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Sir William Muir


1819 - 1905

Indian civil servant and oriental historian. Muir was born at Glasgow, the son of a merchant, and educated at Kilmarnock Academy, followed by the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Following his brother John Muir (1810-82), he trained in civil administration at the East India Company's College at Haileybury and joined the Bengal Civil Service in 1837. He rose to become Secretary to the Governor of the North-West Provinces (1852) and then served as a member of the Agra Revenue Board. During the Indian Mutiny (1857-8) he was in charge of the Intelligence Department in Agra Fort, where the British had been forced to take refuge. Thereafter, he remained in India during the transition from the administration of the East India Company to the Crown and was made Foreign Secretary to the Indian Government in 1865. He was knighted two years later and was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces in 1868. He spent two years as a member of the Governor-General's Council (1874-76), regarded as the zenith of a career in the Indian Civil Service. Muir retired in 1876 and returned to Britain, where he became a member of the Council of India in London.

He promoted various education initiatives, encouraging females into schools, both in India and Britain, and founded Muir College, which is now part of the Allahabad University. Muir went on to serve as Principal of the University of Edinburgh (1885 - 1903), overseeing the expansion of the University, strengthening the Student Union and the opening of new Medical School buildings, the McEwan Hall and Teviot Row Union.

Muir wrote on Islam and Islamic culture, with works including a four-volume biography of Mohammed (1861), still regarded as important today, The Coran: Its Composition and Teaching (1878), The Apology of Al Kindy (1887), The Caliphate - Its Rise, Decline and Fall (1891) and a collection of critical articles published as The Mohammedan Controversy (1897).

He received several honorary degrees, including from Glasgow and Edinburgh. He became President of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1884 and received their Centennial Gold Medal in 1903. Muir is credited with advising Queen Victoria on India while a guest at Balmoral Castle.

He died in Edinburgh and lies buried in Dean Cemetery.


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