George John Durham was born 12 May 1820 in Norwich, England. He was one of about six or seven children, and possibly only two sons, born to William Durham (d. 1859) and Ester/Easter Bloomfield (d. 1868). Ester and the children (namely Ann, William, Mary, George, Ester, and Elizabeth) left from London and arrived at the port of New York as steerage passengers on the ship Sovereign in September 1833. The father William, possibly after tying up loose ends in England, arrived on the ship York about a month later. [New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957]
The Durham family likely settled in either New York or New Jersey, but moved to Texas by 1837. According to a biographical sketch by Charles Durham Gouldie at Handbook of Texas Online, George John Durham became chief clerk in the comptroller's office at Houston, Harris County the next year. He next moved to Austin, Travis County with the government in 1839. Mr. Gouldie adds, "Durham was in Austin when surveyors laid out the site for the new capital in 1839 and purchased twenty-eight of the original lots." In Austin is where George would spend the rest of his days.
Two or three days before Christmas 1852, at Washington County, George married Cassandra Lincecum (d. 1877). The couple might have met through Cassandra's father. Following from Lois Burkhalter's 1965 biography of Gideon Lincecum (1793-1874):
Cassandra, the third daughter, was married to George J. Durham, an Englishman of Austin, Texas…This marriage pleased Gideon. He and Durham had been drawn together through mutual interest in ornithology and grape culture and were friends before Durham met Cassandra.
Regarding George's political career in Texas, Ms. Burkhalter writes:
Durham holds something of a record in Texas history, having held a political job during the administration of every president and governor until after the Civil War. He was mayor of Austin in 1852…Document of expenditures of the Eighth Legislative session are signed by Durham as chief clerk and acting comptroller…He was one of the signers of the petition for a people's secession convention.
Mr. Gouldie picks up for this time period:
George served for a short time as an orderly sergeant in the Confederate Army, but was recalled to act as state war-tax collector. In 1865, after the break-up of the Confederacy, he successfully resisted armed men who tried to remove funds from the comptroller's office. George ran for state treasurer in 1866, but was defeated.
George attested to the following, per his application for Presidential pardon dated 24 August 1865 (via Fold3):
...He [George] would further respectfully state, that he is 45 years of age, is a man of family, of limited means of support and has been a resident of this city and state, for 26 and 27 years respectively, and has always endeavored to discharge his duty as a good and law abiding citizen of the governments under which he has lived, and has never been guilty of a crime or misdemeanor...
Typhoid fever caused George John Durham's death on 10 April 1869. He was buried the next day in Oakwood Cemetery at Austin, the city he served for so many years.
Several obituaries and expressions of sorrow were published in newspapers after George's death. Here's one:
Tri-Weekly State Gazette (Austin, Texas)
Monday, 12 April 1869 - pg. 2 [via GenealogyBank]
Death of George J. Durham.
We constituted one of a large concourse of mourners, who on yesterday accompanied the mortal remains of George J. Durham to their last resting place in our city cemetery. His disease was typhoid fever, and after a painful illness of four weeks, he departed this life on the 10th instant, at one o'clock, p.m., at is family residence in this city. As Mr. Durham was among the oldest and most prominent of our citizens, and was also held in high estimation by Texans in every quarter of the State, we deem it not inappropriate, in announcing his death, to give a short sketch of his life. At our request, a friend of the deceased has furnished us with the brief outline that follows. We need hardly add, that not only we, but every person in this community whose opinion is valuable will heartily endorse its praise of our deceased friend.
He was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England, on the 12th of May, 1820, and was at the time of his death in his forty-ninth year. His family removed from England to the United States in the year 1835, and after living a short time in the State of New Jersey, removed to the State of Texas, when he was in his seventeenth year; and hence, having lived here from his youth, he knew no other country. He was devoted to Texas, and always served her with a willing heart. In 1838, he became connected, as clerk, with the government department of the republic at Houston; and from that date, for more than twenty-five years -- the best years, the flower of his life -- he was uninterruptedly in the service of the government. In October, 1839, when the archives were removed from Houston to Austin, the new seat of government, he accompanied them to this city. In 1842, he was one of the participants in the "Archive War," so famous in the history of our growing city. From 1839 up to annexation, he shared, in common with the other frontier settlers, (many of whom, like him, we mourn, have been gathered to their fathers,) the excitement and dangers attending a frontier life, and was frequently out on the border, engaged in Indian scouts.
After annexation, owing to his well known probity, his good business habits and his familiarity with the internal affairs of the government, he was appointed by James B. Shaw, Comptroller, chief clerk in that office; and during his term of service, as well as during the term of his successor, our worthy fellow-citizen, the Hon. Clement R. Johns, he held the same position, and for many years had the almost entire control of the Tax Bureau of the State. In his office, he was prompt, courteous, and obliging; and, during his whole course of public service, invariably secured and enjoyed the fullest confidence of those with whom his official duties brought him in contact.
During the late civil war, he ardently espoused the cause of the Confederate States, and was appointed, without solicitation, by the government, collector of war tax for the State of Texas. The duties of this office, he discharged ably and honestly, up to the time of the downfall of the Confederacy. Upon the surrender he stubbornly and manfully refused to deliver the gold and silver in his hands, at the demand of robbers and murderers, who were then here to plunder the State Treasury. Neither threats or the display of deadly weapons could deter him from treading what he believed the path of duty and of honor. He held, that on the surrender, the funds in his possession, lawfully passed to the victor, and were subject to his control, and he accordingly, with the assistance of his friends, guarded the funds faithfully, until the arrival of the United States authorities, when he turned them over to persons authorized to receive, and took an honorable acquittance in full. On more than one occasion during the absence of Mr. Shaw and Maj. Johns, the duties under the law of Comptroller devolved on him, as Chief Clerk. These duties he always discharged in the most satisfactory manner, and showed himself fully equal to the discharge of all the duties of that honorable office, and responsible position. Since the close of the civil war, he held in 1866 and part of 1867, the post of Secretary to the Auditorial Board, created by the Act of 1866, for the adjustment of the public debt of Texas. Without intending in the slightest degree to detract from the acknowledged merits of the able members of that Board, it is but due to the deceased to say, that such was his aptitude for business -- his industry -- his thorough acquaintance with the fiscal affairs, both of the late Republic and State, and above all such was the conspicuous integrity of the man, that he very greatly lightened, if he did not entirely relieve the gentlemen, composing the Board, of the most difficult portion of their labors. In fact, during his whole life, he brought to the discharge of all his public duties, such punctuality, order and industry, sustained and aided by an unblemished reputation, as a thoroughly honest man in the broadest acception of the term, that his name was almost proverbial throughout the State for honesty. He served his country well, for more than a quarter of a century. He never enriched himself at the public expense. Texas may be well and greatly proud of such a citizen, and she should write upon his tomb the inscription "Well done, thou good and faithful public servant." The crown of ivy, the laurel wreath, the golden medal, the marble column, pointing heavenward, have been bestowed by gratful [sic] States on men possessing less public and private virtue, than the deceased.
It is not alone however on account of his long and interesting connexion with the early and late history of the Republic and State, that Mr. Durham deserves to be held in honorable remembrance. He was eminantly a useful citizen. He had not only a fine practical but also a scientific acquaintance with that branch of farming, known as Horticulture, and was exceedingly fond of the garden, an occupation to the honor and praise of which Lord Bacon has devoted one of the most immortal of his essays. His love of flowers was as natural and sincere as that of a child or poet. He also devoted considerable attention to the culture of fruits, and his articles "on the grape in Texas" in Richardson's Texas Almanac for 1867, and on the Golden Chasselay and its culture, in the same work for 1869, though necessarily too brief to exhaust the subject, contain many valuable observations on that interesting topic, and show thoroughly he had studied it, in connection with the peculiarities of the soil and climate in Texas.
Mr. Durham is also entitled to honorable mention in the history of our State, on account of his studies of its natural history, more especially in the department of Ornithology, he was very familiar with this science, and of that special branch of it, which treats of the interesting winged fauna of our own State, he was a master. As to these latter, by close observation, extending through a series of years, he was enabled to correct a number of errors into which his brother naturalists had fallen, and to make more than one original contribution to the stock of scientific knowledge on this subject. Through the medium of correspondence, he had made the acquaintance of a number of celebrated naturalists. In August 1867, as a well deserved compliment to his scientific researches in this field, he was unanimously elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia. Of this body Dr. Hays, whose name with that of the lamented Dr. Kane, is imperishably connected with the subject of the Artic explorations, is the President. This recognition of the value of his labors was as gratifying as unlooked for and unexpected. The intelligence of this high honor conferred was conveyed to him in the most complimentary terms in an autographic letter from the celebrated naturalist, Mr. Cassin, whose recent death, the cause of natural science has much to deplore. He was also an occasional correspondent of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington, and, shortly before his death, had commenced, through the kindness of our highly esteemed fellow-citizen Mr. Swante Palm, an interesting correspondence with the famous Sweedish [sic] Savant Gillegeburg, the most emminent Ornithologist of the present day. The deceased was esteemed by such men as Cassin, Professor Baird and others, whose names are highly honored, and was looked upon by them as a genuine devotee of science.
During his whole life he was at all times devotedly fond of field sports. It amounted to a passion with him. Good naturedly, skillfully and sensibly, would he defend his favorite pastime, from the attacks of the Benthamites and the Utilitarians when one of them would, with the air of a man who is stating an unanswerable proposition, propound to him their stereotyped conundrum "Cui bono."
In that special branch of the "noble Art of Venerie" known technically as "shooting," embracing all game, shot habitually on the wing, and in the pursuit of which your companion is the pointer, the setter, and the retriever, in contradistinction to the fox hound, grey hound, terrier, &c., he was an expert, and had few, if any, superiors in the United States. His articles on "Game in Texas," contributed to the Texas Almanac for 1868 and 1869, are full of information. Under the nom de plume of "De Los Llanos," he, during last fall, contributed a series of sprightly and agreeable sketches to the London Field, on "Shooting in Western Texas." These articles show him to be a through master of the subject -- but they show more; they are written with great animation and spirit, and are very creditable as mere literary performances. The London Field is under the editorial control of the famous sporting authority, "Stonepenge," (Dr. Walsh.) It is the recognized portion of the great British sporting public, and its standard of excellence is so elevated and its audience so select and intelligent, that it was no mean compliment to Mr. Durham that his contributions were always welcome to its columns.
At the time of his death he was holding the post of confidential book keeper to the banking house of Raymond & Whitis, of this city. The highly respected head of that house and Mr. Durham grew up together in Texas, and the death of the latter alone (nothing else could) has terminated a friendship which has lasted through sunshine and through storm for thirty years. The old Texans are passing away, and we, who are to fill their places, do not seem to be better men. May we so live that when we come to die we may do so in honor, and as peacefully as they.
Mr. Durham leaves a wife and four children to mourn the loss of their chief support, removed from them by the stern hand of death, while he was yet in the meridian of his days. His sorrow stricken wife and bereaved children have the heartfelt sympathies of our entire community. He, however, leaves a name honored and respected among men, and his children may well be proud to bear it.
In his untimely death our immediate community loses one of the most respected and public spirited of its citizens.
Take all mistakes as good wishes.