James A. Woodburn worked as a mining engineer at various places in southern Africa during the first quarter of the twentieth century. By 1897 he was a member of the Geological Society of South Africa and two years later worked in Pilgrim's Rest, but his membership lapsed during or shortly after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). In 1901/2 he was in Umtali (now Mutare, Zimbabwe), where he addressed the Umtali section of the Rhodesia Scientific Association on "Mining". In 1911 he resided in Messina, where he was a justice of the peace (an unpaid lay magistrate). He became a member of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa in 1904 and was its president for 1928-1929. His publications included papers on "The working of a wide gold quartz reef in soft ground" (Transactions of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, 1904); "Mining copper ores at Messina" (Journal of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa, 1913 and also published as a pamphlet in London, 1913, 11p); "Notes on fan ventilation in deep mines" (Ibid, 1923); and "Report on Doornhoek Platinum Mines, Limited" (South African Mining and Engineering Journal, 1925).
Woodburn was married to Mary Hutton, who died in 1949. They had one surviving son. He spent the last years of his life at Eastbourne, England.