The <i>Antelope</i> and <i>Admiral Grenfell</i>, owned by the firm of Millers and Thompson of Liverpool, oil painting by W.K. McMinn

Millers & Thompson

William Charlesí father, Joseph Dundas Miller, died in 1847 when Charles was only 21, leaving him to shoulder the responsibility of his two youngest siblings, Emily Frances and Francis Benjamin. His mother, Elizabeth, died just a few years later, in early 1852. After his fatherís death, Charles continued his fatherís business as a shipbroker, one who worked with ship owners and merchants, finding cargo that needed to be shipped and ships to transport the cargo. The family originally traded between Brazil, Madeira, probably Portugal and England, but with the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851, there was a great demand for ships to carry passengers to the gold fields.

William Charles formed a partnership with Edmund Thompson, another shipbroker, and his younger brother Henry and his cousin George Spurstow Miller. Millers and Thompson transported passengers and cargo on what they called the Golden Line of Packets. The ships left Liverpool, stopping at Queenstown, Ireland; Madeira; Cape Verde; and Capetown, before heading on to Australia. Depending on the particular voyage, passengers landed at Melbourne, Sydney, Port Phillip, Adelaide and Geelong, all close to the gold fields. The ships returned with gold, wool and other goods. Most of the ships were clipper ships with their tall, beautiful sails; the Antelope was an auxiliary screw steamer and the Golden Age was a paddle-steamer.

If all went well, the business could be lucrative. Of course, all did not always go well. There was much competition. Ships sunk or broke down, there were bank panics, and loans did not always get paid. And when the Australian gold began to peter out, hard times hit. In January of 1855, Millers & Thompson had losses of £60,000 and the partnership ended. Ships that the company owned were sold, as well as other assets.

Henry, one of the partners, and William Charles' brother, had gone to Rio de Janeiro in 1851. He was never listed in the city directories, and at least some of his children were born in South America. What he did after the dissolution of the partnership is unknown. George Spurstow Miller, their cousin, continued on as a shipbroker, a partner at one point with Miller & Barker - George's first wife was Margaret Barker, so this was probably a partnership with one of his in-laws. Edmund Thompson continued also as a shipbroker, partnering with others.

Related Links
The SS Antelope, another ship used by Millers and Thompson
Flyer for the Golden Line of Australian Packets
A brief history of the Miller family
William Charles Miller and Lucy Swainson

The oil painting, above, is of two ships, the Antelope and the Admiral Grenfel, which were owned by the Millers and Thompson shipping line. The ships in the 19th century painting, on the River Mersey in the Liverpool Harbour, were painted by W. K. McMimm.The painting is considered a rare picture of the harbour and ships around Liverpool and remains with a family descendant.

Anne Healy's Genealogy, Created October 2002
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16 February 2021

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