Thomas Muir (radical)
Thomas Muir (25 August 1765 – 26 January 1799) was a Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...
Muir was the son of James Muir, a hop merchant, and was educated at Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...
Grammar School, before attending the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...
to study divinity
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...
. He changed his studies though and began the study of sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...
attending many of the classes of John Millar.
Millar was an advocate of parliamentary reform and a republican also. He had a profound influence on Muir who came to hold similar views. Muir was expelled from the university for trying to have John Anderson
John H. D. Anderson
John Anderson was a Scottish natural philosopherand liberal educator at the forefront of the application of science to technology in the industrial revolution, and of the education and advancement of working men and women....
reinstated as a member of staff. Millar assisted Muir in enrolling at the University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a public research university located in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university...
, and in 1792 he joined the Faculty of Advocates
Faculty of Advocates
The Faculty of Advocates is an independent body of lawyers who have been admitted to practise as advocates before the courts of Scotland, especially the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary...
as a qualified lawyer.
Muir represented many poor clients who couldn't afford legal fees and became a critic of the legal system which he felt was skewed in favour of the rich at the expense of the poor.
About the time of the French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...
the Friends of the People Society
Friends of the People Society
The Society of the Friends of the People was formed in Great Britain by Whigs at the end of the 18th century as part of a movement seeking radical political reform that would widen electoral enfranchisement at a time when only a wealthy minority had the vote...
was established, and Muir became a member. He became a leading figure as he tried to organise a nationwide convention of Friends of the People societies to co-ordinate the pressure for parliamentary reform.
Muir was arrested and charged with sedition in 1793. Released on bail, Muir was dispatched by the Friends of the People leaders to join Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
in an attempt to curb the violence of the revolutionaries there, and to stop the execution of Louis XVI
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed in 1793....
. He decided to return to Scotland against the advice of the French and his own father. He landed in Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...
where he was made an honorary member of the United Irishmen. He then headed on to Scotland where he was recognised and given up to the authorities. He was then tried for sedition and found guilty. He was sentenced to 14 years' transportation along with other radical leaders.
The transportees (which included Thomas Fyshe Palmer
Thomas Fyshe Palmer
Thomas Fyshe Palmer was an English-born Unitarian minister, political reformer and political exile.-Early life:Palmer was born in Ickwell, Bedfordshire, England, the son of Henry Fyshe who assumed the added name of Palmer because of an inheritance, and Elizabeth, daughter of James Ingram of...
) arrived in Botany Bay
Botany Bay is a bay in Sydney, New South Wales, a few kilometres south of the Sydney central business district. The Cooks River and the Georges River are the two major tributaries that flow into the bay...
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...
, in October 1794. However, the Americans (who had not long been independent of Britain at this stage) heard of Muir and despatched a rescue ship. Muir was rescued and landed on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a large island in British Columbia, Canada. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, the British Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest coast of North America between 1791 and 1794...
, where he was captured by the Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...
. On the trip back to Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...
the ship he was on was attacked by the Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...
, and Muir sustained serious injuries which many felt he would die from. However he pulled through and the French organised his release from the Spanish.
Muir arrived in Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...
in November, 1797 and from there he moved on to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
to join Paine with whom he would continue to agitate for parliamentary reform. At this time the radical activity in Scotland had moved on from the hands of the Friends of the People to that of the United Scotsmen who had plans to establish a provisional Scottish government with Muir as president. However, their activities were quelled and the plan never came to fruition.
Muir never recovered from the injuries he received while in Spanish custody and he died on 26 January 1799. He was the first foreigner to be given citizenship of France. Muir was a man of noble character and ideals, who had the misfortune to be tried before a hostile jury and bench of judges at a time of popular excitement. Lord Cockburn begins his account of his trial with the words: "This is one of the cases the memory whereof never perisheth. History cannot let its injustice alone" (An Examination of the Trials for Sedition). The only mitigating circumstances were that Muir was able to engage a cabin on his way to Australia, and that while there he was able to live quietly in retirement and was not treated as a convict.
HonoursA school in Bishopbriggs
Bishopbriggs is a town in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland. The area was once part of the historic parish of Cadder - originally lands granted by King William the Lion to the Bishop of Glasgow, Jocelin, in 1180. It was later part of the county of Lanarkshire and subsequently an independent burgh from...
, the Thomas Muir High School which opened in 1975, was named after him. It was merged with another school in 2003 to form Bishopbriggs Academy
Bishopbriggs Academy is a secondary school in the town of Bishopbriggs, in the district of East Dunbartonshire. Bishopbriggs Academy is a non-denominational, co-educational, comprehensive school taking pupils from S1 to S6...