Thomas Muir, 1765-1799
Muir was born and lived at a place called Huntershill, a district
just to the north of Glasgow. The house still stands surrounded
by it's gardens and trees. Thomas was born into a wealthy home. He
studied law at Glasgow University but left on a point of honour
in 1780 and completed his studies at Edinburgh University eventually
having a law practice in Glasgow. He was however drawn to the reform
movements that had developed all over Scotland. The reform movements
had gathered momentum with the events in France at that time. Thomas
Muir had connections with numerous reform societies throughout Scotland;
in 1792 with William Skirving he helped to set up Scottish Reform
Clubs, the membership open to every class. He wrote many pamphlets
and spoke at a considerable number of meetings. He was an open and
ardent supporter of radical political reform at a time when the
authorities were becoming ever more nervous and repressive due to
the events in France.
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Arrest and banishment
year later, after presenting a nationalistic address to the Scottish
Reform Movement General Convention, on behalf of United Irishmen.
Thomas Muir was arrested and charged with sedition. His trial date,
which took place in Edinburgh, was brought forward by several months
while he was visiting France. Unable to get travelling arrangements
in time, his non attendance made him an outlaw. He was found guilty
of, '...having created disaffection by means of seditious speeches'.
He returned to Scotland in August 1793 and was sentenced to be banished
to Botany Bay for 14 years. However, George Washington heard of his
sentence and sent the USS Otter to rescue him and take him to the
new Republic of America. His escape was made good in 1796, however
the USS Otter, on its way home was wrecked off Panama. Thomas Muir
was then arrested by the Spanish and taken to Havana where he was
deemed to be a spy and shipped back to Spain. On the way back to
Spain they encountered three British ships and a battle ensued in
which Thomas Muir lost an eye. The Spanish released him in 1797
whereupon he made his way to France. He was made a French citizen
and died at Chantilly in 1799.
The speech that Thomas Muir made at his trial in Edinburgh was
considered such a wonderful piece of English that it was published
as an English text to be used in English exams in schools of some
States in America until 1860. In 1844 a monument was erected to
him in Edinburgh.
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