Was born in the West Port, Edinburgh. His father was a brewer who died when he was 10. He received little education and what he did know came from his mother or being self-taught. In his early teens he was apprenticed to a house painter in Edinburgh. Aged 20 he went to the University of Edinburgh. After graduating he turned his attention to the art of painting on glass. He quickly achieved high eminence in his field and got the contract for painting the windows of the House of Lords through a public competition and his windows are still to be seen in the kirks of Greyfriars and St. Giles. His 1845 book ‘A Treatise of Stained Glass’ became a standard work. He started writing poetry at a young age and through the popular ‘Gaberlunzie’s wallet’ became an established writer. He wrote poetry books and also a collection of his songs. He died from a "congestion of the lungs" in Warrender Lodge, Meadows, Edinburgh.