John Galt was born in High Street, Irvine on 2 May 1779, the son of a Sea Captain. The family moved to Greenock in 1789 and as an adult Galt subsequently had mixed fortunes in business in London and Canada. He died in Greenock on 11 April, 1839.
It is as an author that he is best known, however, and a number of his works are set in the west of Scotland. The Ayrshire Legatees was serialised in 1820-21. Galt wanted his novels to instruct as well as entertain and he described his works as 'theoretical history'. Novels such as The Annals of the Parish (1821), The Entail (1822), The Provost (1822) or The Member (1832) are studies of religion, politics and law in the local burghs of Scotland during the transitional late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They are concerned with the effects of change upon communities and upon the social institutions that shape those communities. One of the most celebrated of Galt's techniques is his faithful rendering of Ayrshire Scots as a vehicle for sophisticated storytelling.
John Galt never forgot Irvine and can be said to have put the old Royal Burgh on the map. There is an entry in the Town Council's Minute Book for 16 September 1825: "Baillie Fullarton mentioned that the requisite committee of the Magistrates and Council had last week conferred the Freedom of the Burgh upon John Galt Esquire now of the City of London he having made oath de fideli and paid the Stamp Duty, of which the meeting approved".
Ironically, Baillie Fullarton was the old man on whom Galt had rather unflatteringly modelled Provost Pawkie of The Provost. The Canadian town of Galt is named after him. From there in 1827, he led ox-teams to establish a new town which he named Guelph in honour of King George IV. The City of Guelph has an annual John Galt Day in honour of their founder, on the first Monday in August.
The photograph below shows Irvine Cross near to John Galt's house.
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