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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Thomas Muir of Huntershill, 1838

John Kay

engraving on paper (sheet: 24.8 cm x 15.2 cm)

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Thomas Muir (1765-1799), lawyer, political activist and political convict, began studies at the University of Glasgow at the age of twelve. Having graduated in law in 1782, he proceeded to the University of Edinburgh, and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates at the age of twenty-two. In 1792, his radical opinions fired by the French Revolution, he read in public an inflammatory address from the United Irishmen of Dublin (who were outlawed the following year). Also accused of distributing a seditious pamphlet by Thomas Paine, he was arrested in 1793. On bail, he went to France; having failed to turn up for his trial in Edinburgh he was declared an outlaw and struck off. Re-arrested on a clandestine visit to relatives, he was brought to trial and sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation. Despite the protests of influential London Whigs, the sentence was upheld and Muir, with three fellow reformers, sailed in the Surprize to arrive in Sydney in late 1794. Here he ran a small farm and worked on documents with a view to exculpating himself and his fellow ‘Scottish Martyrs’. In 1796 he escaped Sydney on an American fur-trading vessel; at Nootka Sound he transferred to a Spanish ship, making Monterey in Spanish California. In Havana later in 1796, he boarded a frigate sailing for Spain, which was then at war with England. In a maritime skirmish he was severely wounded in the face and lost an eye. In 1797 he reached Paris, where he received much attention; he died in France, impoverished and obscure, two years later.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2011

Accession number: 2011.72

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

John Kay

Thomas Muir

Subject professions

Law and justice

Related information

The Companion

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer

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Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.