Ernest (Sandy) Miller – (Patagonia)

by untangledwebl

Replied to the Toast  “New Members”  1922

I started work on our website in 2012 or thereabouts and, over the years when visiting the site’s list of members, I would notice the inclusion of Ernest Miller from Patagonia, who became a member of ‘Let it Blaw’ in 1922. The Secretary back then was not in the habit of recording where members came from, or where they stayed, but obviously an individual arriving at ‘Let it Blaw’ from Patagonia was something that merited a mention. So, a brief entry was made in the Club books recording Sandy becoming a member in 1922.

A report of the 1922 Supper appeared in the ‘Midlothian Advertiser’ early in February. The following is an extract: “Mr Ernest Miller from Ratho rather astonished the members when he said that he was going to Patagonia where he would start a Burns Club with haggis and all the other things, and that he would send back to the Balerno Burns Club a report of their first meeting. Later in the report, the following was recorded “The Toast to New Members was proposed by Mr John Miller Jnr. of Colinton with the reply by Mr Ernest Miller of Patagonia.”

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There is no record of anything being received from Sandy as, if letters were kept back then, they have been lost in the passage of time.

Precisely 100 years after Sandy visited ‘Let it Blaw,’ my wife and I booked a holiday that would include Argentina and Chile. It wasn’t until I checked a map that I appreciated I would be following in Sandy’s footsteps (very loosely) by visiting Patagonia.  For those who have as much clue as I had then, Patagonia is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, with a bit of Argentina to the northeast and a bit of Chile to the northwest ……….. that’s the simplified version. I decided then, that at some future date, I would have to find out precisely who Sandy Miller was, where he came from, and how he managed to find his way to ‘Let it Blaw.’ This is his story:

Ernest Alexander (Sandy) Miller was born at 2 Abbot Street, Perth on 24th March 1883, a son to Alexander Miller and Eleanor Kinnell or Miller. By 1891, the family had moved to Edinburgh and were resident at 13 Hazelbank Terrace in the Slateford area. Also in the family home was Sandy’s sister Letitia (Letty).

The 1901 census shows Sandy now 18 years of age and gives his occupation as an Apprentice Electrical Engineer. The family had moved north again to the village of Wormit on the south side of the River Tay but returned to Edinburgh pre-1911 staying on this occasion at 74 Learmonth Grove. On 14th March that year, Sandy’s father Alexander died. There is no mention in any records of Sandy staying in the family home or elsewhere in the Edinburgh area at that time. Similarly, there is no record of him staying anywhere in Scotland in both the 1911 and 1921 censuses.

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw significant emigration from the UK to Patagonia and the Falkland Islands. Sheep farming was to the fore and several families who initially travelled to the Falklands, subsequently moved to Patagonia where farming conditions were more favourable.  The Scots who travelled to Patagonia in the late 19th century were poor and most came from the crofting communities of the Outer Hebrides, the Highlands and the Scottish borders. All had experience of shepherding and those from the Islands took with them the Gaelic language.

William Halliday, born 1845 in Johnstone, Dumfries-shire, sailed from Sunderland to the Falkland Islands in 1865 gaining employment with the Falkland Islands Council as a shepherd on a 20-year contract. He married Mary MacCall, and they raised a family of nine children one of whom, his daughter Mabel, was born in 1888.

Being unable to buy his sheep farm on the Falklands, Halliday explored the possibility of moving to Patagonia. Shepherds were being encouraged to make the move and, in 1885, he leased 30,000 acres of land at Hill Station, north of the Rio Gallegos, where he eventually settled with his wife and family. Halliday was one of the pioneers of sheep farming in Patagonia and the first foreign settler on the plains by the Gallegos.

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At some point, probably between 1910 and 1916, Sandy Miller having emigrated to Patagonia met William Halliday’s daughter Mabel. They were married in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 17th July 1917 and their son, Donald Halliday Miller, was born on 22nd April 1919 in Santa Cruz, Chile.

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For reasons unknown, Sandy travelled home alone to Scotland c.1920 and is believed to have stayed at Marchwell, Ratho with his mother Eleanor and sister Letty. It was during that visit home, that, in January 1922,  Sandy attended ‘Let it Blaw.’  It was recorded then that he stated he would be returning to Patagonia. We have no details of his journey back, but he must have returned safely as, in June 1928, accompanied by Mabel and son Donald, he again crossed the Atlantic, this time on the  Celtic Star which sailed from Punta Arenas, Patagonia arriving in Liverpool on 8th June 1928.

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“Celtic Star”

The names of Ernest (Sandy) Miller, his wife Mabel and their son Donald (9) were included in the ship’s passenger manifest. The ship’s record also showed they were 1st Class passengers, and that they again intended to stay at ‘Marchwell,’ Ratho on their arrival in Scotland.

Again, no record of their journey back to Patagonia can be found but, again, five years later, Sandy and Mabel travelled home to Scotland. They had 1st Class travel booked on the ship “La Rosarina” which sailed from Montevideo to Liverpool arriving 8th July 1933. Back in Scotland, they stayed with Eleanor and Letty at their home at 21 Blinkbonny Gardens, Edinburgh.

For the final time, Sandy and Mabel left Scotland for Liverpool from where they sailed on the “El Paraguayo” departing 28th October 1933 for Buenos Aires.

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“El Paraguayo”

Our crony, Sandy Miller, died on 7th July 1966 at Hill Station, Santa Cruz, Argentina aged 83.

His wife, Mabel Halliday or Miller, died on 5th December 1975 in Buenos Aires aged 87.

Their son, Donald Halliday Miller, died on 11th July 2012 in Edinburgh aged 93.

Alex J Hood
‘Let it Blaw’
March 2024