born 26th July 1805, Ayr, Scotland, UK
died 8th May 1883, 2 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, UK
buried Dean Cemetery, Dean Path, Edinburgh, UK
Written by Eleanor Knowles, edited by Jane Joyce
in association with Professor Roland Paxton
Scottish railway engineer John Miller built more railways in Scotland in the course of his working life than any other engineer, and he still managed to retire at the age of 45. His career flourished in the second quarter of the 19th century — the years of the 'Railway Age' and 'Railway Mania'.
By the end of 1843, Miller had engineered 40% of Scotland's 442km of track. In November 1845 he submitted proposals to Parliament for a further 2,400km, and by 1866 a significant proportion of Scotland's 3,610km of railway had been designed by him, including most of the main lines to 1850. He recognised the importance of rail for commerce, stating that "a manufacturing population go[es] about much more than an agricultural population ...".
Perhaps Miller's greatest achievement was the 72km Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway
of 1842. Planning and surveying began when he was only 20 and already working with his mentor and future partner, Thomas Grainger. He became the project's engineer in 1838, responsible for the line and its many bridges, three tunnels and seven viaducts, including the spectacular Almond Valley Viaduct
He knew railway pioneers George (1781-1848) and son Robert Stephenson
(1803-59), and admired and respected their work. He followed their lead in trying to minimise gradients along the maximum length of rail tracks. Miller built well-engineered lines and beautiful masonry structures that have stood the test of time.
Miller was a self-made man with a lifelong interest in continuing education and self-improvement. He wasn't shy about offering his opinion. However, he doted on his family and worked diligently to secure their prosperity. He invested in the railways he worked on, often becoming a shareholder — a shrewd move that helped him amass a fortune. He then spent more than three decades in busy retirement, devoting much of his time and money to the Free Church of Scotland, as well as serving as a Member of Parliament for Edinburgh.
main reference BDCE1
portrait of John Miller
courtesy Roland Paxton