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'A man named Turle' - James Turle



Turle's shop
Turle's shop in Taunton
about 1865

James TURLE was born in 1848 in Taunton, Somerset, the seventh child of John Turle and Eliza (née Mercer).  His father, John, took over the family grocer, tea dealer and tallow chandler’s shop in Fore Street, in the early 1840’s and it was in this medieval building that James was brought up with his brothers and sisters. He was the youngest surviving child after his younger brother, Frederick, died when aged only two years.

James was baptized on 4 May 1848 in St James' Church, Taunton[1], unlike his brothers and sisters who were all baptized in the neighbouring parish church of St Mary Magdalen.  According to a letter he wrote in later life he was educated at Taunton School.[2]

His older brothers all went to work in retail businesses but James trained in accountancy instead. By the time of the 1871 census he was describing himself as an accountant. He was living alone in Bridge Street Taunton and on the night of the 1871 census had a visitor, John N Sharp, a 40 year old man from Warrington Lancashire who made his living from rented property.[3] 

Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church, Taunton
photographed in 2009

A few years later James met Elizabeth Bishop of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Elizabeth was the daughter of William Bishop, an hotel keeper, and Ann Eliza (née Kirby). William died whilst she was still young and her mother married Frederick Augustus Wheeler in 1860. James and Elizabeth were married in the spring of 1878 in her home town.[4] The following year their first child was born and named Frederick Augustus after Elizabeth’s step-father. He was born on 13 March 1879 at 50 Hill Terrace in Taunton[5] but sadly died soon afterwards.[6] On the baptism register James described himself as an actuary but by the time his second son was born in 1880 he was working as a sub-actuary at the Savings Bank in Taunton.  Reginald James was born on 19 May 1880 in Taunton.[7] He was baptized on 17 June 1880 in Taunton’s Holy Trinity Church.[8] Before the 3 April 1881 James, Elizabeth and Reginald moved to Walliscote Road in Weston Super Mare, Somerset where James was working as an actuary.[9]

Elizabeth’s health started causing concern in February of 1882, probably with a persistent cough but when she developed a fever and started losing weight it must have been obvious that she was suffering from Phthisis, what we now call tuberculosis. Elizabeth went home to Chipping Norton to be nursed by her mother and step-father but on 23 November she died aged just 36 years.[10]

The Crescent, Taunton

The Crescent, Taunton
photographed in 2009


James went back to Taunton; in 1883 he was again recorded as working as an actuary, this time living in The Crescent, Taunton, an expensive part of town where only successful businessmen could afford to live. On 7 February 1883 James’ son, Reginald was baptized again – this time in St John the Evangelist Church in Taunton.[11] For James the last five years had seen the joy of marriage and the birth of two sons but also the devastating sadness due to the death of one son and then his wife. James possibly felt the need to get away from England and start again in another country. He travelled to Australia, probably leaving his young son in Taunton with his parents or other family members, expecting to come back for him when settled in Australia. According to the Cooktown Queensland Hospital records, he was a steward and arrived in the colonies in September 1885 on the SS Arshes.[12]

Egypt medal


Egypt Medal
and insert showing inscription

The next we know of James is that on 24 February 1885 he enlisted for two years as a private, number 483, in the Infantry of New South Wales, describing himself as a thirty-year old unmarried man born in Taunton, Somerset. He was described as 5 feet 4.5 inches tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a brown complexion. He sometimes used the alias G Turle.[13] Following the death of General Gordon at Khartoum on 26 January 1885 the New South Wales government went to the assistance of the British forces in the Sudan War. This was the first time that an Australian colony had sent their troops overseas and it caught the public’s imagination. Contemporary paintings show hundreds of people at the quayside in Sydney watching the men in their bright uniforms board the ships.  Bunting was strung around the quay as wives said goodbye to their loved ones and officials watched on proudly. The men were setting off on an adventure to an exciting country that few had visited before.

Kedive Medal
Khedive Medal

James with other hastily recruited men boarded SS Iberia on 3 March 1885 dressed in their bright red jackets, dark blue trousers and white hats making a stunning show of Australia's support for the British forces.[14] By the time the Australian Sudan Contingent landed at Suakin in the Red Sea on 29 March 1885 the first Sudan War was nearly over and James returned to Australia less than four months later, on 23 June 1885, on board the SS Arab.[15]  Whilst in the Sudan, James received an injury to his left shin which healed but left him with a permanent disability. Certainly by August 1885 he was describing himself as “late No 483 C. Company N.S.W. Contingent” [16] and so had most likely been discharged because of his injury.  James often wore the medals he had been awarded, the Egypt medal with a clasp carrying the words “Suakin 1885” and the Khedive Medal. [17] He also received the unofficial medal presented by the citizens of Sydney and wrote to the Mayor of Sydney asking for it to be sent to him.[18]

On 13th May 1886 he was admitted as a patient to the Cooktown Queensland Hospital where he claimed to be a childless, 34 years old bachelor. He also claimed, incorrectly, that his father, John, was dead.  At this time the old wound on his leg had inflamed again and an ulcer had developed; it was successfully treated, enabling James to be discharged eleven days later. [19]

Crown Hotel, Charters Towers
Mosman Street, Charters Towers with Crown Hotel on left, in 1887
published with permission from the owner,
the Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives

After being discharged from the army James stayed in Queensland, working for a time as a billiard marker at Clark's Crown Hotel in Charters Towers where he was known as ‘Jim’. Charters Towers was founded in the 1870's when gold was found in the area and it grew rapidly as people flooded to the area in search of their fortune. It was said that 'that anything one might desire could be had in the 'Towers', leaving no reason to travel elsewhere.'[20] James certainly did not find gold and by late 1888 he was spending his days shooting ducks and fishing in the Burdekin River and taking his catches into town to sell, sometimes visiting the Donalson's Hotel whilst there. He was, at this time, very short of money and even his gun was an old broken one lent to him by Archibald Spencer Anderson, a man he met in town whilst working at Clark's Crown Hotel. When shooting he would wear a flannel shirt with short sleeves, knicker bocks cut out of gray tweed trousers, an old felt hat and old shoes. He had other clothes, including a pair of blue serge trousers, which he kept in a box underneath a crooked tree on the banks of the river. Also in the box he kept cooking and eating utensils, pepper, a book, another hat and an old pair of slippers as well as the tools he needed for shooting and fishing. He would cover the box with leaves and bushes to make it look as if water had washed against the tree. Jim smoked tobacco in an old clay pipe and would rest his gun against his thigh whilst striking the matches to light the pipe. He was by then rather stout with a sallow complexion, black hair and a full beard.

Crown Hotel 1887
Crown Hotel, Charters Towers
photographed in 1887
published with permission from the owner, the Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives

On about 29th November 1888 James went fishing as usual, in his favourite place on the banks of the River Burdekin about one and half miles south of the little used Riordan's Crossing to the east of Charters Towers. Sometimes James Robb, a fifteen year old young man, joined him at the river but Jim had not seen him for two days and on that day he was alone. He had with him the shot gun he had borrowed from Archibald Anderson; he knew the left hammer was apt to go off at half-cock and should not be used but it had served him well for the last few months and he had become accustomed to using both barrels. Jim was sitting by the river having already shot some ducks when he saw another.  His gun, loaded in both barrels, was beside him but as he picked it up the gun went off shooting Jim through the heart. As he fell backwards the gun was thrown to one side ending up in two pieces. James died instantly from his extensive injuries. The right barrel of the gun was loaded but the unreliable left barrel had discharged.[21]

A few days later William Bremen was walking by the river when he came across James’ body lying across the track. The Queenslander newspaper for the 8 December reported that “The body of a man was found in the bed of the Burdekin on Saturday, with three ducks and a broken gun beside him. He had been dead four or five days, and it is supposed that death resulted from a gun accident. The body was unfit for removal, and was buried on the spot. The remains are supposed to be those of a man named TURLE, who was known to stay at the river[22]

James was buried on 1 December 1888 where had fallen, beside the Burdekin in Queensland, Australia. 

The following year a request appeared in the Queensland Police Gazette requesting information on the whereabouts of James Turle as he had been granted compensation of £54 15s 'for injuries sustained whilst serving in the Soudan with the New South Wales contingent'.[23]

James' family probably did not know what had happened to him and so probate was not granted on James estate until 15 April 1907 in London, Middlesex, some 19 years after his death. Administration was granted to William Toy, a solicitor of Chipping Norton, the home town of James’ late wife. Toy was attorney for Reginald James Turle, “his natural and lawful son and only next of kin who now resides in Canada.” The estate at that time was valued at £68 4s 4d.[24]

Plaques to commemorate the men who went to the Sudan





Notes: These two plaques are on the the cliff wall near the Sydney Opera House. They mark the area from where the Australian forces, including James, left for the Sudan war.The lower one commemorates the centenary of the sailing.








Many thanks to Stuart Eaton for all the help, support and information that enabled the story on this page.


Photographs of medals copyright Stuart Eaton 2008
Photograph of Turle's shop from the collection of Pauline Leggat
Photographs of Holy Trinity Church and The Crescent copyright Pauline Leggat 2009

Photographs of The Crown Hotel are published here with the kind permission of the owners, the Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives - these and more photographs taken at the time are published in a book by Michael Brumby - Charters Towers 1887 published in 2004 by the Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives .

Photograph of the commemoration plaques copyright Ross Turle 2010

Copyright Pauline Leggat 2009-2010

Sources and Notes

[1] Somerset Record Office Taunton - Parish Records
[2] Turle, James.  Letter dated 14 August 1885 to “The Worshipful Mayor of Sydney” from “James Turle late No 483 C. Company N.S.W. Contingent” – “…myself…educated at the same school as the late General Gordon.”
[3] 1871 England Census [online]. [Accessed 3 February 2009]. Available from World Wide Web:
[4] FreeBMD, Marriages Jun 1878, Chipping N. 3a 1032 [online]. [Accessed 24 August 2004]. Available from World Wide Web:
[5] Frederick Augustus Turle, Birth Certificate. General Register Office, England
[6] FreeBMD, Deaths Jun 1879, Taunton. 5c 266 [online]. [Accessed 22 April 2008]. Available from World Wide Web:
[7]  FreeBMD, Births Jun 1880, Taunton. 5c 368 [online]. [Accessed 22 April 2008]. Available from World Wide Web:
Note: Whilst censuses indicate that James was born in Taunton his attestation papers give his birthplace as Portsmouth. His grandparents and two of his uncles lived in Alverstoke and Portsmouth respectively and it is likely that James lived with them and was unaware of his actual birth place.
Attestation papers for Reginald James Turle: Soldiers of the First World War – CEF, Library and Archives Canada [online]. [Accessed 3 February 2009]. 2007. Available from World Wide Web:
[8]  Taunton, Holy Trinity Church, baptisms, D\P/ .1880. Somerset Record Office, Taunton,
[9] 1881 England Census [online]. [Accessed 3 February 2009]. Available from World Wide Web:
 “James TURLE-Head-Mar-32-Actuary Account-Taunton, Somerset; Elizabeth TURLE-Wife-Mar-32--Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire; Reginald James TURLE-Son-Unm-11 mths--Taunton, Somerset; Mary A Dominey-Serv-Unm-16-nurse domestic servant-Taunton, Somerset”
[10] Elizabeth Turle, wife of James Turle, Death Certificate. General Register Office, England
[11] Taunton, St. John the Baptist Church, baptisms, D\P/ 2/1/1. Somerset Record Office, Taunton,
[12] Cook Hospitals Board: Cooktown Hospital Admissions register. Queensland State Archives: HOS 13/4 NOTE: "Steward" was used as another word for an accountant
[13] Australian War Memorial – Sudan War Nominal Roll [online] [Accessed 21 April 2008]. 2008.  Available from World Wide Web:
[14] Australian War Memorial – Sudan War Nominal Roll [online] [Accessed 21 April 2008]. 2008.  Available from World Wide Web:
[15] Australian War Memorial – Sudan War Nominal Roll [online] [Accessed 21 April 2008]. 2008.  Available from World Wide Web:
[16] Turle, James.  Letter dated 14 August 1885 to “The Worshipful Mayor of Sydney” from “James Turle late No 483 C. Company N.S.W. Contingent”
[17] Inquest of death 12 December 1888 at Charters Towers. Queensland State Archives, Brisbane, Australia JUS/N 163
[18] Turle, James.  Letter dated 14 August 1885 to “The Worshipful Mayor of Sydney” from “James Turle late No 483 C. Company N.S.W. Contingent”
[19] Cook Hospitals Board: Cooktown Hospital Admissions register. Queensland State Archives: HOS 13/4
[20] Charters Towers, Queensland. [Accessed 10 February 2009] Available from World Wide Web:
[21] Inquest of death 12 December 1888 at Charters Towers. Queensland State Archives, Brisbane, Australia JUS/N 163
[22] The Queenslander, Brisbane, Saturday, December 8, 1888. Transcript can be found at
[23] Queensland Police Gazette, 8 July 1889. NOTE:The fact that James was granted this compensation is an acknowledgement that his injury was not only serious but also sustained whilst serving in the Sudan. Although three men are mentioned in dipatches as having been injured in the war but James was not one of them.
[24]  Probate- Letter of Administration, Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House 42-49 High Holborn London
Note: This document states “James Turle of Gosport Kennedy Queensland in Australia”. Gosport is crossed out. It is a town close to Portsmouth where James’ brother Charles was living at the time of James’ death.

Additional sources
Eaton, S. James Turle, 2008. [Accessed 2008/9]. Numerous Email Messages to: Pauline Leggat. Personal communication.
Digger History, an unofficial history of the Australian and New Zealand Armed Forces – The Sudan. [Accessed 10 February 2009]. Available from World Wide Web:
The Northern Miner, Monday December 3, 1888 and The Northern Miner, Thursday December 13, 1888, Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives
Brumby, Michael. Charters Towers 1887, Celebrating the Photographic Work of Carey Jamieson Allom and Arthur Rudolph Bailey, 2004, Charters Towers and Dalrymple Archives Group.

Updated 23 July 2009