24th August 1765

Political martyr Thomas Muir is born

Thomas Muir was born in Glasgow and educated at both the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh.

In 1792, he helped establish a Scotland-wide network of clubs that supported the aims of the French Revolution, and political reform in Britain. This reform would include the rights of all men to vote in free elections. He also supported the idea of Scotland being a separate country to England, not just part of a greater United Kingdom.

Thomas Muir charged with sedition

As a result of his activities, he was arrested in January 1793 and charged with sedition, but released on bail. While bailed, he travelled to France, so was out of the country when his trial was unexpectedly brought forward. This caused further problems, and he was declared a fugitive. Despite this, Muir still returned to Scotland, as he was required, was arrested upon arrival, and tried on the original charge of sedition.

Muir’s trial lasted around sixteen hours during which “he was accused of wickedly and feloniously exciting in November last at different meetings at Kirkintilloch, Campsie &c. denominated societies for reform, by means of seditious speeches and harangues, a spirit of disloyalty and disaffection to the King and the established Government,” according to a report in the Reading Mercury of 9 September 1793.

Muir’s not guilty claim

Muir declared himself not guilty, but, according to the Reading Mercury, declined to offer any defence, stating that “he would trust himself to the Jury.” He had, he told the court, “all along fully supported the Constitution [and] had uniformly advised the people to pursue legal and constitutional measures; and that he had also advised them to read all books upon the great national question of reform.”

Muir was found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Australia on a charge of sedition, and not to return to the United Kingdom for fourteen years. His sacrifice is commemorated in the Political Martyrs Monument in Edinburgh.

Thomas Muir’s escape

Two years after arriving in Australia, Muir escaped, and thus began an extraordinary journey that saw him cross the Pacific on an American boat, travel by land from California to Mexico City, be taken prisoner in Havana, and transported to Spain, again by boat. The boat was attacked by British forces, causing Muir serious injuries, but he managed to get ashore and, from Spain, he travelled to France, where he died in Paris, still aged just 33.

Thomas Muir dies

The Caledonian Mercury of 21 February 1799 reported that “the wound received on board the Spanish frigate, in which he returned to Europe, it is said, never cured, and to that his death is ascribed.”

The Salisbury and Winchester had also reported his death, three days earlier, stating that he had suffered “a lingering and painful illness, which he supported with most exemplary patience and sweetness of temper.”



Other events that occured in August

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