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Horatio Clive (Horrie) Miller (1893–1980)

by Geraldine Byrne

This article was published:

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Horatio Miller, n.d.

Horatio Miller, n.d.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Horatio Clive Miller (1893-1980), pioneer aviator, was born on 30 April 1893 at Ballarat, Victoria, only son of John Pettigrew Miller, clerk, and his Irish wife Mary Ann, née Hurley. Mary Ann Miller died of typhoid at Mildura in 1893, leaving Horrie and his sister Annie in their father's care. Miller left school while young and worked in Melbourne as a baker's errand boy, a cleaner and rouseabout to a car firm. He was apprenticed at Sunshine Harvester Works for two years, became interested in aviation and built his first model aircraft. After finishing his apprenticeship Miller worked for the Tarrant Motor Co. where he met Hawker, Kauper and Busteed, 'the three Harrys', all destined to make their names.

In 1911 the three went to England, hoping to break into aviation; Miller, with a friend Bob Cousins, followed in 1913. Hawker and Kauper were working at Sopwith Aviation Co.'s works. Miller and Cousins joined them there: as a mechanic Miller learned to fly and won repute for his knowledge of aerodynamics.

On the outbreak of World War I he returned to Australia. While waiting to join the Australian Flying Corps he built his first aircraft, which he flew himself. After training Miller became a member of the first flying unit to go to England in 1916. He was trained as a fighter pilot, posted to No 2 Australian (68) Squadron where he obtained his commission and was transferred to No 3 (69) Squadron. Late in 1917 he saw action in France. Early next year, in poor health, he returned to Australia and spent the rest of the war at Point Cook, Victoria, as a test pilot. In 1919 Miller became a mechanic with a small South Australian aviation company. He then worked for the Department of Defence and flew an Avro 504 in a job that called for aerobatics over towns, encouraging people to invest in the Second Peace Loan. In 1920 he left the department to take delivery of an Armstrong Whitworth war disposal aircraft and, with Arthur Kennedy, formed the Commercial Aviation Co.

In 1922 the partnership was dissolved and Miller sold the Armstrong Whitworth to Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd; it was one of the first two planes QANTAS owned. Miller spent 1923-24 on charter work and joy flights in Queensland and won the speed and handicap sections of the 1924 Aerial Derby in Sydney. He returned to work at Point Cook in the engine-repair section but, feeling that he had become caught again in military discipline, soon left.

In 1927 Miller reopened the Commercial Aviation Co. Next year his friend David Robertson introduced him to his brother (Sir) Macpherson Robertson, the confectionery magnate, who agreed to pay for a new aircraft. In 1928 the MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co. was registered; three new planes were bought and two pilots employed. Miller was managing director, chief pilot and chief engineer. He also opened a flying school at Mount Gambier, South Australia. Next year he made headlines when in a De Havilland 9 aircraft he won the Sydney-to-Perth centenary air race, carrying a prize of £1000. In 1934 MacRobertson-Miller Aviation successfully tendered for an air service from Perth to Daly Waters, Northern Territory, to connect with the QANTAS airmail service to Singapore, thus starting M.M.A.'s operations in the West.

By 1939 the company's main coastal route had been extended to Darwin. M.M.A. supported the Flying Doctor Service and the Air Beef Scheme in 1949-53; the latter flew beef out of the remote Kimberley abattoirs. In 1955 M.M.A. amalgamated with Airlines of Western Australia and Miller became regional director at Broome. He had ended his commercial flying days in the late 1940s though he continued to fly privately. In 1963 Ansett Transport Ltd gained control of M.M.A. but Miller remained a director till the late 1960s. He retired to live in Perth in 1972 and in 1978 received the highest aviation award, the Oswald Watt medal, and was appointed O.B.E. His name is given to a Broome museum containing his old Wackett aircraft.

Miller had married Jean Auburn Knox on 31 May 1934 at the Registry Office, Adelaide; they had one daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1938. On 2 December in Melbourne he married the writer, (Dame) Mary, daughter of M. P. Durack; they had two sons and four daughters including Robin Miller (d.1975), the flying nurse. Miller's book Early Birds (Adelaide, 1976) covered his pioneering aviation experiences. A tall, bronzed man, he had sharp, hawk-like features, but his eyes were gentle. After a stroke in 1977 his health gradually declined. He died at Dalkeith on 27 September 1980; he was cremated and his ashes were interred in Broome cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • People (Sydney), 22 Apr 1953
  • Miller papers (privately held).

Citation details

Geraldine Byrne, 'Miller, Horatio Clive (Horrie) (1893–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 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

Horatio Miller, n.d.

Horatio Miller, n.d.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Life Summary [details]


30 April, 1893
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


27 September, 1980 (aged 87)
Dalkeith, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.