Oliver Gourlay Miller Esquire
Oliver Gourlay Miller, as well as being a major player in Dundee's flax spinning industry, was also a prominent member of Dundee's civic society. He was described as a man of culture, a brilliant conversationalist and a raconteur par excellence.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2019:
Relative to income compared to 2019:
Personal details and history
Oliver Gourlay Miller
Date of birth
Married 30-04-1844 Dundee
Name of spouse
Mary Brown, oldest daughter of William Brown, millowner and flaxspinner
James Armit; Margaret; Catherine Louisa; John Blair; Olivia Agnes; Emma Brown; William B; Caroline Armit; Jessie; Alexander J; Alice Mary; Mary Adelaide; Oliver Gourlay
Age at death:
88 years of age
Place of death:
Dugald, Manitoba, Canada
Date of death:
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Episcopalian - Oliver Gourlay Miller was a member of St Paul's Episcopal Church and was a strong supporter of the Bishop of Brechin, Alexander Penrose Forbes
Conservative - His obituary describes him as being a strong Conservative. He declined to represent Dundee in politics
Clubs / societies
Exchange Coffee Room - Committee Member
O G Miller was elected a Director of the Chamber of Commerce in 1856: He was further appointed President of the Chamber of Commerce in 1858: At the end of his tenure, O G Miller presented a two-paned, stained glass window to the Chamber of Commerce, which was installed at the West end of the Royal Exchange: He became a member of the works committee for the erection of the Albert Institute for which he also became a Director: Justice of the Peace for the County of Forfar (connected with the Dundee District): The Queen Fire And Life Insurance Company - Dundee Branch - Board of Directors: Deaf and Dumb Institution in Dundee - a Director: Dundee Trade Report Association - Committee Member: Oliver Gourlay Miller was one of the British Commissioners to go to the US regarding an enquiry into the affairs of the Eyrie Railroad: Robert Fleming, a fellow Dundonian and the person who succeeded Oliver Gourlay Miller as President of the Chamber of Commerce, accompanied him:
- Subscriber 22 – John B Baxter, Esq., Procurator Fiscal (the brother of his former partner Edmund Baxter of the firm Baxter & Miller, writers)
- Subscriber 51 – Messrs Cox Brothers, manufacturers, Lochee – The stepmother (Adelaide Campbell Galloway) of Oliver Gourlay Miller’s wife Mary married Thomas Hunter Cox in 1866.)
- Subscribers 30, 41, 64, 86, 213 and 215 – Fellow members of the Dundee Board of Directors for the Queen Insurance Company (Dundee Branch)
- Subscribers 85, 98 and 200 – Fellow members of the Committee for the Dundee Trade Report Association
- Subscribers 62, 65 and 106 – Fellow members of the Committee for the Exchange Coffee Room
- Numerous subscribers as fellow Justices of the Peace
Career and worklife
Merchant and Flaxspinner
Place of work
1 Royal Exchange Buildings
Guthrie Street and Brown Street
Career to date:
Oliver Gourlay Miller, as a young man, served his apprenticeship in a law agent's office in Dundee before going to St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities in order to qualify for the legal profession. His return to Dundee saw him enter into legal practice during the 1830s. A change of direction in the 1850s saw O G Miller enter into the flax spinning industry and, by the 1860s, his success was clearly evident in that by the mid 1860s he owned five mills.
When, in the 1830s, Oliver Gourlay Miller returned to Dundee after University, he entered into partnership with Edmund Baxter, (brother of John Boyd Baxter – Procurator Fiscal), under the name of Baxter & Miller, writers, of 20 Reform Street. This partnership continued through the 1840s.
By the 1850s, Miller, through his marriage to Mary Brown in 1844, had entered a family steeped in experience and innovation within the flax spinning industry. Miller joined the commercial business of flax spinning, alongside his father-in-law, William Brown (a well known and enterprising flax spinner).
William Brown was the younger partner of J & W Brown, who, in 1846, had three mills. William Brown’s father, James Brown of Cononsyth, had been responsible for erecting the Bell Mill (also known as West Ward Mill) in Guthrie Street in 1806. He was also one of the early pioneers of flax spinning by steam power.
After the retiral in 1856 of William’s brother and senior partner, James Brown of Lochton (the first President of Dundee’s Chamber of Commerce 1835-37 and 1845), William Brown was assisted in the management of the business by his son-in-law, Oliver Gourlay Miller, under the designation of Brown & Miller. Miller succeeded to the entire business on the retiral of his father-in-law, Mr William Brown. He eventually became the sole proprietor of the works.
“The works were extensive when Miller entered into possession of them but he has recently extended and improved the old mills and erected a large new one,” wrote A J Warden in 1864. “Mr Miller’s great staples are flax and tow but he also spins a little jute. He has attained celebrity for the quality of his yarns, the whole of which he sells in the market in the raw state or bleached, creamed or otherwise prepared, as he does not manufacture any of them into cloth. The prize medal for quality of dry spun yarns was awarded to Mr Miller at the Great Exhibition of 1862.”
Oliver G. Miller, of the firm of Brown & Miller, afterwards O. G. Miller & Co., merchants and flaxspinners, Royal Exchange Buildings, acquired a large number of mills in Dundee. He owned six works in Brown Street and Guthrie Street. They were all contiguous and comprised the following – Arch (Brown Street – rebuilt and operational in 1852 for the spinning of the finer grists (thicknesses) of flax and tow yarns), East (Guthrie Street), North (Blinshall Street), Column (Brown Street) and South (both old and new – Brown Street and Session Street).
Through his abilities, energy and enterprise, he gained a high reputation. Under his management, the claim was that his establishment was one of the largest concerns in the kingdom and, allegedly, O G Miller refused an offer of £100,000 for the huge works (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £80,000,000 – Relative to inflation – £10,000,000).
With the rise of the jute industry and other circumstances, the trade began to decline and, in August 1884, “the firm known as O G Miller & Son, failing to effect a private arrangement, came to grief.” On account of the depression existing in the trade, O G Miller & Sons (by which time he had been joined in business by two of his sons (1882) and a son-in-law), went into sequestration. It was mooted that although Oliver Gourlay Miller had been a big ‘spinner‘ he had no looms to cushion him from changes in demand and sold all his yarn in the market. At the time of sequestration in November 1884, the gross losses of the firm amounted to £125,983 (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £ 100,782,400. Relative to inflation – £1,259,830) and all works were closed.
After the sequestration of ‘O G Miller & Sons,’ the South Mills in Guthrie Street were once again operational when possessed by ‘Messrs A J Brough & Co’ (son of Subscriber 31 – Thomas Brough).
Oliver Gourlay Miller, his wife Mary, together with his two sons Oliver and James and one of his daughters Mary Adelaide, emigrated to Manitoba, Canada soon after. There, he assumed the role of a farmer although his interest in his former occupation of spinner had apparently not deserted him. He is recorded as having had an involvement in the Manitoba Binder Twine & Cordage Company. He was listed as a Provincial Director of the Company in 1891 – the entry showing Oliver Gourlay Miller, JP, Dundee, Scotland, formerly flax spinner there, now of Dugald, Manitoba, Consulting Director.
There seems little doubt then that Oliver Gourlay Miller, as Consulting Director, with all his experiences in the spinning industry, would have been able to add ‘grist to the mill.”
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1812). 282/ 90 579. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Courier, 6 March 1900. p.6. Findmypast website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. 1844. 282/ 230 120. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1864-1865. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Centenary Souvenir. 1836-1936. Dundee Chamber of Commerce. p.43.
- Newspaper Article. 6 March 1900. Obituary Notices. Book 2. (1885-1909). Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Philadelphia Inquirer. 26 January 1876. Findmypast website.
- Valuation Rolls. Dundee. VR009800015-/251. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1840-1842. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 15 November 1864. Findmypast website.
- Warden, Alexander J. (1864) The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern. London. Longman. p.627.
- Watson, Mark. (1990) Jute and Flax Mills in Dundee. Hutton Press. p.23.
- Winnipeg Tribune, 16 December 1891. Findmypast website.
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