Phillip Island & District Historical Society

The Miller Family

Last updated on 01-Mar-23

The Miller Family – Early Settlers On Phillip Island

Robert Miller was born in Crief, Perthshire in Scotland in 1822. His wife Flora Miller (nee McInnes) was born in 1826 and came from the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. Shipping records show that they left England with three children on the ship “Merlin” on July 31, 1860. It would seem that the family may have spent perhaps some years in Canada after Charles was born in 1853, until just after Ellen was born late in 1859. Quebec is inscribed on Ellen’s headstone in the Thoona Cemetery as being her birthplace, yet she is listed on the passenger record for the “Merlin” as Ellen Miller – infant, which indicates she was less than one year old in July 1860.The “Merlin” arrived in Melbourne in October 1860 and Robert & Flora soon had more children to add to their family. Isabella “Bella” was born in 1861 in Melbourne, followed on Oct 25,1862 by John, who sadly only lived for 3months, dying from severe diarrhoea on Jan 18, 1863. Elizabeth “Daisy” was born at the same house in Capel Street, Hothamin 1865. 


Robert Miller is known to have been a Carriage Builder in Scotland and no doubt used his building skills to find work in Melbourne to support his growing family on arrival, until he decided where they would settle and what he would then do to earn the money required to support his family of seven.


By 1868 new land was being subdivided throughout the state of Victoria, and ballots were open for nomination to be allowed to purchase a property for farming. In 1869, Robert and Catherine (now 18) nominated for the ballot for land on Phillip Island and were successful, Robert selecting Lot 21 on the north side of Watts Road and Catherine selecting Lot 6 on the western side of a nearly circular bay not far from her fathers’ land. The bay became known as “Kitty Miller’s Bay” and the road leading to it from the north as “Kitty Miller’s Bay Road”.


Like many of the settlers who came first to Phillip Island, the Miller family found conditions very hard as time passed and the Island was hit by years of severe drought, making a living farming became more and more difficult without any underground water supply and no rain,and they were unable to stay. Robert, son Charles and daughter Isabella applied for land at Lake Rowan in central northern Victoria in the mid 1870’s. They were fortunate to be granted farmland there and to then relocate around 1876 to Lake Rowan with their sheep, to begin farming new land with a good water supply. 


Kitty stayed in Melbourne with her new husband James Walker who worked as a butcher in Hotham. 

There are family stories and photos of the Miller family in the Lake Rowan/Bungeet area for the next 20 or so years. During this time, they came to know the Justice family, and their daughter Isabella, met and married David Charles Justice. He is recorded as being a blacksmith, but from all reports from those who knew him, he was skilled in many trades. After the death of their infant daughter, Flora in 1891 at Lake Rowan, ‘Bella’ and David came back with their other children to Phillip Island, to establish a home and a new life together. Bella’s father, Robert Miller, whose wife Flora had died at Lake Rowanin 1896, followed and returned to the Island with his youngest daughter Elizabeth ‘Daisy’ Miller and they lived with Bella & David here until Roberts death in 1912. Robert is buried in Phillip Island Cemetery at Cowes and the inscription on the headstone of his grave acknowledges Flora’s death. 


Catherine Miller was also known as ‘Kitty’ and ‘Kate’. Though she seems to have been well known as one of the pioneers of the Island, she did not live on Phillip Island for very long at all. Arriving when she was just 18, and according to family information, she worked as a school teacher while she lived on the Island. She married at 20 years, when she moved back to Hotham with her husband James Walker. She visited often and brought her young family to holiday with her sisters ‘Bella’& ‘Daisy’, and their cousins and Grandfather while he was still alive.


Kitty’s husband died suddenly from pneumonia in 1885, he was only 35, and left her with five young children, the youngest only 6months, to raise on her own. At that time, she already worked as the Assistant Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages in West Melbourne and was not only the person who reported her husband James’ death but also signed as the Assistant Registrar who filled out and signed the death certificate. Kitty finally settled in a house in Barkly Street, Footscray where she lived until her death in 1917. She was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery with her husband James and other family members. Her children and grandchildren have continued to have contact with family still living on Phillip Island, where many of the Justice family descendants still live.