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.

I was now in the charmed land I had often dreamed about. The whole book of knowledge was about being opened before me. Young, ardent and untutored, what must I do first? In Durham, as in duty bound, I visited the famed cathedral and saw the sculptured cow and milkmaids, then walked four or five miles along the side of the River Wear to see a herd belonging to Mr. Spellman, M. P. The cattle were good and of Knightley blood, the owner a real gentleman who treated his boy visitor with the greatest consideration and poured some balm on the smarting spirit that had been wounded the night before. Being somewhat even with Durham I went to Northallerton and crossed the fields to Warlaby. I had the fortune to find Richard Booth as home and free from other visitors, and he gave me a full half day among his inside cattle. Windsor had just returned from a season’s service at Mark Stewart’s of Southwick, Scotland. he was only in fair flesh but I hardly think he was what we now would think a show bull. One of the twins, Necklace or Bracelet, was there from Killerby to be bred. Among others I saw a white yearling heifer which so impressed me that her image never leaves my mind when good cattle come up. She must be my ideal. Nature in her make-up did not avoid straight lines. She was then priced to me so high that I did not dare take her till I wrote home, which I did that night from Northallerton; but I did not ask Mr. Booth for time and before I got word back to take her he concluded to keep her. I went to Darlington and along the Tees to Gainsford, Mr. Thomas Raine’s, and spent Saturday night, Sunday and Monday with him. he was a right good fellow and had grand cattle. I came near buying a roan bull from him.

Crossing the Tees once again into Yorkshire and by way of Richmond I visted the duke’s stables and saw the great race-horse Voltigeur just after his famous race with Flying Dutchman. Then on to the Wolds I went, where at Carter’s of Scales I bought two very fine Leicester tups. Then I went to Bransby, where I had the pleasure of meeting and spending a few days with what I think the oldest of the famed Short-horn men then living–Samuel Wiley. I yet can see his noble figure in knee-breeches on his strong dun cob, attending to every detail of his spendidly managed establishment. I think he was then over seventy-five. As well as his noted Short-horns he had the best of Leicesters–a type of his own–and the most marvelous fat little white Yorkshire swine–so fat they could scarcely see. I bought sheep from him.

After visiting flocks around Hull, Malton, Barton-le-Street, etc., among them Sir Taton Sykes’ stud, I made my way back to Scotland, where at James Beattie’s place, Newby House, I first met Simon Beattie, and there made my headquarters for Scotland. The season before Mr. James Beattie, Simon’s uncle, with whom he lived, had sent us out Leicesters, and there I bought the Clydesdale stallion Rob Roy, one of the first four Clydes every taken to America, so far as I know. At the same time I bought Leicesters and three Galloways. By the way, I was there when William McCombie of Tillyfour bought and took away from Newbie two most excellent Galloway heifers. That was the only time I saw Mr. McCombie. I helped drive the heifers to Annan. I understood he took them to Tillyfour. I wonder if they bred and what was done with their calves? About that time I went to Mr. Mark Stewart’s, Southwick, and came within £5 of buying Lord Raglan before Mr. Cruickshank got him. I there met Douglas of Athelstaneford, who certainly was for the time Scotland’s greatest breeder.

Spring was now drawing on and we had to start with about forty sheep, twelve cattle, a stallion and mare, Clydesdale colts, dogs, ducks, hens, etc. I went to Liverpool to try to get a steamer to take them, but passenger boats would not take live stock and other slow things asked terrible freight, so I went back to Annan determined to sail from there. At that time Annan built some fine ships for the tea trade and had two old brigs in the timber trade sometimes to Memel, but mostly to Quebec, making two voyages in the season and laying up in the winter. On one of these, the old Helen Douglas, I took passage for the lot. She was built on or after the year one at Richibucto, New Brunswick, out of the best of white birch timbers, sheathed with inch pine and a coat of coal tar every spring before leaving port. She was 450 tons and about half a broad as long. She had only one close deck, her beams below being bare between the cabin and forecastle. On these beams were laid slabs from the outside cut of square timber to make a floor for the cattle and sheep to stand on. Sheep were put forward where it was too low for anything else. Then further aft stalls were made for the cattle, which were tied to the ship’s side. The only place where the horses could get head room was under the hatch, where they had their heads above deck, but it was covered over for the occasion. The after part of between decks grew higher as you got back toward the cabin till it was six and one-half feet.

I never crossed on a viking ship, a caraval, nor yet on the Mayflower, and I never saw Noah’s ark, but I think for construction and methods of navigation the old Helen would antedate them all. I wonder, after seeing the White Star cattle ships, how a man would like taking stock over on her. However, on her we crossed and in fair shape in fifty days. About the first of April they undertook at high water by man and horse to haul her from her winter’s mooring to the jetty where the Annan joins the Solway to load our stock, but it was night and they stuck her on a bar where she lay till they dug a ditch and the tide rose again ten days later. Her flat bottom kept her from keeling over much and she lay on hard level sand on the side of the river out of the channel, so carts were driven alongside and our friends put on hay, and straw and turnips. This was all loose and free of cost out of respect for my father. This feed had to be put either below the cabin or forecastle, as below the cattle all liquid manure ran through the cracks onto the sand ballast where our water casks were buried. The time came when they got her down to the river to the loading place, where horses, cattle and sheep were hoisted on board in slings by hand windlass. It was a beautiful April day and the half of the town was there to see us off. The tug took us over the Robin Rig and cast us adrift in the Solway headed for the Irish Channel and the Isle of Man. We had fair weather and lost only two or three sheep. Even as slow as the old thing was we would have made Quebec in five weeks, but in the gulf we were kept two weeks by ice.