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New evidence unearthed on Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir - video report


New Court of Session Papers, which have been missing for more than two centuries, have been unearthed by the Faculty of Advocates and Professor Gerard Carruthers of the University of Glasgow.

The papers shed light on Thomas Muir (1765-99) and how he courted controversy in his early years, which may have contributed to his treatment by the justice system years later.

Previous biographers of Muir had assumed the papers were long lost. But, with the help and expertise of Professor Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature, an expert on Thomas Muir, the papers were found in the Advocates’ archives and feature in a new book to be launched this week.

With the help of two knowledgeable lawyers, the missing papers, over 80 pages of which deal with Muir, were located in sets of files that would have been unrecognizable to most Muir enthusiasts.

VIDEO - Watch Professor Caruthers talk about the finds:


Professor Carruthers said: : "I just think people had just been looking in the wrong place. They had perhaps been looking under Thomas Muir rather than looking under the Campbell papers or the Dreghorn papers.

"I think partly the reason why these papers were overlooked was because they didn't deal with the 1790s trial where Muir is sentenced to 14 years in Botany Bay.

"These papers dealt with an earlier period when he is involved in local kirk politics. But the real significance of these papers is they show that he was a well kent face, and the same people who are sitting in judgement on him in Edinburgh in 1793 just a few years earlier were aware of Thomas Muir making trouble as a representative of his local church."


The papers detail a well-known chapter in Muir's early life while representing his local church, when he challenged local and powerful land owners, contesting their right to choose a church minister.

The Court of Session papers show how Thomas Muir upset powerful key members of Scotland's political and legal establishment, including key figures who were later instrumental in having him banished to Botany Bay in his infamous sedition trial of 1793.

Over eighty pages of this new material bring into focus Muir’s activity representing his local kirk congregation at Cadder in today’s East Dunbartonshire, in the period 1790-92.

They show the minutiae of Muir’s opposition to James Dunlop of Garnkirk, a local land owner who wished to control the appointment of a minister for the parish rather than allow the congregation to have a free hand in appointment. Although the preferred candidate of the congregation represented by Muir eventually secured the appointment, what the Court of Session papers show is that Muir lost the case, contradicting the usual biographical account.

(Images and video copyright University of Glasgow/ Faculty of Advocates)

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