MILLER, William (1847-1939)


MILLER, William (1847-1939)
wrestler and all-round athlete
was born in Cheshire, England, of partly French parentage, in 1847. He came to Melbourne at four years of age, and was employed in the Victorian post office and railway departments before becoming a professional athlete. He made a great reputation as a wrestler, especially in the Graeco-Roman style, of which he was the Australian champion. He was a great weight-lifter, a champion fencer, and a remarkable walker; he is stated to have walked 102 miles in 24 hours when he was well past 50 years of age. He had little opportunity to show his skill as a boxer because prize-fighting was illegal, but on 26 May 1883 it was arranged that L. Foley and Miller should give a "scientific display" of boxing at Sydney for a trophy valued at £500. Foley was several stone lighter than his opponent, but it was believed that his science and agility would give him the advantage. He, however, never had a chance from the beginning, and was so severely battered that the rougher elements in the audience rushed the ring and the contest was declared a draw. Miller really had won so easily that it appears likely that no man of that period could have stood up to him. He was 5 feet 9½ inches in height, 48 inches round the chest, and weighed 15 stone, "a model of a perfect Hercules" (The Bulletin, 2 June 1883). Nearly 50 years later W. J. Doherty, in his In the Days of the Giants, described Miller as "one of the greatest all-round athletes the world has seen". Miller was in the United States in 1889 and though 42 years of age, issued a challenge to meet any two athletes at boxing, Graeco-Roman wrestling, heavy dumbbell lifting, foil and singlestick fencing, the winner of the most exercises to be declared the winner of the match. He also challenged Joe McAuliffe, champion heavyweight boxer of the Pacific Slope and the Western States, to a six-round contest with ordinary boxing gloves. Neither challenge was taken up, and Miller returned to Australia and carried on his gymnasium and boxing classes for some years. In 1903 he left Australia for the United States and became manager of the San Francisco Athletic Club. He was afterwards athletic instructor in the New York police department. From 1917 he lived at Baltimore and he died there on 11 March 1939, aged 92. He married in 1872 Lizzie Trible who died in 1929. He had no children.
Miller was one of the most kind-hearted of men, gentle in speech, dignified in manner, a perfect sportsman, an example to all connected with every form of sport.
The Bulletin, 17 February 1937, 26 April 1939; The New York Times, 13 March 1939; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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