James Murray ~ Assassin and Radical

James Murray ~ assassin: “On July 30 [1820], James Murray a young Radical [involved in the 1820 rebellion] made a spectacular attempt to assassinate the Duke of Atholl at his home in Dunkeld House. Murray gained an audience with Atholl and pretended to show him a letter demanding a redress of grievances. Murray drew a pistol but Atholl managed to seize it and the two men struggled together. Atholl called his attendants who dragged Murray away and the Radical was arrested, taken to Perth and transported for life.”

[Unlike the Jacobite rising of 75 years previously, the action of 1820 came directly from Scotland’s working people and was wholly unrelated to the power struggles of aristocratic and social elites. The main driving force was economic. Britain had been in a state of war with revolutionary and Napoleonic France for almost 25 years and when this finally ended at Waterloo in 1815 the economic consequences were enormous. Large numbers of ex-service personnel were released into a labour market already shrinking due both to the technological change of the industrial revolution and the disappearance of continental markets behind the French embargo on British goods. Without pensions or any state social security, the condition of thousands was desperate. There was no possibility of changing the government since the franchise was restricted to the propertied classes. In Scotland, substantial numbers of working people decided on armed insurrection against the British state. Ideologically they were motivated, at a time when serious socialist thinking remained undeveloped, by the republican ideas of the American and French revolutions, by the writings of Thomas Paine and the egalitarian poetry of Robert Burns. James Wilson, one of the oldest of the 1820 radicals, probably knew Thomas Muir, the Glasgow-born advocate who had attempted to get military assistance from revolutionary France in 1795 to establish a Scottish republic. The immediate military objective of the rising was the capture of the armaments factory at the Carron Ironworks near Falkirk. The radicals were however intercepted by the British army at Bonnymuir and routed. Three of its leaders, James Wilson of Strathaven, John Baird of Condorrat and Andrew Hardie of Glasgow were hanged. Nineteen others were transported to Australia. In Greenock, the British army fired into a peaceful demonstration protesting against the presence of political prisoners in the town jail, killing eleven men, women and children and seriously injuring dozens of others. No court martial or public enquiry whatsoever followed the tragedy.]