James Edward obtained the degrees Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Master of Arts (MA) at the University of Edinburgh, though he may have studied also at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. By 1885 he was a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. After some time as assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh he was appointed professor (or associate professor) of mathematics and mathematical physics at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, on 1 August 1887. The vacancy was created by the departure of professor William Thomson*. That same year the University of the Cape of Good Hope admitted him to the MA degree on the basis of his MA from the University of Edinburgh. Edward remained for less that a year, however, leaving at the end of June 1888. Professor Thomson then returned to take up the post again.
Edward's only known scientific publication is a note on a geometrical problem in the Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathmatical Society (1884, Vol. 2, pp. 5-6).