The son of a sea captain, John Galt was born in Irvine on 2 May 1799. The family moved to Greenock in 1789, and after leaving the Grammar School John was apprenticed to the Custom House and became a junior clerk with local merchant James Miller in 1796. Galt began to write essays and stories for local journals while pursuing his business ambitions. He moved to London in 1804 to seek his fortune, but failed to find it, and he studied law at Lincoln's Inn in 1809, then travelled in Europe for two years, becoming a friend of Lord Byron, of whom he would write the first full biography. On his return he published an account of his travels, which met with some success.
In 1813 Galt tried to set up a trading company in Gibraltar to circumvent Napoleon's embargo on British trade in Europe, but Wellington's victory in Spain made this no longer necessary. Galt returned to London, where he married Elizabeth Tilloch. In 1815 he became Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Asylum in London, and acted as a consultant in several business ventures. For some months in 1818 he lived in Glasgow, and in 1819-20 he wrote a number of school textbooks under the pseudonym "Rev. T. Clark".
Between 1820 and 1822 he wrote six novels for serialisation in Blackwood's Magazine, among them his most famous, "The Annals Of The Parish", in which elderly minister Micah Balwhidder recounts events in the imaginary Ayrshire village of Dalmailing. Galt lived briefly in Edinburgh while writing "Sir Andrew Wylie" and "The Provost" for Blackwood. Displeased with Blackwood's editorial interference in his work, he broke with him after "The Entail" and moved to another Edinburgh publisher, Oliver and Boyd, for his novel of the Covenanters, "Ringan Gilhaize" (1823). He later returned to Blackwood.
In 1824 he was appointed Secretary to the Canada Company and spent some years in Ontario, where he founded the town of Guelph in 1827. The town of Galt in Ontario is named after him. His three sons were to play prominent roles in Canadian politics, one of them later becoming a minister of Finance in the Canadian government. But a personality clash with the Governor of Ontario, Sir Peregrine Maitland, was a contributing factor in Galt being recalled from his post on a charge of negligence (possibly groundless), and imprisoned in the King's Bench Prison for a few months in 1829. It came as a crushing blow, and one of Galt's last novels, "The Member" (1832), has political corruption as its theme. He retired to Greenock, publishing his "Autobiography" in 1833 and his "Literary Life" the following year. He died on 11 April 1839. AC
Cursory Reflections on Political and Commercial Topics (1812); The Life and Administration of Cardinal Wolsey (1812); The Tragedies of Maddelen, Agamemnon, Lady Macbeth, Antonia and Clytemnestra (1812); Voyages and Travels (1812); Letters from the Levant (1813); The Life and Studies of Benjamin West (1816); The Majolo, 2 vols. (1816); The Appeal (1818); The Earthquake, 3 vols. (1820); Glenfell (1820); The Life, Studies and Works of Benjamin West (1820); Annals of the Parish (1821); The Ayrshire Legatees (1821); Sir Andrew Wylie, 3 vols. (1822); The Provost (1822); The Steam-Boat (1822); The Entail, 3 vols. (1823); The Gathering of the West (1823); Ringan Gilhaize, 3 vols. (1823); The Spaewife, 3 vols. (1823); The Bachelor's Wife (1824); Rothelan, 3 vols. (1824); The Omen (1825); The Last of the Lairds (1826); Lawrie Todd (1830); The Life of Lord Byron (1830); Southennan, 3 vols. (1830); Bogle Corbet or The Emigrants, 3 vols. (1831); The Lives of the Players (1831); The Member (1832); The Radical (1832); Stanley Buxton, 3 vols. (1832); Autobiography, 2 vols. (1833); Eben Erskine or The Traveller, 3 vols. (1833); The Ouranoulagos or The Celestial Volume (1833); Poems (1833); The Stolen Child (1833); Stories of the Study, 3 vols. (1833); Literary Life and Miscellanies, 3 vols. (1834); A Contribution to the Greenock Calamity Fund (1834); Efforts by an Invalid (1835); The Demon of Destiny And Other Poems (1839).