Lore


Rob Roy, Thistle Ha' Clydesdale StallionIn the 1894 Christmas edition of The Breeder’s Gazette, William Miller Jr/Atha entertained readers with the tale of his first livestock buying trip to Britain during the winter and spring of 1854, when he was 20 years old. It was during this trip that he bought Thistle Ha’s most famous stallion, Rob Roy (pictured). He also met Simon Beattie, who returned with him to Canada. Beattie became one of the best livestockmen of the 19th century in North America. The map locates some of the places he mentions.

Source: William Miller Jr, “Live Stock on the Atlantic.” excerpt, The Breeder’s Gazette, Dec. 19, 1894, p. 408, 410. Drop cap illustration from the same article.

y next year, 1853, I was sent over by my father [William Miller Sr] and brother John [Miller/Thistle Ha’] to bring out stock. At New York I took passage on the William Tapscott, a regular old-style liner–“shanghaied” crew and terrible mates, but after eighteen days we landed in Liverpool all right the week before Christmas. Making my way directly to Annan I examined the Redkirk herd near there, and I still think it one of the most useful I ever saw–plenty of substance and constitution forever, great milkers and regular breeders–in fact just such as we are after to-day only a little refinement added; but if this refinement hurts the constitution, better without it. After spending some time among the Leicester breeders of Dumfries I made my way south to see the Short-horns, not knowing well where to go, as I knew nothing of the breeders nor cattle outside of Redkirk and nothing about pedigree; but I had heard that Durham Darlington and the River Tees were headquarters, so I started out alone for Durham town. Landing there in the evening I made for its head inn but found it full. The landlord after looking me over one time concluded they had no room. I tried the next with better luck and had the good fortune to fall in with a fine specimen of intelligent Englishman–a commercial traveler who knew a great deal about the country, the cattle and the breeders, and was willing to help me all he could. From him I first learned of Richard and John Booth, Thomas Raine, Samuel Wiley, etc.

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Hugh Miller often showed Thistle Ha’ visitors a fancy, well-worn cane given to his grandfather, and told its story below. The cane was destroyed in the house fire at Thistle Ha’ in 1985.
As told by: Hugh Miller

A local widow came to Thistle Ha’ and asked John Miller for help. Her son had just been convicted of murder, and was sentenced to hang. She explained that two men and her fifteen-year-old son had broken into a farmer’s house in the middle of the night, looking for liquor. The farmer had come downstairs to investigate the noise, and in the ensuing struggle, the farmer was struck and killed.

She felt her son’s penalty was too severe: he was a youth who had become influenced by bad men since her husband’s death, he was a bystander during the fight at the farmhouse, and the family couldn’t afford to pay for an adequate defense at his trial. John Miller said he would see what he could do.

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William Miller JrWilliam Miller Jr was the youngest brother of John Miller of Thistle Ha’. He came to Canada in 1838 at four years of age with his parents, Helen (Farrish) and William Miller Sr, and his older brothers. Growing up at Atha farm, the family called him “Atha Willie”. Willie possessed an extraordinary talent for selecting and managing pure-bred livestock, and was general manager at several leading American livestock farms (see William Miller Jr/Atha in Pages sidebar). He was also a good writer, contributing numerous letters and feature articles for leading livestock papers such as the The Breeder’s Gazette. In one of the Gazette articles he recalls his arrival in Canada.

Photo: Oil portrait of William Miller Jr, Saddle and Sirloin Club (International Livestock Hall of Fame) Portrait Gallery, Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, Louisville.
Source: William Miller Jr, “Live Stock on the Atlantic.” excerpt,
The Breeder’s Gazette, Dec. 19, 1894, p. 408.

My first experience on the water was along with farm stock. In the summer of 1838 my father left his native Annandale for Canada with my mother and family, my oldest brother John having gone some four years before. With us went ten Leicester sheep, four white swine and two dogs. At Liverpool we were loaded on the barque Mogul for New York – the sheep on the deck in the long boat, swine in a pen, dogs and children at large, but they could go into what by courtesy they called the second cabin. The ship was slow, the winds light and it took forty-nine days to make New York. Thence we took a steamboat to Albany; then through the Erie Canal to Rochester (which took a week), then across Lake Ontario by boat to Toronto, where friends met us and took us in wagons through the woods and into the woods in Pickering – some twenty-eight miles – near what is now Brougham, Ont., where my father and brother John hewed out for us a comfortable home and gathered around them fine cattle, horses, sheep and swine, gaining for themselves in those early days a name among the leading breeders of the land. Brave hearts and strong arms like these made Ontario what she is today – deservedly the pride of the New World for sturdy independence, real intelligence and successful agriculture.

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