James Paget was born towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars which was the period of his father's greatest affluence. The years after the Wars saw a period of prosperity and economic expansion in Britain from which Samuel Paget was able to profit. Owing to his father's wealth, James like his siblings, enjoyed a privileged upbringing. In common with his brothers he attended a private school in Queens Street, Great Yarmouth run by a Mr Bowles. The standard of the education offered at this school was such that it prepared its pupils for further education in the great public schools of England. Indeed James' three elder brother went to Charterhouse. However by the times James was of an age to move to such a school his father's businesses were becoming less profitable so there was not the money to send him to Charterhouse or anywhere else for that matter.
When James left school he initially showed interest in pursuing a naval career. It was however decided that he should take up a career in medicine. In 1830 when he left school, aged sixteen, James was apprenticed to local surgeon, apothecary and family doctor Charles Costerton for a period of five years. Being apprenticed to country doctor meant James' training was varied and wide ranging. He had to learn how to make and dispense medicines as this was a time when medical practitioners created their own remedies, pills and potions. He was able to observe surgical proceedures and the post-operative care of patients whilst assisting Dr Costerton and other surgeons in Great Yarmouth. During this period James came to realise the importance of careful observation of treatments and their effects. During his apprenticeship James read widely to increase his knowledge of medical science. Medical text books and issues of 'The Lancet' being a prime source of information.
From an early age James had an interest in botany and during the course of his apprenticeship he had made a comprehensive collection of the flora of the Great Yarmouth district including the seaweeds washed up there. He collected at any free moments during the day. He had given so much time to his botany that one old lady of Great Yarmouth who had observed his collecting activities was moved to say that he walked about too much to be a student of medicine! During these years, James also meticulously collated the records of other local collectors of flora and fauna from the Great Yarmouth area.
Along with his brother Charles, who was interested in entymology, he came to realise that this presented a golden opportunity for them not only to make their début as scientific authors, but also to make some money to aid their ailing family fortunes by publishing all their records in book form. So the Paget brothers set to work on a manuscript. They began with an outline of the study area, its habitats and the groups of organisms included in the book and followed this with a systematic catalogue of species and their known localities for which Charles had written the section on insects.
Before James departed for London and St Bartholemews Hospital in 1830 the responsibility for the books publication transferred entirely to Charles. The book's publication occurred in 1834 and was named A Sketch of the Natural History of Great Yarmouth and its Neighbourhood, containing Catalogues of the Species of Animals, Birds, Reptiles, Fish, Insects and Plants, at present known.