Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Miller (1846–1939)

by Deirdre Morris

This article was published:

William Miller (1846-1939), athlete, was born on 16 December 1846 at Liscard, Cheshire, England, son of Alexander Miller, wine and spirits merchant, and his wife Sarah Anne, née Hatton. At 5 he arrived in Victoria with his family and in 1862-69 worked for the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Co. as station-master and telegraph instructor. In fencing, boxing and gymnastics he showed singular proficiency and in 1872 won the Australian broadsword championship by defeating a sergeant of the Light Hussars. In America from 1874 to 1880 he defeated cosmopolitan champions in boxing and wrestling, winning 55 out of 72 matches with 11 draws. In 1879 he defeated the walker Duncan Ross over 102 miles (164 km) in 24 hours and drew with the champion weight-lifter Richard Pennell, both lifting 1550 lbs. (703 kg) of solid iron. In Melbourne an eight-hour wrestling match in 1880 with his former pupil William Muldoon ended in a draw. He defeated the Scottish wrestler and weight-lifter Donald Dinnie in dumb-bell contests and later drew with him in a wrestling match despite a broken leg.

In 1883 Miller opened a gymnasium in Liverpool Street, Sydney, and in May challenged the champion boxer L. Foley to fight with gloves for a stake of £500. Spectators broke up the fight after forty rounds and it was called a draw though Foley conceded the fight. In Melbourne he coached at the Olympic Club in 1884-89 and later at his gymnasium in Elizabeth Street. He competed in Graeco-Roman wrestling matches with Whistler and T. Cannon and defeated Sali and Christol combined. He appeared on the stage in a Shakespearian wrestling scene and lectured on physical culture in the Hibernian Hall. In 1886 he retired from competitive sport but in America issued challenges in 1889 for boxing, wrestling, fencing and weight-lifting, none of which was taken up.

In Melbourne from 1889 to 1903 Miller, nicknamed professor, continued wrestling and defeated R. Ross in April 1890 at the Melbourne Athletic Club of which Miller was manager. The only athlete to hold the Australian championships for boxing, fencing, wrestling and weight-lifting, he weighed 14 stone (89 kg), was 5ft 9¾ ins (177 cm) tall, had 17 ins (43 cm) biceps, 17 ins (43 cm) calves and a 46 ins (117 cm) chest. In 1895 he published Health, Exercise and Amusement in Melbourne.

In 1903 Miller returned to America and was manager of the San Francisco Athletic Club and later athletic instructor with the New York police. On 2 March 1872 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, he had married Lizzie Margery (d.1929), née Trible, daughter of an American Baptist minister; they had no children. From 1917 Miller lived in Baltimore where he died on 11 March 1939. He was buried in the Greenmount cemetery, and the Baltimore Sun described him as 'one of the greatest all-round athletes in the world'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Tonkin (ed), The English, Australian & American Sporting Calendar (Syd, 1884)
  • ‘Vigilant’ (ed), Australian Sporting Celebrities (Melb, 1887)
  • New York Times, 13 Mar 1939
  • Bulletin, 14 Aug 1880, 26 Feb 1881, 17 Feb 1937, 26 Apr 1939
  • Australasian, 3 Oct 1885, 25 Sept, 25 Dec 1886, 12 Oct 1889, 8 Mar, 12 Apr 1890.

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Miller, William (1846–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1846
Liscard, Cheshire, England


11 March, 1939 (aged 92)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America

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