MILLER, William Henry (1789-1848), of Craigentinny House, North Leith, Edinburgh; 12 Brompton Row, Mdx. and Britwell Court, nr. Burnham, Berks.
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Family and Educationb. 13 Feb. 1789, o. s. of William Miller of Craigentinny and 3rd w. Martha, da. of Henry Rawson of Yorks. educ. Jesus, Camb. 1805. unm. d. 31 Oct. 1848.
Miller’s father, a Scottish Quaker and nurseryman of Edinburghshire, was described in 1788 as ‘rich and independent’. His antecedents are obscure, but his sister Mary married John Christy (1707-61), of Ormiston Lodge, Edinburgh, which gave this Member a cousin Miller Christy (1748-1820), of Stockwell, Surrey, a noted London hatter, whose ‘great manufacturing house’ at 35 Gracechurch Street and 113 and 170 Bermondsey Street continued under his sons Thomas (1776-1846), William (1778-1858) and John (1781-1873) and their heirs. By 1812 Miller had succeeded to his father’s freehold estates.1
At the 1830 general election Miller came forward as an ‘independent’ Tory for Newcastle-under-Lyme, where the withdrawal of Lord Stafford and the legal proceedings against the corporation, in which he had assisted, had opened the representation. ‘A candidate whose name had been before mentioned’, he promised to vote for free trade, reductions of public expenditure, the abolition of slavery, and against renewal of the East India Company’s monopoly. His supporters stressed his ‘near connections with the greatest hat manufacturers in Europe’, who had ‘long been a main support of our staple trade’ and might ‘be induced to send us a larger share of their orders’, but he was ridiculed by his opponents for his ‘hesitating utterances’ and ‘want of words’ as a public speaker. ‘Miller is a young man, and has had but little experience in the art of speaking’, conceded one admirer, but ‘give him time and he may make, if not an accomplished orator, at least an effective debater’. After a three-day poll he was returned in second place behind the popular independent candidate. ‘When Miller found that genius was denied, a Christie’s hat the want of wit supplied’, ran one broadside.2
Miller was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘friends’ and divided in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In his maiden speech, 19 Mar. 1831, he protested that ‘unconstitutional means’ had been employed ‘to influence the minds and feelings of the people’ in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, citing the circulation of handbills claiming that the king supported the proposed plan. He presented and endorsed a hostile Newcastle petition that day, when, in a reference to the proposed abolition of the freeman franchise, he warned that
many of those Members who represent large towns, and who support this measure, will risk their re-election, for how can they expect to receive the support of those who, by their vote, they have attempted to disfranchise? If this measure were to be carried ... it would prove the first step towards plunging this country into all those evils which the desire of change has brought upon so many other nations.
He divided against the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He presented a Newcastle petition against truck payments, 30 Mar. 1831. At the ensuing general election Miller offered again with the support of ‘a very numerous body of the working class’, claiming to have ‘fearlessly defended’ his constituents’ elective rights. He professed to be ‘friendly to the extension of the franchise’, even to houses of ‘as low as £5’ rental value, but ‘did not understand’ how it could be expected that the freemen would vote ‘against their own rights’, which he promised to protect ‘with the last shilling in his purse, and the last drop of blood in his veins’. He denied that the vote on the civil list had ‘involved the question of retrenchment’, insisting that it was ‘a manoeuvre of a set of men, who having long been out of office were hungry for its honours and emoluments’. After a violent contest he was returned in second place with a substantially reduced majority. At the declaration he denounced the government, which he was determined to oppose, as the ‘most incompetent he had ever known’, and ‘procured to himself the permanent respect of the females, by expressing an ardent wish that he could marry them all’.3
Miller voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least four times to adjourn the debates, 12 July, and was in the minorities for use of the 1831 census to determine the redistribution of seats, 19 July, and against Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B, 27 July 1831. He was in a minority of ten for Hunt’s amendment against making proven payment of rent a qualification for voting in boroughs, 25 Aug. He voted to preserve the electoral rights of all existing voters, 27 Aug., and non-resident freemen, 30 Aug., when he declared his ‘hearty concurrence’ in the amendment for a ‘permanent continuance’ of the freeman franchise proposed by his colleague Edmund Peel. He had hitherto given ‘a silent vote against its provisions’, but now attacked this ‘most iniquitous bill’ and its ‘utter disregard’ for his constituents’ rights, arguing that
the greatest boast of the supporters of the bill is that it will so much extend the elective franchise. In many places, however, its operation will be directly contrary ... [In Newcastle] the electors ... would be reduced from eight or nine hundred to less than half that number.
He voted to preserve the electoral rights of non-resident freeholders in the four sluiced boroughs, 2 Sept. He divided against ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for inquiry into the effects of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept., and against the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. He voted against the third reading of the reform bill, 19 Sept., and its passage, 21 Sept. He divided against the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and was one of the Members ‘connected with Scotland’ in the minority of 61 for increasing Scottish representation, 4 Oct.4 He divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. Next day he was in the minority of 27 for alterations to Lincolnshire’s internal boundary divisions. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832. At the 1832 general election Miller was again returned as a Conservative for Newcastle-under-Lyme, where he sat until his defeat in 1841. His opponent’s election was declared void on petition the following year, but he declined to stand at the ensuing by-election. He unsuccessfully contested Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1847.Miller was a renowned bibliophile, whose unrivalled collection of early English poetry included some of the rarest works acquired from the library of Richard Heber*. An eccentric figure, he was known at book sales as ‘Measure Miller’, from his habit of carrying around a foot rule ‘in order to ascertain whether a so-called fine tall copy’ had ‘the ‘legitimate number of inches’.5 He died a bachelor at Craigentinny House in October 1848. By his will, dated 30 Dec. 1847, he left entrusted property in England and Scotland estimated to be worth £300,000, including his library at Britwell Court, to his cousin Sarah Marsh, with whom he resided. (From her it passed to Miller Christy’s grandson Samuel Christy (1810-89), Liberal-Conservative Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1847-59, who took the name and arms of Miller in 1862.) Instructions were left for the erection of a romanesque mausoleum at Craigentinny in which to house his body, which was completed in 1866.6
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 113; (1812), 56; Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 98.
- 2. Staffs. Advertiser, 3, 17 July, 7 Aug. 1830; Language, Print and Electoral Politics, 1790-1832 ed. H. Barker and D. Vincent, 293, 301, 311, 320.
- 3. Staffs. Advertiser, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 4. Perthshire Courier, 13 Oct. 1831.
- 5. Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 98.
- 6. Ibid.; PROB 11/2093/369; IR26/1842/259; Oxford DNB.