Alexander Miller

Client

Alexander Miller (1837–1922) was one of at least eight sons of a Glasgow straw hat-, umbrella- and stay-maker. His elderly father died in 1850 and his mother, quite remarkably for the time, took over the all-female workforce of his father's firm, which numbered 80. 1

Alexander spent much of the 1860s in Berbice, British Guiana (now Guyana), where he was probably involved in the predominant sugar industry. He married and the first of his children was born there. 2

By the early 1860s, Alexander was in partnership with his younger brother George Miller in Glasgow, where they shared their mother's business premises. 3 The brothers formally established Alexander Miller, Brother & Co. around 1869, and moved to their own premises. 4 They joined the developing palm-oil trade in the Niger Delta in W. Africa in the 1870s–90s, frequently in collaboration with Jaja of Opobo, an innovative local ruler who personally pioneered the indigenous export of palm oil directly to Britain, bypassing the European middlemen. In an industrial city such as Glasgow, palm oil was a vital machine-belt and engine lubricant. 5 The Millers established their own trading ‘stations’ or ‘factories’ along navigable rivers during the 1870s, as well as building their own fleet of ships for the Oil Rivers (now Nigerian) trade. 6 Complex and shifting alliances of both Africans and European trading houses saw the foundation of the United African Company in 1879; it became the National African Company in 1882, with both brothers as sometime directors. 7 By the mid 1880s, Alexander Miller was a director of the Royal Niger Company 8

Later in life, Alexander Miller purchased Stoatley Estate, near Haslemere, Surrey, where he built Stoatley Hall, designed by Herbert Read and Robert Falconer MacDonald. 9

Alexander Miller was probably the wealthiest private individual who commissioned Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh. On his death in 1922, he left the colossal sum of 1.164 million. 10

Notes:

1: Birth, death and probate records, www.ancestry.co.uk and www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk [accessed 22 November 2012]; Glasgow Herald, 4 February 1850, p. 2; Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1852–3, p. 238; 1866–7, (giving separate business and home addresses), p. 248.

2: The Colonist, 23 December 1865, p. 2E, 'The Colonist: B.M.D. Announcements', Transcription by I. R. Veecock, Guyana Genealogical Society, at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyggbs/Colonist/1865Colonist.pdf [accessed 22 November 2012]; Glasgow Herald, 16 January 1866, p. 3.

3: The Colonist, 23 December 1865, p. 2E, 'The Colonist: B.M.D. Announcements', Transcription by I. R. Veecock, Guyana Genealogical Society, at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyggbs/Colonist/1865Colonist.pdf [accessed 22 November 2012]; A., G., and Mrs James Miller, 56 Brunswick Street,Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1866–7, pp. 246, 248; 1871–2, pp. 268, 271.

4: Glagow Post Office Directory, 1868–9, p. 252; 1869–70, p. 257–8.

5: Martin Lynn, Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: The Palm Oil Trade ..., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 132–5; Ghillean Prance and Mark Nesbitt, The Cultural History of Plants, New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 341; Toyin Falola, The History of Nigeria, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, pp. 51, 56–7; 'Jaja of Opobo', Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, 2006, unpaginated, online resource by the Gale Group, Inc., www.answers.com/topic/ja-ja-of-opobo [accessed 25 November 2012].

6: London Standard, 29 March 1872, p. 3; Martin Lynn, Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: The Palm Oil Trade ..., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 145–6, 166; Scotsman, 21 October 1874, p. 4; Glasgow Herald, 28 March 1876, p. 6.

7: Assa Okoth,'The Scramble and Partition of Africa', A History of Africa 1855–1914, Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers 2006, pp. 113–14; 'U.A.C. History', U.A.C. of Nigeria, plc (company website), www.uacnplc.com/company/history.htm [accessed 22 November 2012]; The Times, 16 April 1883, p. 11G.

8: The Times, 1 September 1886, p. 12A; 30 July 1890, p. 12B.

9: F. M. L. Thompson, 'Appendix 3: Millionaires Dying Between 1915 and 1940', Gentrification and the Enterprise Culture: Britain 1780–1980, Ford Lectures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 174; Academy Architecture, 37, 1910, pp. 34–5.

10: The Times, 29 April 1922, p. 14D; A. Miller, Probate Date: 25 April 1922, Registry: London, Administrations Granted 1922, p. 282, England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858–1966, online database, www.ancestry.co.uk [accessed 2 December 2012].