scene-painter and merchant, arrived at Fremantle on 13 February 1830 on board the Egyptian with his first wife, Elizabeth, née Viner, four of their eight children and several servants, having previously lived in South Africa and Victoria. Primarily a merchant, Purkis also farmed a 4666-acre land grant in Western Australia. In 1839 he painted the scenery for Love ? la Militaire , performed at Leeder’s Hotel and said to be the first theatrical presentation in Western Australia. The Perth Gazette reported on 13 July that Purkis’s scenery was 'extremely effective, and as the scenes were severally displayed to the audience during the progress of the piece, the productions of the artist were warmly applauded’.
He visited England in 1843, returning in the Unicorn in August 1844. Elizabeth Purkis died on 18 July 1849 and on 8 November 1851 James married Mary Ann from Nottingham, England, widow of George Martin. Purkis’s death in Perth on 4 December 1853 apparently left Mary Ann poorly provided for; by 1862 she was keeping a boarding-house.