A stonemason and monumental sculptor, he specialised in producing monuments in freestone for
cemeteries in and around Glasgow.
He established the firm of James Leggat & Co., at 18 Saltmarket Street, Glasgow, in 1842.
Two years later, he moved to a yard at the ‘corner of Rutherglen Loan’, at 57 Rutherglen Loan,
and in 1851, he moved again to 70 Rose Street, where he is listed in the PODs
as a builder.
His monuments were often large-scale and sculptural, their design including figures carved in
high relief, books, sailing ships and other objects and ornament.
Good examples of his work include the monuments to Rev Alexander Harvey in Sighthill Cemetery,
a colossal obelisk which has a niche filled with a sarcophagus, shroud and book (1843); and the family
of John Marshall in the Southern Necropolis, which features a mourning female and child, together with
a small casket carved with their lair number: 201 (c. 1875).
Another fine work in Sighthill Cemetery is the monument to the mariner William MacLeod, which
features a high-relief group of a seated, mourning woman with an angel standing behind her holding an
anchor and pointing heavenwards. A deft touch on the monument is the delicately carved four masted sailing
ship on the pedestal below the figures.
Leggat's work outside Glasgow includes the monuments in Paisley’s Woodside Cemetery to James Lorn
(c.1846) and Robert Kerr (1868), and other examples of his work can be found as far away
In 1853, he emigrated to Geelong in Victoria, Australia, sailing on the
Abdalla, together with his wife, Margaret, and their four children, Janet (17),
Mary (11), John (7) and Margaret (3), and quickly resumed work there as a sculptor and builder.
On 21 November 1854, he announced the opening of his new business in an advert placed in the
'Statuary, Sculpture & Monumental Work pevensey Crescent, Near Immigration Depot - James Leggat begs to
intimates that he has resumed here the business which for 15 years he so successfully carried on in
Scotland, as a sculptor and Ornamental Stone Cutter, where by strict attention and moderate
charges he hopes to merit a share of public patronage. Busts, Statues, Coats of Arms,
Capitals, Trusses, and every description of plain and ornamental work executed. J.L.
has on hand about 300 of the most chaste designs for monuments and headstones. Parties
in the country by writing may have a few sent for selection.'
His only recorded public work in Australia is the Eureka Diggers Memorial in Creswick
Street Cemetery in Ballarat, which commemorates the gold miners who died in the Eureka Uprising of 3 December
1853. A tall obelisk with a draped urn at its apex and a relief of a reclining female on its base,
the monument was donated by Leggat and erected by the people of Ballarat on 22 March 1856, and is
typical of his other cemetery monuments there and in Scotland.
A recently identified work is his sculpture group The Deil's Awa Wi the Exciseman,
inspired by the poem by Robert Burns, which also dates from this period and elevates him
to a status on par with James Thom as one of the earliest sculptors of Burns subjects. The sculpture
is identified in the Geelong Advertizer, which announced to its readers:
'We on Thursday inspected a very excellent piece of sculpture which has been executed by a
Mr. James Leggat, who resides near the Immigration Depot. The subject is of the Burns poem of the
'Exciseman', and shows his Satanic Majesty in the act of flying away with his worthy functionary.
The two figures are represented as being back to back; Satan having secured his unfortunate victim
by means of his tail, which is firmly coiled round the waist of the exciseman. The expression of
malignant pleasure in the face of the evil one, as well as the horror depicted on the face of his
prisoner, are excfeedingly well done. The devil is made playing upon the violin, which is very
cleverly executed. Taking the work altogether, it reflects great credit upon the gentleman who
has executed it, and it has taken him some five months to sculpture. The figures are cut out of
Barrabool Hills stone, and will shortly be exhibited to the public.'
This internationally important work is now believed to be lost and its existence has long since
been forgotten by Burns scholars and other historians until now, as has Leggat himself been
generally overlooked by sculpture historians in Scotland and Australia.
As well as his sculpture work, Leggat, or Leggatt, as his surname is sometimes spelled, pursued a
career as an architect and builder. In the 1860s, he moved to Melbourne, where he became a
contractor for the Victorian Railways in the 1870s.
The team at glasgowsculpture.com are grateful to Jennifer Bantow for the information on Leggat's
life and work in Australia.
- Emails from Jennifer Bantow, May 2012;
- Geelong Advertizer, April 1855;