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James Houlker, 1880 - 1915

James Houlker died of wounds on the hospital ship Valdivia off Gallipoli on 10 August 1915. He was aged 35. He was buried at sea near Anzac Cove. His name is on the Lone Pine Memorial.

James was born in Blackburn, Lancashire England on 17 May 1880. His parents were Hannah Maria and William Houlker. His father was a wine and spirit merchant. The family emigrated to New Zealand, settling in Nelson where James went to school and attended Nelson College. He performed well both academically and in sports, participating in athletics, rowing and rugby. He continued to play rugby after leaving school, for the Nelson College Old Boys club, of which he was President for a number of years.

Houlker enrolled with Canterbury University College while at school and began studing for BA and LLB degrees. He took a keen interest in amateur dramatics and was one of the leaders of the Nelson College Dramatic Society. He was a very good singer, with a baritone voice. The Colonist described his performance in WS Gilbert's burlesque "The Princess" as follows: "Too much praise cannot be given to J Houlker for his clever interpretation of the small part of Gobbo (a porter). His make up was splendid and the vociferous applause which greeted his appearance showed how thoroughly the audience appreciated his efforts. His song, 'My bed is in the cold, cold ground,' convulsed the audience with laughter, and was warmly applauded, and a repetition was demanded." After school he continued his involvement and he regularly sang solos at events in Nelson and, while he was living there, in Timaru.

Houlker was Nelson College Head Boy in his last year at school, which was 1900. On leaving school he was employed as a clerk with the lawyer Andrew Thomas Maginnity and continued to study through Canterbury University College, completing his BA in 1902. While in Nelson he was active in reviving the Nelson College Old Boys' Association and a territorial Cycle Corps, being elected Second Lieutenant in April 1902.

He was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court by the Chief Justice on 13 March 1904 on the motion of his employer, Andrew Maginnity. The Chief Justice is reported as having expressed his pleasure "at seeing young men taking university degrees before applying for admission". (Colonist, 14 March 1904). 

Houlker completed his LLB at the end of 1903 and was capped in Christchurch in June 1904. He left Nelson for Timaru in early 1905, where he was employed with the law firm Perry, Perry and Kinnerney. He appeared in the Magistrate's Court and quickly becoming involved in social and sporting activities there, including membership of the Highfield Golf Club, the Timaru Tennis Club, and the territorial organisation Timaru Rifles, where he was a Lieutenant. He was in demand as a singer at church gatherings and other social functions.

By October 1907 Houlker had returned to Nelson, to rejoin the firm of his old employer, now Maginnity and Son. He became a partner in 1910, the firm becoming Maginnity Son and Houlker. For the next seven years he was an important member of the Nelson bar, appearing regularly in the Nelson Magistrate's Court and also at times in the Supreme Court. His involvement in the territorial forces continued and by 1909 he held the rank of Captain. He continued to be active with the Nelson College Old Boys' Association, played golf with the Nelson Golf Club and was a leading light in the Nelson Savage Club, the Nelson Debating Society and the Nelson Lawn Tennis Association. Houlker was also interested in the Boy Scout movement and was a scoutmaster for many years.

He had an active interest in politics, being elected secretary and treasurer "amidst loud applause" of the newly formed Nelson branch of the New Zealand Political Reform League. His opinions were conservative and he attacked the actions of striking waterfront workers in a letter to the Nelson Evening Mail in October 1913. Houlker also presided at a Nelson election meeting for the Reform candidate in the 1914 general election.

Houlker volunteered for service upon the outbreak of the war in August 1914. By September, holding his territorial Captain's rank he had been instructed to prepare to proceed to the front. He was still in Nelson in November and appeared in a Patriotic Picture Show to mark Trafalgar Day, singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" with the audience joining in the refrain.

Maj Houlker sword and scroll


Major Houlker's sword and a scroll presented by King George V.

Houlker and a number of others were farewelled with a special Nelson College Old Boys' tea on 27 November 1914. Responding to the speeches on behalf of those who were going away he said it was a privilege to join the New Zealand forces. The Colonist reported his words: "Nelson College old boys had always shown themselves ready to take up any public duty and the most important duty a man could be called upon to perform was the defence of his country. Britain had a wonderful tradition behind it and he was sure it had a wonderful future before it. He did not think there was any chance of New Zealand, or any part of the Empire, calling for men and not getting them. The speaker said he did not regard the occasion as one for sadness, because it did not necessarily follow that because he was going away he was not coming back."

Houlker held the rank of Captain with the 3rd reinforcements of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion. He was later promoted to Major, the promotion coming through after news of his death. After training at Trentham he embarked from Wellington on 14 February 1915, arriving at Suez in Egypt on 26 March 1915. He participated in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was wounded in the shoulder early in the campaign. After being hospitalised he was pronounced recovered and returned to the frontline. Not long after he returned he was involved in the August offensive and was hit in the knee by a shell case at 10:30am on 7 August. Because of the large number of casualties he lay on the beach for two days before being taken to the hospital ship Valdivia on 9 August 1915. His leg was amputated but he was weak from loss of blood and died at 3:15pm on 10 August. He was buried at sea that evening. 

Houlker remained single throughout his life. He is remembered with a brass memorial tablet in his memory which was unveiled before a large crowd in Nelson Cathedral on 4 August 1916.

His friends also established an annual prize at Nelson College to perpetuate his memory. The James Houlker Memorial Prize was to be awarded to a student for their literary and scholastic attainments, their fondness for and success in "manly and out-door sports such as cricket and football, and in cadet work", qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy with and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness, and fellowship, and exhibition during school days of moral force of character and instinct to lead.

The Prize was renamed the Houlker Scholarship, given for general academic excellence and scholarship. It was awarded in 2018 to Oscar Lew

Sources: Colonist, 23 March 1892, page 3; Nelson Evening Mail, 16 December 1895, page 2; Colonist, 17 December 1896, page 2; Colonist, 18 August 1898, page 2; Colonist 25 October 1898, page 1; Nelson Evening Mail, 18 February 1899, page 2; Colonist, 8 April 1899, page 4; Colonist, 21 August 1899, page 2; Nelson Evening Mail, 30 September 1899, page 2; Colonist, 4 September 1900, page 2; Colonist, 22 December 1900, page 2; Evening Post, 14 April 1902, page 7; Nelson Evening Mail, 24 April 1902, page 2; Colonist, 14 July 1902, page 5; Colonist, 7 July 1903, page 2; Colonist, 14 March 1904, page 4; Press, 25 June 1904, page 5; Colonist, 22 September 1904, page 2; Colonist, 21 February 1905, page 2; Colonist, 1 March 1905, page 2; Timaru Herald, 23 May 1905, page 2; Press, 28 September 1905, page 7; Timaru Herald, 7 April 1906, page 5; Timaru Herald, 10 May 1906, page 5; Timaru Herald 26 June 1907, page 6; Nelson Evening Mail, 15 October 1907, page 2; Nelson Evening Mail, 5 April 1909, page 3; Nelson Evening Mail, 4 May 1909, page 2; Colonist, 31 July 1911, page 1; Colonist, 21 August 1911, page 4; Nelson Evening Mail, 30 January 1912, page 8; Nelson Evening Mail, 25 October 1913, page 5; Nelson Evening Mail, 31 October 1913, page 6; Colonist, 25 November 1914, page 1; Nelson Evening Mail, 26 November 1914, page 4; Colonist, 28 November 1914, page 4; Timaru Herald, 14 August 1915, page 9; Colonist, 24 February 1916, page 4; D Armstrong, T Haig, J Warren Beyond the Maungatapu: The History of the Nelson District Law Society and the Legal Profession of Nelson District 1842-2000 (Nelson District Law Society, 2005); Nelson College Newsletter, December 2013.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour.

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz.

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Last updated on the 8th November 2018