James Backhouse (1794–1869), missionary, was a Yorkshire Quaker who with George Washington Walker travelled extensively in the Australian colonies, investigating the conditions of convicts and Aborigines. Arriving in Hobart in 1832, their integrity and dedication made them widely acceptable. Encouraged by Lt-Governor Arthur, they spent three years visiting almost every free, convict and Aboriginal settlement, making detailed reports to him, the Colonial Office and the Religious Society of Friends in London. They urged land rights and legal protection for Aborigines, and their reports and recommendations were influential in promoting penal reform.
Backhouse was a gifted diarist and artist, and his journal is an important account of conditions in the colony. A noted botanist, he sent his observations and a collection of Van Diemen's Land flora to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He returned to England in 1841.
Further reading: J Backhouse, A narrative of a visit to the Australian colonies, London, 1843; W Oats, Backhouse and Walker, Hobart, 1981; ADB 1.