James Curtis

Undertaker, Omnibus Proprietor

Terms served on Council

Title Council From To
Alderman City of Sydney 1859 1860

Family background

James Curtis was born in c1804-05 at Old Toongabbie. His parents were John Curtis, an accountant from Bristol transported to the colony in 1797 for forging sixpences, and Ann Moran, an Irish convict who arrived in 1802. Both John and Ann Curtis attended to the Government dairy and herds at Parramatta and later they had the licence to a public house at Parramatta.

In 1828, James Curtis married Mary née Parsons at Sydney. James and his first wife Mary (died 1848) had nine children but not all survied. There were five sons: John H Curtis (b. 1829), James C (b. 1831), William C (b. 1833), George (1837) and Ambrose W.  They had three girls, all named Mary, who died at birth or in infancy.

Their one daughter Theresa was born in 1843. She became a Professor of Music and was good friends with Dame Nellie Melba; she later married John Meillon. After the death of her first husband, she married Theodor August Boesen, Danish Consul General to Australia.

Mary Curtis died in 1848, and James remarried in 1850 to Irish-born Ellen Mary Sweeney (b. 1820). They had four children, but only two survived: James M (b. 1850) and Charles H (b. 1854).

A death for a James Curtis is recorded at Sydney in 1882, son of John. The family were Roman Catholic.

Occupation & interests

James Curtis was born at at Old Toongabbie in c1804, the son of convicts. In 1836 and 1837, he acquired land in the Shoalhaven River and Jervis Bay area.

When his son Peter was born on 23 January 1836, he had a shop in Castlereagh Street. In August 1836, James Curtis, Sydney merchant, was the first purchaser of land on the Balmain peninsula when he bought 10 acres at Waterview Bay. By November 1840, Curtis had established his undertaking business and factory in Hunter Street. In October 1844, he acquired a coach license and set up an omnibus and cab business.

Curtis succeeded Thomas Shaughnessy in the undertaking business which became the fore-runner of P Kirby’s Undertakers. He advertised as both cabinet maker and undertaker and was still in business at 59 Hunter Street in 1877. At 19 stone, he was known as a portly good-humoured undertaker with a large family of brainy sons. He was an admirer of cricket and his son was secretary of the Cricket Club.

Local government service

In October 1843, Curtis was invited to stand as a candidate for Bourke Ward but refused. On 15 November 1859, he successfully stood for Bourke Ward and was an alderman until 30 November 1860.


Leichhardt Historical Journal Volume 14

Information supplied by Kim Sheppard.


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