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Thomas Muir, 1765-1799

Early life

Thomas MuirThomas 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

The life and trial of Thomas Muir Esq.One 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.

Next: Glasgow Weavers' strike, 1787

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Updated: 09/01/2006 | Site editor | Legal