Downes James Barnard, known by his second name, was born on 26 May 1870, the eldest of six children born to Downes Martin Barnard (1842-1918) and his wife Emma Jane Phipps (1841-1921) who were married in Hobart in 1868. Downes Martin was a partner in the firm Barnard, McKay & Co., wine and spirit merchants, 49 St John Street, Launceston.
James was educated at the Launceston Church of England Grammar School. On leaving school he was employed by the Tasmanian Permanent Executors' and Trustees' Association Limited where he stayed for several years. He took up farming at Lowes Bridge, Railton, for some time before returning to Launceston in the employ of The Examiner and Weekly Courier. James spent four years in Siam (now Thailand) where he had a responsible position with the Tongkah Harbour Dredging Co. Ltd. On his return to Tasmania he lived at Youngtown and was employed by the Government Taxation Department as an inspector under the Wages Taxes Act. For many years he was an enthusiastic member of the Tamar Yacht Club.
James, from a staunch Anglican family, was married to a Catholic, Annie Cahill, on 19 Oct 1898, at the Church of Apostles by the Very Rev. Dean Beechinor. Her parents were Michael and Julia Cahill, who both came from Ireland. The seven Barnard children, James Martin, Judith Florence, William Francis, Beatrice Maud, Annie Elizabeth, Frederick George and Mary Margaret, were born between 1899 and 1914. Their eldest child James died on 7 Jun 1903 aged four. Downes James Barnard died on 17 July 1934 aged 63. He was pushing a car out of a bog at Marrawah when he died. He was buried at the Carr Villa cemetery in Section A3 No 309 next to his son William who died aged 22 in 1925. Annie died in Melbourne.