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Industrial Revolution: 1770s to 1830s


Thomas Muir of Huntershill

By W Hamish Fraser

Thomas Muir (1765-1799) was the most high-profile victim of political repression in the years after the French Revolution. He was born in the High Street, the son of a prosperous merchant. At the University of Glasgow he came under the influence of the radical thinker, John Millar (1735-1801). He then went on to train as an advocate in Edinburgh, adopting "of Huntershill" from the name of the small estate which his father had purchased in what is now Bishopbriggs.

In 1792 he became vice president of the Glasgow Associated Friends of the Constitution and of the People and began speaking widely about the need for reform of the political system to give more people the vote. He was arrested at the beginning of 1793, but fled to France, supposedly to intercede for the life of the French king. He failed to appear for his trial in February and was declared an outlaw. He planned to head to the United States, but having stopped off in Belfast he took the risk of a clandestine visit to his parents. He was recognised and arrested. His trial took place before Lord Braxfield at the end of August 1793 and he was given the unusually harsh sentence for a middle-class person of fourteen years transportation.

In 1796 he escaped from Australia in an American ship and sailed across the Pacific to California. From there he travelled to Mexico and to Cuba. Unable to get to the United States where he would have been safe, he sailed to Spain. The ship was intercepted by a British naval force and Muir lost an eye in the fight. However, he reached Spain. He was allowed to leave for France at the end of 1797 and there he was briefly feted as a reforming hero, but interest in him soon waned. He died at Chantilly in January 1799.

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