James Mayn Leigh was born in Penzance, Cornwall and arrived in Sydney on the China as a Bounty Immigrant in 1841, aged 21. On arriving in Sydney he worked for Hugh Dixson, tobacconist. In 1848 he married Maria Catherine McKaeg at Scots Presbyterian Church.
In December 1849 Leigh began trading as a tobacconist at 524 George Street East, Sydney. He moved to number 137 in 1854 and added wine retailing to his business. His tokens have the 524 address on them, so they must have been struck between 1851 and 1854. When the street was re-numbered in 1858 his address became 282/284 George Street, possibly indicating that Leigh had enlarged his store in the same year. Leigh's was still trading at the same address in 1861.
In 1861 Leigh formed a partnership with John Watkins and established a wholesale grocers, tobacconists and wine merchants at 422 George Street under the name of Watkins and Leigh. The business at 284 George Street continued as J.M. Leigh and Co. In the May 1861 editions of the Sydney Morning Herald, he advised 'Wholesale Buyers' that 'The undersigned have REDUCED the wholesale prices of tobacco and cigars - J.M. Leigh & Co.' The business was listed at the same address until 1865.
Leigh was honorary treasurer of the Intercolonial Cricket Match Committee and was a committee member of the NSW Rifle Association. In 1862 he was a director of the Pacific Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Pitt Street, Sydney and in 1863 he became a member of the provisional committee for the Sydney Gas Company. In 1864 he was elected as chairman of the committee for the All-England Eleven cricket tour to be held in March 1865.
The Leighs moved permanently to England in 1867 and by 1870 Leigh was advertising in London newspapers as an importer of Australian wines under the name of Leigh & Apps, 37 Walbrook, London and later at 150 Fenchurch Street. James and his wife moved to Dublin, Ireland where he died in 1875. Maria died there in 1881.
May, T (1988). 'Tokens of George Street,' in 'Australian Numismatist', (Special Bicentennial Edition), pp. 21-36.
Samson's National Directory of New South Wales for 1867-1868.
Sydney Directories in the State Library of Victoria collection, 1851-1870.
Advertisement. Sydney Morning Herald. 17 May 1861. p.6.