The Thomas Muir Festival kicks off tomorrow (Wednesday 13 November 2013) with a local history symposium from 12.30pm-4.15pm at Douglas Academy, Milngavie on “Scottish Radicals and the Rebellion of 1820“.
So who was Thomas Muir?
Described by some as the founding father of Scottish democracy, Thomas Muir of Huntershill was a graduate of the University of Glasgow in 1782, whose life as an advocate and a staunch campaigner of political reform was understatedly colourful.
With the French Revolution raging in the background, Muir became the leader of ‘The Friends of the People’, a society set up in Edinburgh in 1792 to advocate parliamentary reform. He travelled around the UK, Ireland and France to consolidate support among those who welcomed his views and ideals of universal suffrage. 1793, however, marked the beginning of Muir’s notoriety as one of the five ‘Scottish Political Martyrs‘; 18th-century political reformers, who in 1793 were sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, Australia after being found guilty of sedition and writing and publishing seditious pamphlets on parliamentary reform. (Accounts of his trial are available to consult at Special Collections)
Muir’s sentence of fourteen years at the penal colony in Botany Bay only lasted two years as he managed to escape in 1796. The short version of his subsequent life was that he settled in France, and died there, aged 33, in 1799.
However, I feel it necessary to treat you to the lengthier version of his life events post-escape from Botany Bay as provided by Addison, which reads better than a Hollywood script (and also explains the patch over his eye):
“Rescued, 11th February, 1796, by an American ship, “The Otter”, which, four months afterwards, was wrecked near Nootka Sound, on the west coast of South America, only Muir and two sailors surviving. Captured by Indians, from whom he escaped after three months’ detention. Traversed on foot 4000 miles of American coast, and reached Panama. Crossed (again on foot) the Isthmus of Darien to Vera Cruz, from whence proceeded by a Spanish vessel to Havannah, where he was imprisoned for a month. Dispatched to Spain by one of two Spanish frigates, which sailed in company and were captured at Cadiz, 26th April, 1797, by two British ships; Muir, desperately wounded, being sent ashore by a British officer, who recognized him as a school companion. Detained at Cadiz till 16th September, 1797, when released by desire of the French Directory. Reached Bourdeaux in December, 1797, and Paris on 4th February, 1798. Died at Chantilly, 27th September 1798.” (The matriculation albums of the University of Glasgow from 1728 to 1858, transcribed and annotated by W. Innes Addison, Glasgow : James MacLehose & Sons, 1913, p.119)
Details of the symposium and other events taking place as part of the Thomas Muir Festival can be found at http://www.thomasmuir.co.uk/thomasmuirfestival2013.html