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Miller, Alexander (1842–1914)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Alexander Miller (1842-1914), retailer and philanthropist, was born in 1842 at Aberdeen, Scotland, son of William Miller, cooper, and his wife Annie, née McKenzie. Several years later Alexander arrived with his mother at Geelong, Port Phillip District, where William Miller, who had migrated earlier, had tried unsuccessfully to establish himself in the fishing industry. Eldest of three sons and three daughters, Alexander was forced to work after only minimal formal education and became an apprentice with Hall Bros, drapers.

When the family inherited £100 from Alexander's maternal uncle, he started a drapery business in Pakington Street, Geelong West. By 1868 he had set up as a draper at Ballarat but in 1873 returned to Geelong, opening a store at Victoria House, Moorabool Street. In 1890 he opened new premises in Moorabool Street which were the centre of his rapidly expanding activities.

From the 1880s Miller extended his business interests to other country towns, becoming an initiator of chain-store organization in Victoria. By 1884 he had opened a shop at Horsham and in 1893 he established a business at Geelong House, Benalla. By 1895 there were other branch stores of A. Miller & Co. at Euroa, Hamilton, Maryborough and Shepparton and, by the time of his death, also at Numurkah, Rushworth and Echuca. As his business prospered, he diversified his activities to include farming, real estate and general stores.

Although dour and self-effacing and an exacting employer, Miller gained during his life a reputation as a philanthropist and benefactor. Influenced by Rev. A. R. Edgar, he sought to use his wealth in a Christian way. He established almshouses in East and West Geelong, Chilwell and Benalla, donated statuary to public gardens in Geelong, Shepparton and Benalla, and gave financial aid to needy cases who came to the attention of Geelong police magistrate George Read Murphy. He opened the gardens of his substantial Geelong home, Rannoch House, for use by charitable organizations.

Miller died, unmarried, at Armadale, Melbourne, on 27 April 1914. After a service at Yarra Street Methodist Church, Geelong, of which he had been steward and trustee, he was buried in Geelong cemetery. His estate, valued for probate at about £172,000, after providing bequests to various religious and charitable organizations, was committed to the building and endowing of homes for the poor, to be known as the Alexander Miller Memorial Homes, in Geelong, Euroa, Numurkah, Benalla, Rushworth and other country towns. The homes were to be administered by local advisory committees comprised of clergymen and businessmen. By 1944, 168 homes had been erected at the cost of £95,000 and the estate, valued at £275,000, included £180,000 to provide annuities for charitable organizations. By 1984 there were 195 Alexander Miller Memorial Homes.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • A. J. Dunlop, Benalla Cavalcade (Melb, 1973)
  • G. Seaton, The Ashby Story (Geelong, 1978)
  • Investigator (Geelong), 20, no 4, Dec 1985
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1914
  • Shepparton Advertiser, 30 Apr 1914
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1914, 5 Apr 1944
  • Benalla Independent, 1 May 1914
  • Euroa Advertiser, 1 May 1914
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1944.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Miller, Alexander (1842–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/miller-alexander-7579/text13231, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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