidates fighting the 1950 General Election, Liberal Publications Dept. 1950 p13
- The Times, 1 June 1932 p19
- F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949 p97
- The Times, 20 March 1924 p14
- David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party in the Twentieth Century; Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 p96
- Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party in the Twentieth Century, p98 ff
- F W S Craig, p97
- The Liberal Magazine, 1938, Liberal Publication Dept, pp418, 523
- Who’s Who of 475 Liberal Candidates fighting the 1950 General Election, LPD 1950 p13
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by James Burnie
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Sir Thomas Royden, Bt.
|Member of Parliament for Bootle
1922 – 1924