James Montgomery (1771 – 1854), Irvine-born poet who wrote anti-slavery epic ‘The West Indies’.

James Montgomery Bust at Irvine Townhouse

On the 4th of November, 1771 the Christian poet James Montgomery was born in Irvine. He was born in a one-storey house in Braid Close off of the Halfway. His Irish parents had moved to Scotland to take charge of the Moravian Brethren Church. When he was 6 he and his younger brother Ignatius were sent to the Moravian Seminary in Fulneck, near Leeds to continue their education while their parents went as missionaries to the Island of Barbados.  When he was 16 he began work as a baker but he was also writing poetry while he could.  

He then went to work in the ‘Sheffield Register’ newspaper where he worked his way up to becoming an editor.  He continued with his poetry and started hymn writing of which he eventually wrote over 400.   

In 1794 Montgomery and his ‘sleeping partner’ Benjamin Naylor purchased the “Sheffield Register” newspaper and renamed it the “Sheffield Iris” whose first edition was published on 04 July 1794.   On 22 January 1795 he was found guilty of libel and sentenced to three months imprisonment in the Castle of York.  On 03 July 1795 the partnership between Montgomery and Naylor was dissolved.  In 1797 Montgomery published a volume of poems entitled ‘Prison Amusements’. 

Following the abolition of slavery in 1807 he wrote an epic anti-slavery poem entitled “The West Indies” published in 1809 which was an immediate success.  In 1825 he sold the ‘Sheffield Iris’ newspaper to John Blackwell.  The last edition published by Montgomery was on 27 September 1825. 

He returned to Irvine for a visit at the age of seventy and was presented with the freedom of the Burgh.  He died at the Mount, Sheffield on 30 April 1854 aged 83 and is buried in Sheffield Cemetery. 

His marble bust resides on the reception desk in the Townhouse and overlooks the Montgomery Gallery. Montgomery Street at the Harbourside is named after him too.