I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause… It shall ultimately prevail... It shall finally triumph Thomas Muir (August 1793)
Thomas Muir was a remarkable young man who, at the age of 26, led a movement demanding the vote for the ordinary men of Scotland. His campaign against corruption in politics and society touched every town and village in the country and his fame soon spread to England and Ireland. The great but short-lived political reform movement of the1790s catapulted the son of a Glasgow grocer, who rose to become an advocate at the socially exclusive Scottish bar, to international fame.
His nemesis was Henry Dundas, home secretary and powerful political manager of all of Scotland, who controlled the country with a cocktail of patronage and nepotism. Dundas had Muir arrested on a trumped-up charge of sedition and his trial, disgraceful in the annals of Scottish legal history, caused public and parliamentary outrage. A picked and packed jury convicted Muir and a complaisant and obligated bench of judges sentenced him, quite unlawfully, to 14 years transportation in the newly established penal colony of Botany Bay. Four of Muir's fellow reformers were similarly convicted and sentenced and the outrage grew. The cases were reported in all of Europe and in the fledgling United States, and the revolutionary government in France made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue them from their transport ship in the Bay of Biscay. They were Australia's first political prisoners.
This annual Thomas Muir Memorial Lecture has now become a fixture in Scottish political and civil life, popularising Muir's life of commitment to democracy.