James Benn Bradshaigh Bradshaw was born in Barton Blount, Derbyshire, England, probably on 22 September 1832, the son of Joseph Bradshaw, a clergyman, and his wife, Frances Clowes. Of James's early career little is known. He appears to have travelled widely before arriving on the Victorian goldfields, Australia, in 1855. As a miner he enjoyed considerable success, especially at Eaglehawk and New Bendigo, before joining the assay staff of the Bank of Australasia.
By April 1863 Bradshaw was in Queenstown, New Zealand, working as a metallurgist and assayer for the Union Bank of Australia and editor of the newly established Lake Wakatip Mail. In proclaiming in the first issue that it would be the paper's 'special duty to watch over all matters affecting the gold fields and the interests of miners, and also all matters regarding the settlement of land', Bradshaw indicated some of the major issues that he would pursue throughout his political career: liberal land laws, higher prices for gold, the reduction of gold duty and the establishment of a government assay office. Keenly interested in local affairs, during 1863 he was involved in the establishment of Wakatip Hospital, and was elected as a delegate to the provincial government to press Queenstown's claims for public works. In October he established his own gold-buying business in Queenstown. The following year he relinquished editorship of the Mail, and in his first political contest was defeated in the Otago Provincial Council election.
By early 1866 Bradshaw had established himself in Dunedin as a mining agent, metallurgist and mining company promoter, and that year was elected member of the House of Representatives for Goldfields Towns, which he represented until 1870. Involved in the acrimonious debate over the delegation of powers to the Otago superintendent, James Macandrew, under the 1866 Gold Fields Act, Bradshaw was appointed agent of the general government for the Otago goldfields in April 1867. He endeavoured in particular to implement the land settlement provisions of the act. However, the provincial government maintained its own goldfields administration, and on 1 November 1867 was authorised to exercise the powers established by the Gold Fields Act.
James Bradshaw was apparently at Thames during the first quartz mining boom, and on 20 April 1870, at Auckland, he married Harriette Clementina Bolton. By 1871 they had returned to Dunedin, where James became a sharebroker. He was a member of the Otago Mining Commission of 1871, and the same year was elected to the provincial council for Mount Benger. As provincial treasurer, provincial gold fields secretary and secretary for works, Bradshaw, although a keen advocate of small-farm settlement, found it necessary to sell large blocks of land to pastoral lessees in order to satisfy the province's creditors – an action which contributed significantly to his defeat in the 1873 election.
It was on the national political stage, however, that Bradshaw achieved prominence. As MHR for Waikaia from 1871 to 1875 he vigorously pursued a number of major issues relating to mining, including the establishment of a mint, the price of gold, mining taxation, and mine safety. But of greater importance were his efforts in the field of labour law reform. Responding to the growth of manufacturing in the early 1870s and revelations over working hours and conditions, and influenced by J. L. C. Richardson, a member of the Legislative Council, Bradshaw espoused the labour theory of value, argued that the struggle between capital and labour was 'an unequal contest', and insisted that the employment of women, children and young persons necessitated both trade unions and regulation of the labour market. His efforts resulted in the Employment of Females Act 1873, otherwise known as Bradshaw's Act, which regulated the hours and working conditions of women employed in factories. The passing of this measure led 'young women employed in Dunedin' to present a testimonial to Bradshaw expressing their 'most sincere and grateful thanks for your exertions happily crowned with success to secure for us and all similarly situated…a diminution of the hours of work.'
As a consistent advocate of labour market regulation, Bradshaw later served on the royal commission on the Employment of Females Acts (appointed in 1878), which concluded that the legislation steered a middle course between 'meddling legislation' and 'freedom of labour'. He was involved in securing the Saturday half-holiday, and in unsuccessful efforts to regulate shop and office workers' hours and to establish a universal eight-hour working day. He also worked in Dunedin for the creation of a trades and labour council. Bradshaw resigned from Parliament in 1875 in order to contest the Wakatipu seat in the next election, but was unsuccessful. He continued to work as a sharebroker, and served on the Otago Land Board from July 1878, taking a particular interest in allegations of dummyism following the submission and sale of Otago's pastoral leases in 1882 and 1883. He finally secured election in 1884 for the seat of Dunedin Central, which he held until his death two years later.
Described as 'a capital horseman, a good shot, an expert swordsman, and a general athlete', James Bradshaw was keenly interested in sport, especially cricket as a player and umpire. He played two matches for Otago against the first English cricket eleven to visit New Zealand, in 1864. A kindly, cheerful man, he died of a stroke at Dunedin on 1 September 1886. Harriette Bradshaw returned with their five children to England.