December 2006

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.


Chinese ChewsI used to wonder how this delectable treat – that so many of us have come to associate with Christmastime at Thistle Ha’ – got its name. Then I recalled a bus trip, back in the 1970’s, with some fellow U. of T. students who were from Hong Kong. They were happily gobbling some treats sent to them by relatives and offered me one of the balls to try. I remember being surprised by how intensely salty they were even though they seemed to be made of candied fruit. I now suspect that Chinese Chews are a North American version of these balls, rolled in sugar instead of salt.

Chinese Chews
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen balls.

  • 1/4 cup pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of fine granulated sugar
  • 3 T. melted butter or shortening
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2/3 cup of chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied pineapple and cherries
  • 3 to 5 T. finely chopped candied or preserved ginger

Beat the eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar and beat thoroughly. Add the butter, melted and cooled. Add fruit and nuts, combine thoroughly. Beat in the dry ingredients. Bake in an 8 inch square pan at 350°F. for 40 minutes. Cut while still warm into small squares and roll into tight balls. Roll the balls in fine sugar to coat them.