James Richard Canaway was baptized at St John's Church, Portsea on 28 December 1819. He was the son of James and Catherine (nee Gardner), and entered a family well represented in Portsmouth and Gosport.
He is first recorded in Southampton in January 1843, having moved to the town to work on the Hampshire Advertiser, a newspaper in the Tory cause. He soon became a reporter on the Hampshire Independent, a rival Liberal paper edited by Thomas Lawrence Behan. In an internal reorganisation following the resignation of William Brooks in 1845, Canaway became publisher and printer. He lost his position in the Independent in late 1851 when Jacob Jacob bought into the paper and became publisher.
Canaway set up as a printer in his own right when he acquired the sub-lease, from Southampton Polytechnic Institution, of the large printing office at 17 Hanover Buildings. Leaving the town in the late 1850s, Canaway was appointed second clerk in the London Gazette office on 19 November 1859 by the editor T. L. Behan. A working relationship forged over a decade earlier was thus restored. He was appointed chief clerk on 11 October 1861, a post held until his death on 11 August 1868, aged 48, in Hackney. He was survived by Mary Jane Canaway, his wife of only six years whom he had married in London in 1862.
James Richard Canaway was unmarried whilst he was in Southampton. The 1851 census finds him at 10 Hamilton Terrace, described as a master printer with his widowed mother Kate, elder sister Anne, cousin William (a printer-journeyman, although one year older than his master) and Victoria Gardiner, a 12-year old visitor clearly part of the extended Canaway connections. He had a peripatetic life in Southampton, listed at five separate addresses between 1843 and 1855: 1 Clifton Terrace (1843), 1 Victoria Terrace in Compton's Walk (1844/47), 5 Milford Place in Four Posts (1849), 10 Hamilton Terrace (1851) and 30 Bugle Street (1853/55). His mother died at the last named in April 1853.
Canaway was politically active in the Liberal cause both during and after his connection with the Independent, being used as a printer by the Liberal candidates Sir Alexander Cockburn and Brodie McGeeWillcox in the 1852 election. He became a director of the Southampton and South Hants Equitable Benefit Building and Investment Society, established in 1847 largely as an investment vehicle for Southampton Liberals.
Away from politics, Canaway was a member of the Phonographic Corresponding Society, established by Isaac Pitman "to diffuse information on the nature and advantages of phonetic writing and printing, and for correcting the lessons of phonographic pupils through the post gratuitously".
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