After opening his draper’s store opposite St Giles’ Cathedral, he became a councillor in 1833, assuming the role of Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1851 to 1854. During his Provostship he devoted his time to making it easier for poorer citizens to enjoy public buildings and parks and to imposing restrictions on the availability of alcohol, which was destroying family lives at the time.
He went on to become an MP in 1865 and was seen as a radical in political terms, being instrumental in the repeal of the Corn Laws. He was such a supporter of Scottish issues that he became known as The Member for Scotland.
Widowed twice, he married Grant Aitken in 1829, then Christina Gordon Renton in 1836 and thirdly, Priscilla Bright, in 1848. Between them they had eight children.
He lived at Newington House, in Mayfield, and streets named after his family, friends and places he visited include Mentone Gardens, Ventnor Terrace (Mentone is a town in southern France which was used as a resort by the family, as was Ventnor in the Isle of Wight where his wife and children went for their health) and Bright’s Crescent. McLaren Road in the same area is also named in his honour.
He died on April 26 1886, aged 86, just five years after resigning as an MP.