MILLER, Thomas (1717-89), of Glenlee, Kirkcudbright Stewartry and Barskimming, Ayr.
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Family and Education
b. 3 Nov. 1717, 2nd s. of William Miller, writer to the signet, of Glenlee and Barskimming by Janet, da. of Thomas Hamilton of Shieldhall, Lanark. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1730; Edinburgh 1738; adv. 1742. m. (1) 16 Apr. 1752, Margaret (d. 18 Apr. 1767), da. of John Murdoch of Rosebank, merchant and provost of Glasgow, 1s. 1da.; (2) 7 June 1768, Anne, da. of John Lockhart of Castlehill, Lanark. suc. fa. to Barskimming estate 1753, and e. bro. John to Glenlee Nov. 1780; cr. Bt. 3 Mar. 1788.
Town clerk, Glasgow 1748-66; steward-depute, Kirkcudbright 1748-55; solicitor of Excise [S] 1755-9; solicitor-gen. [S] 1759-60; ld. adv. Apr. 1760-6; ld. rector Glasgow Univ. 1762-4; ld. justice clerk Apr. 1766 under the title of Lord Barskimming, after 1780 altered to Lord Glenlee; ld. pres. ct. of session 1787- d.
Miller’s father was town agent to Glasgow 1733-1753, and in 1748 Miller was appointed by the corporation joint town clerk for life, to act as their counsel in Edinburgh.1 In the same year he was given the office of steward depute of Kirkcudbright on the recommendation of his fellow student, Lord Selkirk, who wrote to Newcastle:2
He is personally known to many of the lords of session and to the most eminent of our lawyers ... all of whom can testify for his abilities and merit. He is of known affection for his Majesty’s person and the present establishment; of a firm Whig family; and himself educated at the university of Glasgow in all the honourable and genuine principles of liberty.
Miller, wrote John Ramsay of Ochtertyre,3 was ‘more remarkable for his insight into human nature ... than for his knowledge of the world, which was very limited. ... He was one of the first in our time who rose to the highest dignities by professional merit, without parliamentary interest, or being pushed by some ruling statesman.’ And throughout his career his independent judgment and integrity were unaffected by political expediency or subservience to his patrons. In Ayrshire politics he was connected with Loudoun and was a legal adviser and friend of Queensberry. He had, however, no personal acquaintance with Newcastle when, in March 1760, on the promotion of his friend Robert Dundas, he successfully applied for the office of lord advocate.4
He did not obtain a seat in Parliament until 1761, when he was brought in by Queensberry for Dumfries Burghs. Occupied with official business in Scotland, he did not attend the House until early in 1762 when James Stuart Mackenzie wrote to William Mure:5 ‘I like your friend the advocate mightily; he seems to have several essential good qualities without the priggishness of a lawyer.’ He was listed by Fox early in December 1762 among those favourable to the peace preliminaries; and supported the Grenville Administration. He wrote to Grenville from Edinburgh in connexion with his wife’s illness, 10 Jan. 1764:6
Ever since I came into the King’s service I have given an attendance in Parliament beyond what any of my predecessors ever did, with a loss to me in my private business as a lawyer and an additional expense considerably above my salary; but I did it with pleasure because I was sensible the situation of the King’s affairs required it and nothing but the immediate duty which I owe to a most affectionate wife could withhold my attendance at this time.
There is, however, a hint that his absence from the divisions of February 1764 on Wilkes and general warrants may have been deliberate. Ramsay of Ochtertyre wrote:7
Though a good and weighty speaker, he had little share in the acrimonious debates which took place for years respecting Wilkes. Whilst every considerate man ... reprobated the conduct of that unprincipled incendiary and his supporters ... Mr. Miller, who had been bred a Whig, was probably not courtier enough to relish the triumph of the Tories.
He returned to Parliament in time to take part in the debate of 19 Mar. on Lord Strange’s motion for a bill to regulate Scottish banks and remove the optional clause from Scottish bank notes. Harris records:
Lord Advocate opposed, not because he wholly rejected the principle of the optional clause but the attempt would be dangerous at this time when stocks were so low—it might break all the banks and destroy public credit.
When in the following year the bank bill was passed, Miller carried his point that it should not come into effect for a twelvemonth.
In reigns of greater vigour and steadiness, this step would have been rightly resented and punished with dismission and disgrace. Instead of that, a few months after, he was made lord justice clerk ... by an Administration whom he had thwarted in its favourite measure. It says a great deal for the magnanimity of ... the Marquis of Rockingham who could forgive ... an overt act of defiance.
Miller may have partly owed his preferment to the influence of Queensberry, the lord justice general, who in July obtained recognition of the lord justice clerk’s rank as next in precedence to the lord president.10 In 1787 Miller succeeded Robert Dundas as lord president and was created a baronet.
He died 27 Sept. 1789.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. G. Eyre Todd, Hist. Glasgow, iii. 272; Glasgow Recs. (Burgh Recs. Soc.), vi. 272.
- 2. G. W. T. Omond, Ld. Advocates of Scotland, ii. 68.
- 3. Scotland Scotsmen, i. 342-50.
- 4. Add. 32903, f. 199.
- 5. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), p. 144.
- 6. Grenville mss (JM).
- 7. Scotland Scotsmen, i. 345.
- 8. Add. 33001, f. 321; Newdigate’s ‘Debates’, 4 Mar. 1766.
- 9. Scotland Scotsmen, i. 345-6.
- 10. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1766-9, nos. 199, 200.