James Steer was born in 1841, the second son of John Steer, boot and shoemaker, and Mary Pearce, a milliner and seamstress. His parents were married at Bishop's Hull, Somerset in 1839 and had an older son John. The family arrived in Hobart on the Northumberland on 25 Jul 1854 and settled in Launceston. James was employed at Ritchie and Parker, solicitors, for 25 years. On 1 Aug 1882 he took up the position of secretary of the Northern Tasmanian Permanent Building Society until his death on 4 Feb 1911.
James married Elizabeth Fanny Gould in Launceston on 13 July 1865. She died on 23 Aug 1907 and they are buried together at Carr Villa Cemetery Section C No. 123. James was a teacher and superintendent of Christ Church Sunday School for 45 years, treasurer of the Benevolent Society for 20 years, original member and sometime secretary of the Star Tent of Rechabites, and adjudicator for musical and literary competitions. He was mourned by many after his sudden death from heart disease. He died in his 70th year at his residence, 'The Pines', Cataract Hill, Launceston. His epitaph reads: 'Neath the shadow of the Cross'. See The Examiner 22 Apr 2006, p.30.