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John Dunlop Millen (1877–1941)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

John Dunlop Millen (1877-1941), by Robinson Brothers, 1920s

John Dunlop Millen (1877-1941), by Robinson Brothers, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23460571

John Dunlop Millen (1877-1941), mining engineer and politician, was born on 3 May 1877 at Londonderry, Ireland, son of John Millen, draper, and his wife Kate, née Dickson. The family migrated to Queensland in 1884, settling at Toowoomba where his father established a drapery. Millen was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School, completed a diploma course with honours at Sydney Technical College and acquired other qualifications in engineering, metallurgy and analytical chemistry.

He moved, probably in 1904, to Tasmania, worked for several years in the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co. smelting works at Launceston, and undertook consultancies such as his work on the Renison Bell tin-mine at North-East Dundas. On 6 February 1906 he married Janet May Scott at St Andrew's Kirk, Launceston. In 1906-19 he was general manager of the Mount Bischoff mine at Waratah, overseeing an improvement in the company's prosperity, aided by his own detailed petrological investigations.

Millen returned to Launceston in 1919 and, 'a fluent and brilliant speaker', successfully contested the Senate for the National Party. Over six feet (183 cm) tall and heavily built but with cherubic features, Millen was a popular and hard-working member. Like all Tasmanian senators of the post-Federation years, he was a firm believer in the right of his State to special compensation for the impact of Federation on its finances. He had a particular interest in technological subjects, including the development of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. He was a member of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts in 1920-25 and of the wireless agreement committee of 1921-22. In 1923-27 he chaired the royal commission on 'national insurance as a means of making provision for casual sickness, permanent invalidity, old age and unemployment'. Their extensive recommendations were seriously considered and partly adopted in a government bill late in 1928 which, however, lapsed. Always well-prepared, he delivered his memorized speeches at a rate that was the despair of reporters, for whom he was always prepared to repeat anything that had been missed. In his later years declining health made his parliamentary duties onerous.

A director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd and of the Australian Provincial Assurance Association, Millen acted as advisory engineer to the Vacuum Oil Co. and just before his death became managing director of Hadfields Steel Works at Alexandria, Sydney. He was a foundation member and president (1924) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia.

He held his Senate seat in 1925 and 1931, on the latter occasion as a United Australia Party candidate. Defeated in 1937, he was again unsuccessful in the 1940 election. Millen suffered from diabetes mellitus and died on 1 August 1941 at Launceston. Survived by his wife and three sons, he was buried in Carr Villa cemetery.

Millen seems to have made friends easily. At his death many parliamentarians, including Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies, claimed him as a friend. According to a fellow senator this was because 'what he had to say was said with a quiet reserve and a gentility of manner which disarmed even his keenest opponents'.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1941, 168, p 5
  • Examiner (Launceston), 2 Aug 1941
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 Aug 1941
  • private information.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Millen, John Dunlop (1877–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Dunlop Millen (1877-1941), by Robinson Brothers, 1920s

John Dunlop Millen (1877-1941), by Robinson Brothers, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23460571

Life Summary [details]


3 May, 1877
Londonderry, Ireland


1 August, 1941 (aged 64)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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