Showing posts with label Friends of the People. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Friends of the People. Show all posts

Friday 28 August 2020

Odyssey of Thomas Muir

Odyssey of Thomas Muir
The '''Society of the Friends of the People''' was an organisation in Great Britain that was focused on advocating for Parliamentary Reform and votes for all men.

Muir was a leader of a movement for democratic reform and one of the Scottish Martyrs. 
There is a 90ft tall obelisk at the Calton Cemetery Edinburgh to the martyrs. It includes a quote of Muir’s - 'I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph. '

His attachment to the popular party in the kirk, his opposition to patronage, his involvement in student politics and influence of contemporary thinkers. The Reformers worked against corruption, nepotism, favouritism and elitism of landowning nobles who controlled the nation’s parliamentary representation at Westminster. Only 5% of men had a vote.
An organisation called 'Friends of the People' led by Thomas Muir, a lawyer from Glasgow and William Skirving, grew to a national movement. Other societies were also formed in England and Ireland.  
In France Muir met Thomas Paine. The movement met with determined and tremendous opposition in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. The radical but self-consciously legal and loyal campaigns of parliamentary reform were mercilessly killed off wittiin 4 years.

Muir and the other leaders were brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to transportation. Muir; Thomas Palmer, a minster from Dundee; Skirving, a farmer from Fife; Maurice a London wine merchant and Joseph Gerrald, a lawyer from the West indies. They were a diverse group.

Their enforced deportation voyage to Australia was recorded in letters and pamphlets by Palmer (published Cambridge 1798) which recorded the government repression and destruction of political and individual liberties.  

**Muir's Pacific journey on the Otter
After 2 years Muir escaped from botany bay on the French ship the otter, which was records in diaries by first mate, Pierre Francois Peron (published Memoirs 1824 Paris) Memoires du Capitane Peron sur ses Voyages.

His voyage took him to Nootka Sound, Vancouver island to Monterrey, San Blas and on to Mexico City, where Muir requested to be allowed travel to America. But the Spanish refused and sent him back to Spain. 
He travelled then Havana, Cuba and Cadiz, Spain – where he was caught up in a naval battle with British men of war and in the gunfire his face was badly injured.

He travelled to Bordeaux, where he was hailed as a 'Hero of the French Republic' and then on to Paris.
Muir's confidant 1798 was Dr Robert Watson of Elgin, emissary to France on behalf of the United Englishmen and he learned of the United Scotsman, the new revolutionary association which replaced the Friends of the People.
In November 1798, Muir moved secretly to Ille-de-France, village of Chantilly, to await the arrival of Scots compatriots. There on 26 January 1799 he died, suddenly and alone. 
Shortly before his death, he said: We have achieved a great duty in these critical times. After the destruction of so many years, we have been the first to revive the spirit of our country and give it a National Existence. 
Martyrs monument Calton hill Edinburgh

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The Radical Thomas Muir

It is strange how one story can lead on to another.  When I attend Edinburgh festival I hear many stories - and the one on Thomas Muir (1765 - 1799) stood out this year. I had never heard of Muir, even though I grew up in Edinburgh and not only studied higher History, I also taught history in primary schools! Muir came from Glasgow, studied Law and later worked in Edinburgh. 

I passed Martyr's monument Edinburgh and a statue of William Pitt with a bird on his head in George street. I read a great read - 'Scotland's Future History' by Stuart McHardy. He writes of the Scottish cultural resurgence the past fifty years. He writes that the term “War of Independence’ is a big insult – as Scotland was a country before England – and has never been a part of England. We never had to win our independence. Information on Scotland from 1740 – 1760 is only held in libraries in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Australia – and not to be found in any Scottish libraries.

I read of the radical Thomas Muir - an incredible Scot - who along with others, set up the Convention of the Societies of Friends of the People in 1792 and dared to march for democracy. For which he was sent by the then Scottish Secretary of state to Botany Bay. A true radical thinker, he was one of the Scottish Political Martyrs. He is better known abroad than here in Scotland. He escaped for Botany bay which was virtually unheard of. 

McHardy writes of Scotland’s lost mythology. In books on Celtic Briton – there is no mention at all of Scotland’s clan system – while there is mention of Ireland’s Celtic heritage.  In 1997 there was a conference at Moray House college on the teaching of Scots language and Scottish history in Scottish schools and introduced in 2011 in the Curriculum for Excellence. The first time Scottish history in our schools curriculum. Since 1872 only English language taught . Both the Scots and Gaelic language – mother tongue are now allowed to be taught.

As I was reading of Thomas Muir it all sounded so familiar to today. We still have this privileged Eton elite that works to maintain their own interests.

It feels sad that nothing much has changed the past two centuries since our poet Robert Burns - who tried to imagine a better world for all, with his words such as "A Man's a Man for a that." ..

Monument Edinburgh (left) for Scottish Political Martyrs
When Burns wrote his poem ‘Scots Wa Hae’, in a footnote he wrote how he had been inspired by Bruce's "glorious struggle for Freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient."
Burns may even have met Thomas Muir in Edinburgh - was he writing about the Scottish free thinkers who dared to march for democracy?  

A few days later I read Michael Gray’s report in the National newspaper on an artists’ portrait of Thomas Muir being unveiled at my local art gallery, Lillie Art Galleries, snd also of Alex Salmond’s recent talk on Muir.
Strange how one story leads to another really…..
Stuart McHardy – Scotland’s Future History
This book is a short guide that raises several issues that include  - Brodgar of Ness site recently found in Orkney of an ancient temple older than Stonehenge or the Pryamids, the largest Neolithic stone structure in Britain; Kilmartin glen ritual stones; Highland Tales; the Jacobites after Culloden; of the influence of the German speaking Norse settlers, the indigenous  PIcts.

"There is a subject called British history, but as far as I can discover it consists of English history, with an occasional side-glance at Scotland at times when Scotland crossed England's path. This is a society devoted to the study and furtherance of Scottish history, and it seems a little odd to me that this educational policy should still prevail. It is calculated to condition the Scottish mind into turning instinctively towards London with the submission of the Moslem turning towards Mecca."  Lord Cooper, President of the court of Session, to the Scottish history Society 1948.  MORE on Stuart McHardy's excellent book in a separate blog.