Faculty of Advocates announces Thomas Muir anniversary event

Faculty of Advocates announces Thomas Muir anniversary event

One of Scotland’s most notorious court cases, the trial for sedition of the political reformer Thomas Muir of Huntershill, is to be re-examined at an event to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth.

The event is being staged by the Faculty of Advocates within Parliament House, Edinburgh - home of the High Court in Edinburgh where Muir, an advocate, was convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation in 1793 – and will feature the renowned historian, Professor Sir Tom Devine.

There will also be dramatic reconstructions of passages of the evidence and speeches, devised and directed by one of the Faculty’s members, Ross Macfarlane, who has professional experience as a writer and director.

Thomas Muir, often referred to as the “father of Scottish democracy”, is one of five men commemorated on the Political Martyrs’ Monument on Calton Hill, Edinburgh.

Professor Sir Tom said: “The trial of Thomas Muir and the guilty verdict which resulted in him being sentenced to transportation in Botany Bay, is one of the most notorious and controversial in modern Scottish history.

“The Faculty of Advocates is to be warmly congratulated on the enterprising idea of recreating this historic event in Parliament House. It will have wide appeal to the general public. I am personally delighted to be part of it.”

Professor Sir Tom will present a scene-setting lecture, which will be followed by a dramatic presentation of the trial, written by Mr Macfarlane, who has written and directed plays at the Edinburgh Fringe and who is the author of a number of plays which have been performed Off-Off-Broadway in New York.

James Wolffe QC, Dean of Faculty, said: “At his trial, Muir told the jury which convicted him that ‘the impartial voice of future times will rejudge your verdict.’ This event will enable us to understand what happened at Muir’s trial and – with the help of Scotland’s foremost historian, Sir Tom Devine – to put it in its historical context.”

Muir had intended to enter the church but decided on a legal career and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1787 at the age of 22.

Also a church elder, he secured a reputation as a man of principle and anti-establishment. He occasionally pleaded without fee for those he considered oppressed.

He became a leading figure in reform movements and was arrested in 1793 and charged with sedition.

He was released on bail, and went to France to remonstrate against the proposed execution of Louis XVI. In his absence, he was declared a fugitive from justice and, as a result, the Faculty expelled him from membership.

After returning to Scotland, Muir’s trial was set for 30 August, 1793, before the infamous Lord Braxfield, the Lord Justice Clerk, and four other judges, and a hand-picked jury of anti-reformists.

Muir said to the court: “I admit that I exerted every effort to procure a more equal representation of the people in the House of Commons.

“If that be a crime, I plead guilty to the charge. I acknowledge that I considered the issue of parliamentary reform to be essential to the salvation of my country; but I deny that I ever advised the people to attempt to accomplish that great object by any means which the constitution did not sanction.”

Convicted and transported to Australia, Muir was rescued by a party despatched from New York where his case had attracted much sympathy. He survived a shipwreck and other “adventures” including serious injury to his face from a cannonball. He went to France, where he was acclaimed as a “Brave Scottish Advocate of Liberty” and where he died, aged 33, in 1799.

The event is on Tuesday, 25 August, ticketing information is available here.

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