Hugh Miller, photographed by Hill & Adamson, circa 1843–1847.
|Born||10 October 1802
|Died||23/24 December 1856 (age 54)
Life and work
Born in Cromarty, he was educated in a parish school where he reportedly showed a love of reading. At 17 he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and his work in quarries, together with walks along the local shoreline, led him to the study of geology. In 1829 he published a volume of poems, and soon afterwards became involved in political and religious controversies, first connected to the Reform Bill, and then with the division in the Church of Scotland which led to the Disruption of 1843.
In 1834 he became accountant in one of the local banks, and in the next year brought out his Scenes and Legends in the North of Scotland. In 1837 he married Lydia Mackenzie Falconer. In 1840 the popular party in the Church, with which he had been associated, started a newspaper, the Witness, and Miller was called to be editor in Edinburgh, a position which he retained till the end of his life.
Among his geological works are The Old Red Sandstone (1841), Footprints of the Creator (1850), The Testimony of the Rocks (1857), Sketch-book of Popular Geology. Of these books, perhaps The Old Red Sandstone was the best-known. The Old Red Sandstone is still a term used to collectively describe sedimentary rocks deposited as a result of the Caledonian orogeny in the late Silurian, Devonian and earliest part of the Carboniferous period.
Miller held that the Earth was of great age, and that it had been inhabited by many species which had come into being and gone extinct, and that these species were homologous; although he believed the succession of species showed progress over time, he did not believe that later species were descended from earlier ones. He denied the Epicurean theory that new species occasionally budded from the soil, and the Lamarckian theory of development of species, as lacking evidence. He argued that all this showed the direct action of a benevolent Creator, as attested in the Bible – the similarities of species are manifestations of types in the Divine Mind; he accepted the view of Thomas Chalmers that Genesis begins with an account of geological periods, and does not mean that each of them is a day; Noah's Flood was a limited subsidence of the Middle East. Geology, to Miller, offered a better version of the argument from design than William Paley could provide, and answered the objections of sceptics, by showing that living species did not arise by chance or by impersonal law.
In a biographical review about him, he was recognized as an exceptional person by Sir David Brewster, who said of him:
"Mr. Miller is one of the few individuals in the history of Scottish science who have raised themselves above the labors of an humble profession, by the force of their genius and the excellence of their character, to a comparatively high place in the social scale."— Brewster (1851)
Illness and death
For most of 1856, Miller suffered severe headaches and mental distress, and the most probable diagnosis is of psychotic depression. Victorian medicine did not help. He feared that he might harm his wife or children because of persecutory delusions.
Miller committed suicide, shooting himself in the chest with a revolver in his house on Tower Street, Portobello, on the night of 23/24 December 1856. That night he had finished checking printers' proofs for his book on Scottish fossil plants and vertebrates, The Testimony of the Rocks. Before his death, he wrote a poem called Strange but True. He died on Christmas Eve.
His funeral procession, attended by thousands, was amongst the largest in the memory of Edinburgh residents.
He is buried in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh. His is a very simple red granite monument on the north boundary wall, close to the NW corner.
Miller's death was very tragic, and his life brief, but he left a heritage of new discoveries of several Silurian sea scorpions (the eurypterid genus Hughmilleria was named in his honour), and many Devonian fishes, including several placoderms (the arthrodire Millerosteus also honoured him), described in his popular books. Though he had no academic credentials, he is today considered one of Scotland's premier palaeontologists.
Miller's second daughter, Harriet Miller Davidson was a published poet who married a clergyman after her father's suicide. She moved to Adelaide where her husband was a minister and she published poems and stories in both countries about temperance and of daughters left by inspirational fathers.
There is a bust of Hugh Miller in the Hall of Heroes at the Wallace Monument in Stirling. His home in Cromarty is open as a geological museum, with specimens collected in the immediate area; a week-end event at the site in 2008 was part of celebrations marking the bicentenary of the Geological Society of London.
The Hugh Miller Trail starts at a small car park on a minor road just past Eathie Mains, about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Cromarty, and leads about 1 mile (1.6 km) down a steep slope through woodland to the foreshore at Eathie Haven on the Moray Firth, where Miller began collecting fossils. It was here that he found his first fossil ammonite, in Jurassic rocks. The haven was originally a salmon fishing station, and a former fishermen's bothy, open to the public, has a display board about the geology of the area and Miller's fossil discoveries.
The BP-operated Miller oilfield in the North Sea was named after Hugh Miller.
- Scenes and legends of the north of Scotland : or, The traditional history of Cromarty (1834)
- The old red sandstone : or, New walks in an old field (1841)
- First impressions of England and its people (1847)
- The foot-prints of the Creator: or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1849)
- My schools and schoolmasters; or, The story of my education (1854)
- The cruise of the Betsey : or, a summer ramble among the fossiliferous deposits of the Hebrides ; with Rambles of a geologist ; or, Ten thousand miles over the fossiliferous deposits of Scotland (1857)
- The testimony of the rocks; or, Geology in its bearings on the two theologies, natural and revealed (1857)
- The old red sandstone; or, New walks in an old field. To which is appended a series of geological papers, read before the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh (1858)
- Sketch-book of popular geology being a series of lectures delivered before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh (1859)
- Popular geology: a series of lectures read before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, with Descriptive sketches from a geologist's portfolio (1859)
- The headship of Christ and The rights of the Christian people (1860)
- Tales and sketches (1862)
- Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, geological and historical; with the geology of the Bass rock (1863)
- Essays, historical and biographical, political, social, literary and scientific (1865)
- Sketch-book of popular geology (1869)
- Hugh Miller's memoir : from stonemason to geologist by Hugh Miller (1995)
- Hugh Miller and the controversies of Victorian science (1996)
- Peter Bayne, The Life and Letters of Hugh Miller (2 vols, 1871)
- Anderson, Lyall I. 2005. Hugh Miller: introducing palaeobotany to a wider audience. In: Bowden, A. J., Burek, C. V. & Wilding, R. (eds). History of Palaeobotany: Selected Essays. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 241, 63 – 90.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Henderson, Lizanne (2003) "The Natural and Supernatural Worlds of Hugh Miller", in Celebrating the Life and Times of Hugh Miller. Scotland in the Early 19th Century Ed. Lester Borley. Cromarty Arts Trust. ISBN 0906265339. pp. 89–98.
- Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J.M. Dent & Co. Retrieved 13 December 2007.
- Marian McKenzie Johnston, ‘Miller , Lydia Mackenzie Falconer (bap. 1812, d. 1876)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 8 Dec 2014
- Miller, Hugh (1857) Testimony of the Rocks, Lecture Five, et passim.
- The Foot-prints of the Creator: Or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1851), Harvard University, Department Of Geological Sciences. Hugh Miller: Sketches Of His Life and Writings, p. 14
- Sharp, Robert Farquharson (1904). A Dictionary of English Authors: Biographical and Bibliographical. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Company, Limited. p. 198.
- W. G. Blaikie, ‘Davidson, Harriet Miller (1839–1883)’, rev. Pam Perkins, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 8 Dec 2014
- Carter, Owain F. (2002) The Wallace Monument. tesco.net
- Hugh Miller Museum & Birthplace Cottage Museum. National Trust for Scotland
- "Local hero's shores 'fossil rich'". BBC News. 12 April 2008.
- Davidson, John (24 May 2011). "A steep descent into ancient Black Isle history : Features : Active-Outdoors". Inverness Courier. Retrieved 1 October 2013., supplemented by information from notice boards at the car park and in the bothy. See also WalkHighlands.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hugh Miller.|
- Works by Hugh Miller at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Hugh Miller at Internet Archive
- Hugh Miller – a brief biography by Samuel Smiles
- Discover Hugh Miller
- Scottish Authors page
- Hugh Miller's Old Fish Story
- " Miller, Hugh". A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. Wikisource. 1910
- Testimony of the Rocks (1857) - digital facsimile from Linda Hall Library