Millers crossing Irish Sea on pilgrimage to land of their forefathers

The Miller clan - a family whose ancestors include three former first citizens, a Town Clerk and one of the founders of the city of Brisbane, made an emotional pilgrimage to the land of their forefathers this week.

Julian and Richard Miller made the trip in order to inter the remains of their late father in the ancestral family plot in the City Cemetery.

It was an eye-opening visit for the brothers who brought their wives and children back to the old sod for the first time.

Julian told the Sentinel why he feels such an affinity with the Maiden City and related some of the Millers’ storied family history.

“Our connections go back to the mid part of the 1800s, when my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Ewing Miller was Mayor of the city as was his son, Sir William Miller...and his son, Sir Francis Henry Miller - Sir Henry Miller, he was known as - who was Mayor and then Town Clerk.

“He was Mayor 1901 to 1902 and then Town Clerk for twenty-odd years after that.

“We are direct descendants and actually my father, who passed away about a year ago, we are bringing him back to inter him in the City Cemetery next to Sir Henry Miller,” explained Julian.

From the cockpit of civic life here for the best part of a century the Millers spread wings and now form part of the wider Londonderry diaspora, having played a big role in settler colonies in South Asia and the antipodes.

But having established themselves in the Ceylon tea plantations in the early part of the last century, the Millers eventually wound their way back to Ireland thanks to another important plantation crop: Julian’s father worked for years at Gallaher’s tobacco, a firm originally established in Londonderry in 1857 by the teenage Tom Gallaher, who once sold hand rolled cigarettes around the city from a hand cart.

“My grandfather, who was the son of Sir Henry Miller, he left Ireland, went to Ceylon, as was, now Sri Lanka, and was a tea planter, so my father was born in Ceylon,” Julian continued.

“But as a family my father then worker for Gallahers and we lived in North Antrim just outside Ballymoney between 1968 and 1973.

“My ancestors for 100 years they were at the heart of Derry’s civic life absolutely.”

Julian says the family have also recently discovered a fascinating Australian connection thanks to the work of city genealogist Brian Mitchell.

“In talking with Brian [Mitchell]...somebody was in touch with him a number of years ago about the founding of Brisbane in Australia and there’s a kind of Miller connection into that as well.

“There’s a kind of dotted line that goes down to a gentleman called Lieutenant Henry Miller who went off to, fought in the Peninsular Wars, and then went to Australia to run a penal colony and then apparently the guys who were bad even when they got to the penal colony were sent to another one, which became Brisbane, which Lieutenant Henry Miller was responsible for.

“We’ve tried to actually join the dots with that and try to see if that’s going to work.”

The tourists were also thrilled to examine the famous Miller stain-glassed window in the Guildhall, which was presented to the city by Sir Henry Miller, in memory of his father, Sir William Miller, and grandfather, Joseph Ewing Miller, at the turn of the twentieth century.

“Obviously we’ve got the Miller window here, which I’ve never seen,” said Julian.

“It is indeed a pilgrimage. We’re bringing our wives and children. The first time, they’ve been to Derry. just to show a bit of where we come from, where the heritage comes from.”