Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Miller, Henry (1809–1888)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Henry Miller, by Thomas Chuck, 1872

Henry Miller, by Thomas Chuck, 1872

State Library of Victoria, 49183979

Henry Miller (1809-1888), financier and politician, was born on 31 December 1809 at Londonderry, Ireland, son of Henry Miller (Millar), captain in the 40th Regiment, and his wife Jane, née Morpeth. In 1823 his father, a veteran of the Peninsular war and Waterloo, took his family to Sydney with a detachment of his regiment in charge of convicts and in August 1824 he became the first commandant at Moreton Bay; transferred to Van Diemen's Land in 1826 he had charge of the ordnance store until the regiment went to India in 1829; he retired in 1832 and returned to Hobart Town where he died in 1866, predeceased by his wife in 1840.

Henry travelled with his family and was educated in Paris and Glasgow. In 1828 he became a clerk in the Tasmanian Audit Office. After a visit to Port Phillip in 1839 he resigned his post and settled in Melbourne. He soon began business as a financier and in 1845 as a merchant. In 1849 he founded the Victorian Fire and Marine Insurance Co., of which he was chairman, and in 1850 the first of a 'Union Terminating' series of building societies and was president of six of the seven he established. The leading promoter of the Bank of Victoria, incorporated in October 1852, he was chairman of directors until 1888. In 1859 he founded the Victorian Life and General Assurance Co. Claiming that speculation was not in his blood, he steered clear of mining companies though his many pastoral holdings and city properties were gamble enough.

In 1851-56 Miller represented South Bourke, Evelyn and Mornington in Victoria's first Legislative Council. In July 1852 he induced it to petition for a branch of the Mint in Melbourne. In November 1854 he unsuccessfully introduced a bill for a general system of education. In six years he served on fifty-three select committees, including one that framed the new Constitution. In the new Legislative Council he represented Central Province from November 1856 to April 1858 and then Western Province until 1866. In 1857 he had supported the government's railway scheme but opposed in vain the creation of a new insurance company. Few believed that his opposition centred on the concept of limited liability status which he had previously championed, but rather that his monopoly would be broken by the proposed company. His priorities began to appear questionable. Under O'Shanassy he was made minister for trade and customs from March 1858 to October 1859. In July 1866 he became vice-president of the Board of Land and Works, commissioner of railways and roads, and representative of the McCulloch ministry in the Legislative Council. Public comment was adverse on this 'about face'. No longer trusted by his electorate he failed at the polls in January 1867 and retired from politics.

Miller was an opportunist: the Imperial Review, July 1888, lamented that no illegality could be pinned on him because he always observed the law. While minister of customs he was alleged to issue permits readily to his own firms but tardily to all others. After Duffy's 1862 Land Act he had founded a Free Selection Land Investment Society to help those who joined for 15s. to pay off a mortgage by monthly instalment; however, fines for non-payments and resumption were the penalty for two months' default or a debt of £6. Miller acquired a fortune through this one venture. A brilliant investor he continued to amass city properties and pastoral holdings. From his great wealth he took up four-fifths of the £50,000 loan floated by the Corporation of Melbourne for public works in 1868 and gave £5000 to St Paul's building fund in 1881. The press was convinced that he gained political influence by such moves. Generally reticent, some said secretive, he dedicated himself to making wealth, thereby earning the nickname of 'Money Miller'.

After paralysis in 1887 his health was uncertain. He died on 7 February 1888 at his thirty-acre (12 ha) property Findon at Kew and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. At Trinity Church, Hobart, on 11 November 1834 he had married Eliza, daughter of Captain Mattinson. She died on 5 April 1892, survived by four sons and three married daughters. A son, Edward (1848-1932), served for twenty years in the Legislative Council and in 1917 was knighted. Henry Miller's real and personal estate was eventually sworn for probate in New South Wales at £163,817, and at £1,456,680 in Victoria where it was taxed at 5 per cent.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 16, series 3, vol 6
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1857, 8 Feb 1888
  • Daily Telegraph (Melbourne), 8 Feb 1888
  • Australasian, 9, 23 June, 13, 20 Oct, 8 Dec 1888, 9 Apr 1892
  • CSO 50/7 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Miller, Henry (1809–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miller-henry-4201/text6761, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017