21st August 1844

Political Martyrs Monument is established

Edinburgh’s Political Martyrs Monument was erected to commemorate the campaign for parliamentary reform and, in particular, five men, including Thomas Muir who paid a high price for their beliefs.

A sandstone obelisk, 90ft (27m) tall, it stands on a square plinth on Calton Hill, and when the foundation stone was laid, 3000 people turned out to watch, only a small proportion of which could enter the burial ground. The remainder congregated on the hill.

Votes for all

The five martyrs had supported the principles of votes for all and regular elections, which might not seem that radical today but was considered sedition (incitement to rebellion), which was enough to see the men charged and brought to trial. Between 1793 and 1794, all five were found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Australia.

Joseph Hume, who was MP for Montrose and had initiated the campaign for the Political Martyrs Monument, spoke at the laying of the foundation stone, reminding the crowd that he had been at university in Edinburgh when the events they were commemorating took place. The Stirling Observer of 29 February, quoting a report in the Caledonian Mercury, described how Hume “deposited in a cavity prepared for the occasion a glass jar, containing copies of the newspapers of the day – Oliver and Boyd’s Almanack – Tait’s Magazine containing a report of the trial of the martyrs – a list of the Scotch subscribers to the monument, and a few coins of the present reign.”



Other events that occured in August

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