MILLER, Sir John, 1st Bt. (d.1798), of Bath Easton, Som.
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Family and Education
2nd s. of John Miller of Drumlin, co. Clare by Anne, da. of Thomas Browne of New Grove, co. Clare. educ. Hackney; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1761; M. Temple 1757. m. (1) Aug. 1765, Anne (d. 1781), da. and h. of Edward Riggs of M. Temple, and gd.-da. and h. of Edward Riggs, commr. of revenue [I], 1s. 1da; (2) 9 Sept. 1795, Jane, da. of Robert Seel of Liverpool, wid. of Sir Thomas Davenport s.p. Took name of Riggs before Miller soon after his first marriage. suc. bro. to fam. estates 24 July 1762; cr. Bt. 24 Aug. 1778.
Cornet 15 Lt. Drag. 1760; capt. 113 Ft. 1761; ret. 1763.
Miller’s marriage brought him a considerable fortune, enabling him to settle in England and to build a handsome villa. Horace Walpole wrote to Mann, 24 Apr. 1776, that when he met Miller and his wife shortly after their marriage he found them ‘mighty civil simple people’; but they ‘ran out their fortune’ and went to France and Italy to repair it.
Thence they returned [Walpole continued], her head turned with France and bouts rimés; his with virtù. They have instituted a poetic academy at Bath Easton, give out subjects, distribute prizes, publish prize verses, and make themselves completely ridiculous; which is [a] pity, as they are good-natured, well-meaning people.
Their literary group flourished till Lady Miller’s death in 1781, and though frequently ridiculed, received contributions from numerous and diverse people including Garrick, Admiral Keppel, and the Duchess of Northumberland.1
At the general election of 1784 Miller was returned for Newport on the Duke of Northumberland’s interest. In Parliament he seems to have followed an independent line; his only recorded votes, on Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786 and the Regency, 1788-9, were with opposition, but his speeches show a great admiration for Pitt whom he called ‘the successor in name, virtue, talents, and situation’ to that ‘great and ever revered minister Chatham’;2 and he several times favourably contrasted Pitt’s Administration with its predecessors. He spoke frequently and on a wide variety of subjects, though Wraxall thought he was ‘by no means endowed with parliamentary talents or eloquence’.3 Miller believed that it was ‘the first duty of the House to watch over and economise the public expenditure’, and stressed the need for careful scrutiny of accounts. He spent some time inquiring into the costs of building Somerset Place, and on 21 May 1788 told the House that ‘the whole business appeared to him ... the arrantest and rankest job that ever stunk in the nose of inquiry’.4 He wished for a committee to examine what checks should be established.
Miller, referring to his army career, spoke several times on military affairs, praising the militia in a long speech on 10 May 1786; he also took a considerable interest in naval affairs and more than once commended Pitt’s Admiralty Board, declaring on 5 Mar. 1787 that ‘never ... was the British fleet so considerable in point of number, force, condition or efficacy of ships’.5 But on 29 Apr. 1788 he protested against the passing over of certain Flag officers for promotion and condemned Howe’s judgment, though not his integrity.6 Miller (who sat on the Bristol election committee after the 1784 general election) attempted on 30 Apr. 1787 to bring in a bill to prevent occasional freemen from voting at elections, and cited Bristol as a glaring example of the abuses which they entailed, but he was persuaded to withdraw his bill. Miller supported attempts to repeal the shop tax, which he described on 13 Mar. 1788 as ‘partial and ... oppressive’, though he had once voted for it ‘partly from being deceived’. He conceded that Pitt’s difficulties had been very great and that he had ‘faced them with exertion and fortitude’, but now they were overcome, and Miller
called emphatically upon the independent gentlemen then present, who like him, had been heretofore deluded by specious statements or by regards to public necessity to come forward with him manfully upon the present occasion, and by retracting to atone for their former error and unintentional oppression.7
During Miller’s last years in Parliament his chief preoccupation was the reform of weights and measures; he carried out privately a widespread inquiry, corresponding with authorities all over the country and abroad, and on 24 July 1789 gave notice that he should move for a committee to consider the expediency of establishing a general standard. He told the House: ‘To methodize and digest ... such a mass and variety of materials, in order to bring the subject before a committee in some form and shape, has fully occupied and continues to give employment to every diligence I can lay claim to.’8 His efforts were unsuccessful.
He does not seem to have attempted to re-enter Parliament at the general election of 1790. After his death on 28 May 1798, the Gentleman’s Magazine (1798, pp. 626-7) wrote of him:
His exertions ... in favour of equal weights and measures, though unsuccessful, will be gratefully remembered ... For many years past, Sir John’s great amusement was a constant inquiring after, and as constant circulation of, the news of the day. Wherever news was to be had Sir John was present; amongst the grave readers at Hookham’s, the fiery politicians at Stockdale’s, the facetious disputants of the Westminster Library, or even the sapient money hunting herd of Lloyd’s coffee house, if news was to be had, Sir John was there to glean it, and to do him justice, was equally alert in retailing it to his friends.
Which echoes Horace Walpole’s reference many years before to Miller’s ‘good-natured officiousness’.9