Born near Glasgow, he was converted as a young soldier in Ireland. He established societies in Gibraltar and Madras. A gifted linguist, he rose to the rank of sergeant and was posted to Colombo, Caylon (now Sri Lanka) as a Tamil interpreter for the Supreme Court and after discharge from the army became head of a government high school. In 1812 he was licensed to preach in Portuguese and Sinhalese and he welcomed, accompanied and interpreted for the first WM missionaries, who arrived in 1814. While remaining a strong supporter of the WM missions, he was ordained deacon in 1821 and priest in 1825 and served as chaplain of St Paul's Church, Colombo.