The son of John Hamilton, the manager of the St. Rollox Chemical Works, James Hamilton was apprenticed to Alexander Kirkland in the late 1840s, during which time he designed several monuments for the Necropolis.
The most important of these were the monuments to John Henry Alexander, carved by
A H Ritchie
(1851) and the bookseller David Robertson, carved by Clubb & McLean (1856).
As Kirklandís chief designer he was also responsible for designing the Venetian-style Bothwell Circus, Bothwell Street (1854) and Tillie & Hendersonís warehouse, 37-51 Miller Street (1854).
Winning the competition for the Ulster Bank, Belfast (1857), he established his own practices there and in Glasgow, the former run for a time by Frank Stirrat, 1863-6, the latter in conjunction with James Sellars, 1864-7.
Hamiltonís architectural work includes branches of the Ulster Bank in Sligo and Trim; villas in and around Rothesay; a warehouse at the corner of Watson Street and Gallowgate, Glasgow (c.1870); St. Rollox U.P. Church, Glasgow (1892) and Shawlands Academy, Glasgow (1893).
His best known work in Glasgow is the colossal Aitken of Dalmoak Mausoleum in the Necropolis (1875). The largest mausoleum in the Necropolis, it is now badly vandalised, the angel above its entrance having been decapitated, and its ornate iron grates smashed.
A similar fate has befallen his John Henry Alexander Monument, which has lost the heads of its many cherubs and its statue of Comedy, whilst its figure of Tragedy has completely disappeared.
In 1877, Hamilton entered into partnership with his son, John (1851-1935), as James Hamilton & Son, but this ended after a disagreement in 1884.
Resuming the partnership briefly a decade later, it again came to an abrupt end with James Hamiltonís death at his home, Neilís Cottage, Millport, on 26th June 1894. Thereafter, the firm continued under his son and grandson, Arthur Donaldson Hamilton (1882-1917), and later, John G. Hamilton.