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Edward Thomas (Teddy) Miles (1849–1944)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

Edward Thomas (Teddy) Miles (1849-1944), merchant seaman, politician and entrepreneur, was born on 24 June 1849 at Hobart Town, son of Alfred Miles, shoemaker, and his wife Elizabeth. In 1863 he went to sea as ship's boy, subsequently serving in many parts of the world and gaining his master's certificate in 1873. On 11 February 1874 in Hobart he married Charlotte Eliza Reynolds; they had seven sons and four daughters.

After operating out of New Zealand for a time, Miles returned to Tasmania in 1879. He briefly partnered his brother in a manufacturing business, then purchased the first of many small coastal vessels which he resold or used for short-term shipping leases and charters. The profits enabled him to enter the Tasmanian coastal trade in 1889, and after succeeding on the east coast, Miles and his father-in-law, as T. A. Reynolds & Co., moved to the Hobart-Strahan run; that year they also won the contract to build the Strahan-Zeehan railway.

A dapper man with a neat spade beard, Teddy Miles was quick and decisive in his business methods and not unprepared to bend the law to suit himself. His company soon absorbed its main rival, the Launceston & North-West Coast Steam Navigation Co., and in 1896 sold out at a profit to the Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand. In 1898 Miles moved to Strahan to manage his considerable property investments and that year became first master warden of the Strahan Marine Board.

Miles had entered public life in 1888 as a member of the Glebe Town Road Trust and the Hobart Marine Board (master warden 1897-98), and in December 1893 he was elected to the House of Assembly for Glamorgan, becoming minister for lands and works in May 1899. His political career was brief, ending spectacularly after an 1899 select committee investigated allegations of dishonesty involving the Strahan Marine Board and the proposed construction of the Macquarie Harbour breakwater. Evidence revealed 'a deliberate purpose on [Miles's] part to obtain and use the position of Master Warden for his own ends', and indicated that, 'improperly and secretly interested in two of the tenders for the West Breakwater', he employed 'unworthy means to secure the acceptance by the Board of the higher of these'. After discussions with Premier Braddon, Miles resigned from the ministry on 2 October 1899; the committee's report was accepted by the assembly on 4 October and a motion of no confidence in the government moved next day; the Braddon government lost the vote on 6 October and resigned six days later.

Miles nominated for the seat of Hobart in 1900, and surprised by gaining election under the proportional representation voting system. The outcry was immediate and, ostracized by fellow members, he resigned his seat within six weeks. In 1901 he unsuccessfully contested South Hobart and in 1903 both Lyell and the Senate.

By 1900 Miles had purchased enough west coast property to have a yearly rent roll of £2000, but falling land values saw this reduced to £500 by 1902 and he was forced to seek restoration of his fortunes. In 1903 he travelled to East Asia where on behalf of New Zealand and Australian interests he negotiated the sale of several ships in China and Japan. He also contracted for the supply of wooden paving blocks for Manila streets, established a timber plant in the Philippines and made sleeper sales to Indian railways.

More importantly, in Siam (Thailand) Miles gained the Tongkah Harbour Concession Agreement for working tin deposits on Phuket Island, in return for which he constructed a deep-water dock and shipping channel. In 1906 he helped to float the Tongkah Harbour Tin Dredging Co. Ltd in Hobart and was appointed general manager. (Sir) Henry Jones and his associates were major shareholders but Miles, loath to advertise the 'damn jam', abandoned the IXL name given to the initial prospecting company. A bucket dredge, constructed in Scotland to Miles's design, was assembled at Penang, Malay Peninsula, in December 1907; then Miles took his last command, the steamer Padang, to tow the uninsured dredge 200 nerve-wracking miles (322 km) across open sea to the work site. The enterprise, continued by Miles's sons, laid the foundation of the modern Thai tin-mining industry.

In 1909 Miles settled at Ringwood, Victoria, where he owned orchards and other property. He retired from the Tongkah Harbour Co. board in 1911 but was for many years managing director of companies operating at Ranong, Siam.

Miles died at his home, Glamorgan, on 6 July 1944, survived by ten of his children. His estate was valued for probate at £27,976. An imposing monument to his tin-mining work was unveiled on Phuket Island in 1969.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1899, 41 (61)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 July 1944
  • T. A. Miles (compiler), The Life Story of Captain Edward Thomas Miles Master Mariner and Pioneer of Tin Dredging (1969, typescript, based on the memoirs of E. T. Miles, held at National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Miles, Edward Thomas (Teddy) (1849–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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