He was born in on 22 January 1842 in Stockton-on-the-Forest, North Yorkshire, the son of the Rev. James Waldby Holmes (1815-1878) and his wife Ann Elizabeth (née White), and was baptised on 27 February 1842 at Holy Trinity Church, Stockton-on-the-Forest.
He published a collection of poetry entitled "Musings in Verse" in 1874.
In 1879 he became the Vicar of New Mill following his father's death on 14 December 1878.
He married Anne Trotter (1836-1916), the daughter of Edward and Ellen Trotter, on 19 June 1884 at Christ Church, New Mill. The bride's brother, Rev. Herbert Edward Trotter, performed the ceremony.
Regarded as a "one of the most popular evangelical preachers" in the district, his Sunday afternoon "Talks to Men" had attracted large congregations. He was a proponent of exercise and held a special services for the cyclists of the district, for which he even composed a special hymn which began with the words "Forward to God's temple, brothers of the wheel."
On the evening of Whit-Sunday 1893, he suffered a fall at Lockwood Station after a busy day of preaching. His health had been in decline and he was being treated for heart disease.
On the afternoon of 22 July 1893, he left the vicarage to attend to the parish registers. When he failed to return home, Anne went to the church and found her husband unconscious or already dead in his chair in the vestry, having apparently suffered a heart attack. By the time her brother, Dr. Frederick Trotter, arrived, it was too late.
He was buried in the family vault underneath the east end window of the Parish Church at New Mill.
Following a subscription, funds were raised for a memorial stained glass window, which was installed at the north-east corner of the church and unveiled at a ceremony in August 1894. An inscription underneath read, "In Memoriam. Baptist James Holmes, Master of Arts, 14 years vicar of this parish."