Thomas Muir became involved in a conflict with the Principal
of Glasgow University when he organised a petition against the
suspension of Professor John Anderson. As a result of his campaign
to have Anderson reinstated, Muir was expelled from the university.
With the help of Millar, Muir finished his studies at Edinburgh
University and entered the Faculty of Advocates in 1787.
developed a reputation as a lawyer who was willing to appear
in court on behalf of poor clients who could not afford to pay
a fee. He also became a fierce critic of a legal system that
he believed was biased in favour of the rich.
Revolution in 1789 inspired supporters of parliamentary reform
all over Britain. Young members of the Whigs in London formed
the Society of the Friends of the People in April 1792. Groups
were soon formed in other parts of Britain and on 26th July
1792, Thomas Muir and William Skirving established the Scottish
Association of the Friends of the People. Branches were formed
in Perth, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh. By November there were
eighty-seven branches of the Society of Friends in Britain.
Thomas Muir now began to organize a General Convention of these
Societies in order to develop a strategy for the achievement
of parliamentary reform.
government became concerned about Thomas Muir and a spy was
recruited to gather information about his political activities.
After the spy had gathered what was considered enough evidence,
Thomas Muir was arrested on 2nd January, 1793, and charged with
sedition. After being interrogated for several hours he was
released on bail.
travelled to London where he had talks with the leaders of the
Friends of the People. The leaders of the movement were concerned
about the violence taking place in France. Muir agreed to go
to France and join Tom Paine in his attempts to persuade the
leaders of the revolution to abandon the plan to execute Louis
unsuccessful and after having talks with the Girondist leaders,
he returned to Scotland on 23rd August. The following day Muir
was arrested and after being imprisoned in Edinburgh was tried
for sedition before Lord Braxfield and a hand-picked jury of
anti-reformers. Muir was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen
years' transportation. Afraid that Scottish reformers would
attempt to rescue Muir, he was quickly removed to London. Soon
afterwards he was joined by other leaders of the movement, Fyshe
Palmer, William Skriving and Maurice Margarot.
in the House of Commons immediately began a campaign to save
the men now being described as the Scottish Martyrs. On 24th
February, 1793, Richard Sheridan presented a petition to Parliament
that described the men's treatment as "illegal, unjust,
oppressive and unconstitutional". Charles Fox pointed out
in the debate that followed that Palmer had done "no more
than what had done by William Pitt (now Prime Minister of Britain)
and the Duke of Richmond" when they campaigned for parliamentary
to stop the men being transported failed and on 2nd May 1794,
The Surprise left Portsmouth and began its 13,000 mile journey
to Botany Bay. The men arrived on 25th October to join the Colony
of 1,908 convicts (1362 male, 546 female). As a political prisoner,
Muir was given more freedom than most convicts and he was allowed
to buy a small farm close to Sydney Cove.
years at Port Jackson, New South Wales, Thomas Muir escaped
with the help of Francis Peron, the chief mate of the American
ship, the Otter of Boston. Muir reached Vancouver Island but
after being offered help by a Spanish captain, he was arrested
and taken on board the Ninfa. While on the way to Cadiz the
Ninfa was attacked by the British warship Irresistible. During
the battle Thomas Muir was hit by a glancing blow from a cannonball
which smashed his left cheekbone and seriously injured both
days Muir's condition was so bad he was expected to die. When
the French government heard about what had happened to Muir
they tried to persuade the Spanish authorities to release him.
The Spanish eventually agreed and Muir arrived in Bordeaux in
up with Tom Paine in Paris where they continued the fight for
parliamentary reform in Britain. However, Muir had never fully
recovered from the wound he received on the Ninfa and his health
began to deteriorate at the end of 1798. Thomas Muir was taken
to Chantilly where he died on 26th January, 1799.
Thomas Hume, the Radical MP organised the building of a 90 feet
high monument in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh. It contained the
following inscription: "To the memory of Thomas Muir, Thomas
Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot and Joseph
Gerrald. Erected by the Friends of Parliamentary Reform in England
and Scotland." On the other side of the obelisk, based
on the model of Cleopatra's Needle in London, is a quotation
from a speech made by Muir on 30th August, 1793: "I have
devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause
- it shall ultimately prevail - it shall finally triumph."