William Miller Sr


In an 1867 letter to the editor of the farm journal The Canada Farmer, correspondent George Buckland reported on his visit with the Millers in Pickering and Markham townships, giving us a glimpse of the Miller enterprises 144 years ago. It is interesting that George Miller was farming a total of 1,100 acres [445 hectares] in 1867.
Source: George Buckland, correspondence to the editor, “A Few Days with the Messrs. Miller”, The Canada Farmer, Volume IV, Number 18, Globe Printing Company, Toronto, September 16, 1867, pp. 280-281.

A Few Days with the Messrs. Miller.

To the Editor of the CANADA FARMER :—

Sir,—I had the pleasure of a day’s intercourse with Mr. John Miller, of Pickering, who occupies a situation commanding a view of one of the finest landscapes that is to be met with in this section of Canada. Mr. Miller has some well-bred pure Durhams [English Shorthorn cattle], and an excellent bull, that is doing good service in the neighborhood. His herd of grades, consisting of cows and young stock, is really superb, illustrating the supreme importance of what I endeavour everywhere to enforce, the necessity and advantage of using a pure-bred male animal in all our endeavors to improve permanently the live stock of the country, and wherever practicable, no other. The sheep on this farm, consisting of Leicesters and Cotswolds, are very superior, denoting great care and sound judgment in their breeding and management. The high character which the Millers have long earned in this particular department of agriculture, continues to be well sustained. Mr. William Miller, father of John and brother of George, of Markham, has now retired from active business; he is among the oldest, perhaps the oldest improver of farm stock in Canada, and both he and his brother George were favorably known in Scotland in these relations, nearly half a century ago. They now own and cultivate a large tract of very productive land, in this and the adjoining township. Mr. John Miller’s four years old Clydesdale Stallion is a very pretty symmetrical animal, rather small, but having the more distinguishing characteristics well brought out; he is a sure stock getter, and his numerous progeny are well liked by the farmers.
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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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Audio recorded in 2000 by Hugh Miller in the last few months of his life.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, the Scottish economy was depressed. Land owners were merging their tenants’ centuries-old subsistence farms into large tracts of land suitable for more profitable livestock farming. Many tenants left their farms in the so-called Lowland Clearances. Land owners were merciless to tenants unwilling to leave their plots; demanding ever increasing rents even in years when crops/prices were poor.

By the 1830s, William Miller could only see a bleak future for his children in Scotland. His younger brother George left for Canada in 1832, and undoubtedly sent back word that the Canadian farms were much larger and much more fertile, and that established settlers were prosperous. So William Miller’s oldest child John, having finished his schooling at age 17, left Dumfriesshire and arrived at his Uncle George’s farm in Markham, Ontario on June 1, 1835.