James Fenton was born in Dunlavin, County Wicklow, Ireland, on 30 Nov 1820. He was the seventh of eight children born to James Fenton, a land owner and tallow chandler, and his wife Martha Coates. James was educated at the Elton Boarding School, near Avoca, Ireland. Searching for a more peaceful life, his parents, five siblings, a cousin and two servants set sail from Liverpool aboard the Othello on 26 Aug 1833. James senior died of cholera three days later and was buried at sea. The rest of the family arrived in Hobart in Feb 1834. James completed his education at the Hobart Town Academy and the New Town Academy. After spending time farming and exploring at Swansea, Middle Plains near Deloraine and Badger Head, in Mar 1840 James became a pioneer settler at Forth where he planted three blackberry seedlings, which flourished, and cleared his land relatively quickly by ringbarking the trees.
James married Helena Mary Anne Monds in the Congregational Chapel at Forth on 27 May 1846, the first marriage to be held in the chapel. James and Helena had four children: Helena was born at York Plains on 4 Aug 1847; Charles, 1849; Flora, 1851; and Alberta, 1855, were born at Forth. In Feb 1852 James and a friend went to Melbourne with the intention of joining the gold rush, but decided to return to Forth to split palings for the predicted demand for new houses. They made their fortunes. James was appointed to the Devon Road Trust, the Board of Works, and the Marine Board of Torquay. He was a foundation member of the Devon Institute, a justice of the peace and Police Magistrate.
The family moved to Launceston 1861-63 for the children's education. They went back to Forth until their return to Launceston in 1879. James built a new house, 'Lenna', at 41 Brisbane Street. He was awarded a Certificate of Merit for a pen and ink sketch, showing the 'Rise and Progress of Tasmania' at the Tasmanian Exhibition in 1891-92. Helena died from pneumonia on 10 Aug 1892. James died at his later residence 69 Balfour Street, on 24 Jun 1901, and was buried in the Charles Street Cemetery. During his retirement James wrote many articles on the history of Tasmania and is the author of Bush Life in Tasmania amongst other publications. His daughter Alberta and brother-in-law Thomas Wilkes Monds are also pictured in the Family Album.
More information is available in James Fenton of Forth: A Tasmanian Pioneer 1820-1901 compiled and edited by Paul Fenton.