|Robert William Miller was born on Monday
27th January 1879 at South Queensferry, West Lothian, Scotland.
He was the son of Robert Johnston Miller and Christina (Fraser).
Like is father R. W. Miller went to sea in 1893 as a cabin boy
on sailing ships. During 1895, he sailed around Cape Horn and
before 1900 he had acquired his Master Mariner's Ticket.
In 1901 Miller came to Australia and obtained a job with
Huddart-Parker Limited as a Second Mate. On 8th February 1910 he
married Annie May Kieran at St Marys Cathedral in Sydney.
In 1908 Miller left Huddart-Parker and started a marine
business venture as a lighterman, transporting goods by loading
and unloading ships not at a wharf. To do this he purchased a
punt and a second-hand tug. It appears that Robert W. Miller
traded under the name R.W. Miller and Company from early 1912.
One of Miller's first contracts was to pick up overburden and
spoil from the sinking of the Balmain Colliery shaft and dump it
at sea. Miller saw the opportunity to sell this material and he
ended up getting sixpence a ton from a local council and other
contractors for use as road bases and building foundations.
Following this close association on Wednesday 15th January 1913
Robert W. Miller was given the contract for coal distribution
from Sydney Harbour Colliery Limited (Balmain mine). So begin a
long association with coal.
Miller built a fleet of lighters that were used to transport
blue metal, sand and coal around Sydney Harbour. This
introduction into coal transport opened a prospect for him to
enter the larger coal shipping transport. During 1917 Miller
purchased a vessel, the Audrey D in the name of his wife,
Annie May Miller. The ship was used to carry coal from Newcastle
to Sydney. This was a tremendous success and in mid-1918 R.W.
Miller acquired a second vessel, the Douglas Mawson This
was sold the next year and in August 1919 the Meeinderry
was purchased from Huddart-Parker Shipping Company. A fourth
ship, the Herga was purchased in early 1921.
In 1921 R. W. Miller owned 10 punts, 4 ships, 2 hulks and 3
tugs. On Thursday 22 February 1923 Ayrfield Colliery in the
Hunter Valley (later to become Ayrfield No. 1) was purchased by
Robert W. Miller. R.W. Miller and Company was incorporated in
July 1923 and from Thursday 19 July 1923 its offices were at 38A
Pitt Street, Sydney. From late 1927 or early 1928 its Head
Office was located at 19 Bridge Street, Sydney where it remained
for almost 50 years.
In 1924 the SS William Macarthur (named after Miller's
step-father) built by J. Lewis and Sons of Aberdeen, Scotland
arrived in Australia became R.W. Miller's first carrier for his
Newcastle to Melbourne coal run. In early 1924 Miller took over
operations of the closed Heddon Greta Colliery. This was
legalised on 24 September 1924 and the mine was renamed Ayrfield
No 2 Colliery.
In mid 1924 Miller had discussed with Christian Franks of the
Millfield Mining Company about purchasing the Millfield Mining
Company's new mine and coal leases. By October 1924 Miller owned
this mine but it appears that it was placed in mothballs soon
after till about 1929. In the end, Miller owned over 20 coal
During the mid 1920s Miller's output of coal meant that
additional ships were needed to transport the coal to Sydney. In
1925 SS Christina Fraser (named after Miller's mother)
was built by J. Duthie Torry Steamship Company of Aberdeen,
Soon another new ship was needed and the SS Annie M. Miller
was built for R. W. Miller and Co in 1928 by the Clyde
Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited in Port Glasgow,
Scotland. As was typical for one of R. W. Miller's ships, the
new vessel was named after one of his relatives, in this case,
his wife. It was a typical coastal collier, displacing 707 tons
with a length of 48 metres and beam of 9 metres (about the same
size as the
SS Tuggerah but as a wreck it appears to be
considerably smaller). The new vessel was powered by a 96 rhp
triple expansion steam engine (also built by Clyde), with the
steam coming from a single boiler. Although built for use as a
collier, she was primarily used to carry blue metal from
Shellharbour (Bass Point) to Sydney. In fact, the Miller
only carried coal as a cargo three times in her short career,
one of which was to be her last voyage.
|The plans of the Annie M Miller
Courtesy of Les Caterson
Click to enlarge
Only six months after being launched and less than three
months after taking up service, the SS Annie M. Miller
was to sink in tragic circumstances.
When the Annie M. Miller entered service, Captain
Herbert Pilling, a 45 year veteran, became her master. On 8
February 1929 at 5.30 am, the Annie M. Miller left Sydney
for Bulli to take on a load of coal. She arrived just after 9 am
and began loading coal. Problems arose and twice she took on a
dangerous list, solved only by moving water in and out of the
ballast tanks. Finally, all the coal was loaded but the
engineers refused to take her to sea until the hatches and
tarpaulins were in place.
The Captain ordered the hatches to be put on but not the
tarpaulins. The Miller left the wharf some time after 2
pm in a moderate choppy sea. Twenty minutes after departure, the
list to port returned. A check showed no water in the bilges. By
all accounts, the seas were not too bad and of no real influence
on the final outcome.
Passing Botany Bay, the list was now so bad that two feet of
water was lapping number two hatch. Despite this, Captain
Pilling continued towards Sydney rather than take shelter in the
Bay. The list got worse until the port railing was underwater.
Captain Pilling ordered the lifeboats to be prepared, but due to
the list, only the port boat could be launched.
At 7.35 pm as she approached the Macquarie Lighthouse near
the outer South Head of Sydney Harbour, a rocket flare was
fired. It was seen by the lighthouse keeper but not by the
nearby signal station which had the only telephone (you would
think that in 1929 the lighthouse would have a telephone or, at
the very least, a radio). After a 20 minute delay while the
lighthouse keeper summoned help, the pilot steamer Captain
Cook, left Watsons Bay to assist the Annie M. Miller.
The launching of the lifeboat did not succeed as a large wave
swept it away. Able Seaman Kenneth McRae leapt in after it and
somehow managed to clamber aboard. He rowed back to where he
last saw the Annie M. Miller, but she had sank. He
immediately found one crew member and after some time, a total
of six crew were in the lifeboat. The cook, George Wheatley,
later stated that he was worried about sharks while in the
water. It is just as well that he was not aware that a fatal
shark attack had occurred at Bondi Beach that afternoon. Bondi
Beach is only a few kilometres from where the ship sank.
The Captain Cook rescued the men in the lifeboat about
30 minutes after the sinking. No trace of the missing six crew
members, including Captain Pilling, was ever found.
On 5 March 1929, a Marine Court of Inquiry found that the
Annie M. Miller left Bulli with a decided list to port,
caused by improper loading and that she was overloaded by 30
tons. The Inquiry also found that the Captain failed to place
the tarpaulins on the hatches. The Inquiry stated that while it
could not definitely come to a conclusion as to the direct cause
of the sinking, its opinion was that the improper loading and
the failure to place the tarpaulins led to the ship's loss.
- Otto Petersen - Able Seaman - Waverley
- Kenneth McRae - Able Seaman - Paddington
- William Bennett - Donkeyman - Newtown
- George Woodbury - Fireman - Balmain
- George Wheatley - Cook - Erskinville
- J. R. Tracey - Second Engineer - Randwick
- Captain H. S. Billings - Five Dock
- H. W. Andrews - First Engineer - Five Dock
- R. Rowera - Mate - Annandale
- John Wilson - Able Seaman - City
- Andrew Anderson - Able Seaman - Annandale
- P. T. Brennan - Fireman - Rozelle
After the loss of the Annie M. Miller, R. W. Miller
had a new ship built to replace the Miller, the
SS Birchgrove Park. R. W. Miller went on to own
Miller's Brewery on Parramatta Road (now the orange Miller's
Storage building), famous hotels such as Miller's Brighton and
Coogee and the family now owns the huge Miller's Storage
company. R. W. Miller died on Monday 10 February 1958 at
The wreck of the SS Annie M. Miller was found by Rick
Latimer and Peter Harper of South Pacific Divers' Club (so I
believe) in 1977. However, I also understand that fishers knew
of the location a long time before this discovery. I was told
that Rick and Peter were out looking for the wreck when they
approached some men fishing and asked them if they knew of any
wrecks nearby and were told that they were anchored right over
the wreck of the Annie Miller!
- Scuba Action (date unknown), article by John
- The Vanished Fleet of the Sydney Coastline by Max
Gleeson (highly recommended)
- Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1929 pg 1, 17,
18;11 February pg 12, 14; 12 February, pg 12
- Scuba Divers Guide - Southern NSW Coast by Tom
Byron, pg 70 to 73
- Michael McFadyen - http://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info