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John Millar (1807–1876)

from Evening Star

(From the 'Nelson Times.') After a weary and hopeless illness of many months' duration, John Millar, F.S.A., in his sixty-ninth year, died at Rock Villa. The deceased was a native of Ulsterville, Belfast, Ireland, and his long life, although somewhat troubled towards its close, was one of great practical utility. Educated as a civil engineer, Mr Millar, by his talents and unwearied application to the details of his profession, established for himself at a comparatively early age a reputation. In 1848 he was entrusted with the construction of the whole of the sewerage and a greater part of the general public works designed and carried out in Londonderry, under the City Improvement Act, and upon their successful completion in 1853 received a very flattering acknowledgment of his services, signed by the mayors of the city who had held office during the time the works were in progress. Induced by the splendid opening caused by the gold discoveries in Victoria, Mr Millar came out to Melbourne in 1854, and almost immediately received a lucrative and important appointment in connection with the water supply of the city and it was from his plans and under his direct superintendence that the River Plenty Tunnel was completed, pronounced by the Argus' a work of much more difficult execution than the celebrated Croton Aqueduct in New York. While this work was in progress Mr Millar was compelled to make a voyage to England, and upon his return was wrecked in the illfated Schomberg, lost upon the Australian coast on the night of December the 25th, 1855. Upon this occasion the deceased was instrumental in saving the lives of his fellow-passengers. He kept order when it was most needful, was the first to volunteer to take one of the ship's boats to search for a landing-place on the rock-bound coast, and after an unsuccessful search at great personal risk prevented the boats being overcrowded, when the passengers were ultimately rescued by a passing vessel. For his exertions he was presented by the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society with the gold medal, a splendid memorial casket, and an illuminated address. The presentation was made by Sir Henry Barkly, at the Government Offices, Melbourne, on November 26, 1858. In 1857, the late Mr Millar was appointed Engineer-in-Chief to the Water Supply and Sewerage Commission of Geelong, and performed the work to the unqualified satisfaction of his employers, as proved by a letter written upon the completion of the improvements, and signed by the Commissioners and civic authorities. He also filled situations that demanded the exercise of very great ability in Melbourne, Brighton, and Hotham, in all of which he seems to have given entire satisfaction. In 1863 he commenced his New Zealand career by accepting the appointment of City Engineer at Dunedin; but in this, as in his subsequent engagements with the authorities of Wanganui and Nelson, very serious differences seem to have arisen between employers and employed; and the reason for these unfortunate contentions may be found in the inability of the authorities to carry out in their entirety the elaborate but thoroughly efficient designs of their surveyor. Mr Millar was the author of several valuable professional works, and many of the largest public buildings throughout Victoria owe their symmetery to the labor of his pencil. Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues We write in water. And possibly in this respect the memory of Mr Miller will share the common destiny. He had imperfections, no doubt, and enemies; but against these—more than balanced— are his many sterling qualities, and the large circle of firm friends who will sincerely regret his loss. So may he rest; his faults lie gently on him.

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Citation details

'Millar, John (1807–1876)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 March, 1807
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


15 November, 1876 (aged 69)
Nelson, New Zealand

Cause of Death

lung disease

Cultural Heritage

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