James Muirhead

Teacher, Scholar, Book Collector | Number 7

James Muirhead was born on 13 November 1830, the eldest of the five sons of Claud Muirhead and Mary Watson. His father owned the Edinburgh Advertiser and Muirhead was brought up in the comfortable and privileged atmosphere of 7 Heriot Row, Edinburgh and the family's suburban home of Gogar Park in Midlothian.

He completed his schooling at the Edinburgh Academy in 1845. He then trained for a commercial career, spending time in a merchant's office in Leith and in his father's newspaper business. He was also sent to Lille to learn French.

Deciding against a career in business, Muirhead studied law in Edinburgh and Heidelberg. His spell in Germany was brief, but taught him much about European law which he was to use in his later teaching.

Muirhead became Professor of Civil Law in the University of Edinburgh in June 1862. He was one of the first new professors of law appointed under the modernising reforms of the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1858. One innovation was the creation of the degree of LL.B., to be taken only after a student had graduated M.A. It was to be a test of academic rather than professional ability.  An important component of the degree was civil law, the traditional term used for Roman law - the ius civile - the province of Muirhead's chair. He achieved a European reputation for his work.

He also put together a highly distinguished law library, bringing together many nineteenth century specialist scholarly periodicals, notably those from Germany. When he died, the collection went on sale and became the foundation of the Law Library of the University of Manchester. Only a few valuable manuscripts remained in Edinburgh.  


He also put together a highly distinguished law library, bringing together many nineteenth century specialist scholarly periodicals, notably those from Germany.