This is an account of the origin of our branch of the Millman family - which my children, grandchildren and gt-grandchildren in particular (and maybe nephews and grandnephews) may one day wish to read. But first, I would mention that I am fully aware that all of us have many 'roots' or strands in our ancestry and that it is just a social convention that our surname happens to become attached to just one of these. Our natures are of course the result of them all - but it is up to anyone else, if interested, to search out their other branches; I can at least claim to provide details here about one of them - the Millmans. And in just over 6 pages! [This brief version - recently placed on this website - is now accompanied by a much fuller account on the same site. The present account is less critical of certain, still unverified, relationships (to facilitate a flow of the story for the younger reader) which warrant further confirmation - as discussed more fully in the longer account.]

       Our Millmans originated in the southern part of the English county of Devonshire - in an area known as the South Hams (or hamlets). It is a district of rich, dark red soil and lush green grass - ideal for dairy cows, sheep and mixed farming. Between the gently rolling hills of this favoured region (bounded roughly by Ivybridge, Totnes, Dartmouth and Kingsbridge) flow several streams which tumble off the nearby high moorlands of Dartmoor - today a National Park. On each of these streams there were in earlier times two or three water Mills - turned by the rapidly flowing water as it made its way to the sea.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service and
reproduced here with kind permission of Ordnance Survey.

       Some of the men who owned and worked these mills - back in about 1300 or so, would be known simply as James, or John, or Robert - 'the millman'. Later that century, they began to be called such as 'James Millman', 'John Millman', etc. The same thing happened about then with many other occupational names - like Butcher, Baker or Smith. Their children and grandchildren would then mostly take these as their own surnames as well, and the sons at least pass them on to their children and so on. In many parts of the country, the men who worked in such early mills were more commonly called 'Miller', but for some reason, they were sometimes called 'Millman', especially it seems, in Devon.

       Sometimes, the name was spelt 'Milman' with just the one 'l' - as there was no set way to spell anything that long ago. The earliest Millman or Milman that I've discovered - apparently as the progenitor of our family - was one 'Henry Milman' who lived in Modbury in Devon - a pleasant market town about 5 miles inland from the south coast and 10 miles east of the city of Plymouth, an important naval port. He was born about 1585 - when Queen Elizabeth the First was on the throne and Sir Walter Raleigh sailed out of Plymouth. His father may well have been an earlier Henry Millman who was born a bit north-east of Modbury - in Little Hempston - in 1562. One of the younger Henry's sons was a Thomas Milman - born about 1630 in Modbury. He is the earliest person of this family about whom we have more definite information.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service and
reproduced here with kind permission of Ordnance Survey.

       While the earliest of these Millmans - like those elsewhere in Devon - were associated with those early mills, most of their descendants over the next 200 years or so no longer worked in mills - but had entered many different occupations. However, quite remarkably, this early ancestor - Thomas Milman - actually did run a large and important Mill - on the river Avon in the large village of South Brent, situated about 4 miles north of Modbury. That is, he was truly a millman or miller! He didn't own the mill but, with his wife and sons, had a very long 'lease' on it - for over a hundred years - beginning around 1660. The mill and most of the village was owned then by one of the wealthy landowners in the area - called PETRE - a family that still exists today and lives in a large mansion in Essex, amazingly not far from where Shirley and I lived when this account for first written. The mill and all that early Devon property had been sold by Henry VIII (Elizabeth's father) to the Petres - after Henry had claimed it when he dissolved the monasteries - around 1536.

       In those days, most ordinary people didn't have much schooling - although a few did. Thomas must have been one of these fortunate ones, since it would take some knowledge and ability to be in charge of the local mill - to whom all the local farmers would bring their corn to be ground into flour. And, as a moderately educated man running his own business, Thomas was able to attract, as a wife, the daughter of an important local family who also had some education. Her name was Agnes Prideaux. Now 'Prideaux' looks as though it would be a name of Norman, that is, French, origin - and thus be associated with the better-off 'landed gentry' (usually of Norman stock then) - but, in fact, it was a native west country name - of more ancient Anglo-saxon or even Celtic origin - often spelt in a variety of ways - one of which (as Prideaux) just happened to look French.

       Fortunately for Thomas, or rather for his eldest son Francis Milman, Agnes Prideaux's family included an older relative who, as a young boy, had impressed the local 'lady of the Manor' (probably a Petre) as being particularly bright and felt he should receive a proper education. So she paid for his schooling and an education at Oxford university. This young man later became Dean of one of the Oxford Colleges (called Exeter College) to where sons of the richer families of Devon and Cornwall were often sent. Thus, when Thomas and Agnes realised that their own son Francis was also quite intelligent, they contacted her 'uncle' and arranged for Francis to take the entrance exam for a place at Oxford - when he was about 16. He passed this test but before he could take it, he had to work at the College for about 6 months as a 'Servitor' - serving the older students - to earn his keep while he studied. For this reason, the old records at the University described his father Thomas as being 'of South Brent, Devon - a 'Pauper'. However, Thomas certainly wasn't a pauper, but a reasonably well-off Miller with a younger son Thomas Jnr who was a Mercer (in nearby Ashburton) - that is, a high class Tailor dealing in fine silk cloths. Possibly that early hand-written record (when writing was often poor) had somehow made the word 'Miller' appear as 'Pauper' (possibly in Latin) ?

       When he finished his University courses - just before 1700 - young Francis entered the Priesthood - to become Vicar of a small church in Devon. This would give him a good 'living', with a Vicarage. He would soon be as well off as his father, the Miller, and probably better off than any of their ancestors - being the first of the family to receive such a good education. After a short time at a small rural church, with probably a small Vicarage, the Rev Francis Milman became the Vicar of Paignton - an important town and church - where the Bishops of Exeter held their summer meetings. (see 1st map above) Today, Paignton is a popular seaside resort in south Devon but in those days it was quite an important place where the earliest spring vegetables could be grown and picked for the markets of London and other large cities, which had been without fresh vegetables all winter. This was because Paignton had probably the mildest climate in the country - with good soil. It had a large, well attended church and the Rev Milman would be a most important local dignitary at the time.

       By about 1720, he and his wife - another girl from the Prideaux family - had about 10 children. But, sadly, they lost several of these when still infants and then, in one bad year, they lost 4 children in some epidemic in which they themselves also perished. This left only two surviving sons - also named Francis and Thomas - aged about 15 and 10, respectively. What were they to do now? Their grandparents were by this time also dead and the lease on the Mill had been sold after it suffered in a bad fire. Fortunately, Francis Milman (Jnr), the older boy, had been sent to the local Grammar school, probably as a boarder, and had just won a scholarship to Oxford (being bright, like his father) so his living expenses and education would be well paid for until he too could become a local Vicar. But the surviving younger son, Thomas MiIlman, being only 10, would not yet have started at Grammar school when he lost both his parents and, even if just as bright, was now unlikely to have enough financial backing to go to the same 'fee-paying' school. Instead, his uncle Thomas, the Mercer, probably took responsibility for him by arrange an apprenticeship - possibly as a Butcher. Such a skill would at least ensure him a relatively secure, if more modest, future.

       So it was that the older brother Francis soon graduated with his degree from Oxford and, like his father, settled into a secure church 'living' in rural Devonshire (at East Ogwell, near his uncle Thomas) - around 1730. The younger boy, Thomas, on the other hand, appaently did became a Butcher - with a business in his 'home town' of Paignton. Because of these two unexpectedly disparate directions in their lives, the descendants of Francis and Thomas Mil(l)man would, for several generations, follow significantly different routes and outcomes - as we shall see later in this account. A major division had commenced.

       Francis wisely delayed his marriage until he had obtained his secure church living and, as a consequence, could attract as a wife the daughter of a local small landholder. So, in a short time, Francis had his own comfortable, if modest, estate in the country (about 5 miles inland from Paignton) and could leave his smaller Vicarage. He and his wife had just three children, including only one son - yet another Francis. This 3rd Francis Milman, being an only son, clearly thrived in this secure and loving environment and was able himself to win a scholarship to Oxford - at the amazing age of just 13 - a very bright boy indeed. He became a famous physician - to King George IV - and was granted a Baronetcy with the title 'Sir'. His 3rd son Rev Henry Milman was equally talented - becoming Professor of Poetry and History at Oxford, and later a famous Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London - probably the most prestigious church in England. In Victorian times he would attract large crowds every Sunday to hear him preach there and was very popular. The Baronetcy continues to the present day - inherited successively by the eldest sons.

       Now, what about the line of Milman/Millmans descended from the younger brother Thomas - who was still living in Paignton - just a few miles from Francis down the local country lanes? Unlike his elder brother, Thomas rather unwisely didn't delay his marriage. He and Jane Brooking, daughter of a local Paignton family of middling status, married very young and soon had 12 surviving children, including 6 sons! They would very likely not receive, therefore, the adult attention, stimulation and education that Francis's one, late-born son would - before his early Oxford education. The elder three sons of Thomas appear to have taken up apprenticeships in Butchery, but the three younger boys had to go to sea - as Mariners. Most of these boys were able to sign their names at their marriages - having had some education locally, typically to the age of 12 or so. But their sons and grandsons in turn would show this ability less and less and, by the early 1800s, when there were over 50 male Mil(l)mans descended from the six sons of Thomas, lack of formal education markedly reduced literacy levels and the scope for acquiring marketable skills. How different from their 'cousin' line - descended from the same great-grandfather - the first Rev Francis Milman - by way of an only son.

       Amongst the many sons born to Thomas's six sons were four and possibly five given the name William. Two or three of these were born in the early 1770s and so were the right age for one of them to represent the William Millman who, as will be explained, was without doubt our ancestor. After some experience going to sea himself (like his father) around 1790-'95, one or other of these Williams apparently decided he would prefer to stay on dry land - possibly because he had met the girl he would soon marry. The Napoleonic Wars had recently begun and in every village and town in the country, most young men aged about 20 or so (as William was) were expected to be available to serve in either the Army - to fight anywhere outside the country - or the Militia - to be ready to fight within the country and generally to help keep order, if it was ever invaded. Every parish had a 'Parish Constable' whose job it was to draw up a list of the young men of the parish who would be available to serve in the Militia. They had to meet together once a week to practise marching and shooting (or, in the middle ages, archery). When the War began - in about 1794 - many of these young men, if not already in the Army, were thus 'called up' - to serve in their county's Militia regiments. Otherwise, as a former merchant seaman, William would very likely have been 'press-ganged' into the Navy, which was then considered very dangerous and poorly paid.

       When William Millman left his job as a Mariner at sea (apparently around 1795), his 'home parish' of Paignton had it seems already provided their quota of men for the South Devon Militia. But sometimes, if a young man who had been called up had previously held a good job, he might look for someone (who hadn't been called up) to serve in his place - as a 'Substitute' as they were called. To help persuade someone to be your Substitute, you would probably have to pay them a little money. Also, to encourage men to become Substitutes, the Militia regiments themselves would give them a bonus payment - of £5 - if they stayed in the regiment (as a Substitute) for 5 years. Many of the men who were drafted into the Cornish Militia (from Cornwall - the county next to Devonshire) did have quite good jobs there - in the tin mines - so when their regiment was sent to various towns in neighbouring Devon, to find more recruits, this would include many looking for Substitutes.

       It seems that one of the William Millmans heard about this practice - so went to the Cornish regiment's barracks in Plymouth and, after 'asking around', must have found a young Cornish Militiaman willing to pay him the small fee to serve as his Substitute. They would go to the Recruiting Officer together to make the arrangements. Thus, on January 8th 1796, William Millman joined the Royal Cornish Militia - as a Private. Besides the fee paid him by the man he replaced, and the promise of the £5 from the Regiment if he stayed in for at least 5 years, he would now receive about 3 shillings a week, plus his food and lodgings. At least it was a steady job, on dry land, something not everyone had in those days, when it was so hard for the average man to afford an education or obtain training in a skilled occupation. William then spent the entire War in the Militia - transferring in the middle of it (in 1803) to his own county's South Devon Militia. His father, who would likely be one of the Millmans of Paignton - as one of Thomas's younger sons say (who couldn't afford any training - except as Mariners) - very likely remained at sea himself during the War. The eldest of Thomas's sons - a Thomas - is also a possible father of our William - who significantly called his first son Thomas. [We are still trying to establish exactly who was William's father.]

       With his now secure if small income, William could get married - to a girl from Brixham, which was a sea port in Devon not far from Dartmouth and Paignton. (See 1st map again) Her name was Susannah Granville and it is possible he knew her from his days as a Mariner, as he would often sail out of that very port. Also, he may have known her brother, if he too was a Mariner. So, as soon as his regiment was stationed in Brixham - early in 1798 - he and Susannah married there, in Brixham church. His 'best man' was a fellow Militiaman, named Richard Puddicombe who had also joined as a Substitute a few months before William - when the Cornish Militia were seeking recruits in his home town in central Devon called Crediton. The militia regiments spent a lot of their time marching around the country and some of the married men were given extra money to pay for lodgings they were allowed to share with their wives in private homes in the local towns they visited. William was one of these married men. Most of the men, however, were unmarried and stayed in Camps or barracks nearby.

       During one of these periods, William and Susannah had a son - Thomas Millman - born in Dartmouth in 1800. The choice of Thomas as a name for his first son is, as mentioned, significant; it was a common name within the Paignton family in particular (and much less common in most other Millman families then). But Thomas wasn't baptised in Dartmouth - but in far south-west Cornwall to where the regiment had been sent not long after his birth. They later had another son William (named after William himself) after they had returned to Dartmouth, but he soon died. They then had two daughters - in Ashburton, a few miles inland from Paignton and Dartmouth. The War ended shortly after this and the family then moved to Exeter (the main city in mid-Devon) - probably so that William and young Thomas could find work. The town of Crediton was nearby (see 1st map) and it seems that they first visited William's good friend Richard Puddicombe there. During this visit, young Thomas seems to have met and been rather taken with one of Richard's daughters - Thomasine Puddicombe. This would likely be around 1822 or so. A few years later - in 1826 - they were married in Exeter - where their first son - William Millman (named after Thomas's father) was born, in 1827.

       But they soon settled back in her home town of Crediton where Thomas worked on the local farms - as most men did in those days - as a farm worker. They had several more children there before returning to Exeter early in the 1840s when Thomas worked as a Plasterer and helping Stone Masons work on the famous Exeter Cathedral. His father William probably did so as well - before dying in Exeter, aged 69 in 1841. Thomas and family soon lived nearby - on Coombe Street. Thousands of farm workers were being laid off during the 1840s, as new agricultural machinery was introduced to the farms and so they made their way into the towns to find a job. Thomas had no education of course - his mobile lifestyle with his father during the War making that impossible - so he was lucky to find any work at all. He also died in Exeter - in 1855 - but his wife Thomasine lived on there until 1879, aged about 78.

       Meanwhile what of young William? After the family returned to Exeter, William was about 16 and had to get a job himself. He had probably received a little education in Crediton at least. In Exeter, their home on Coombe Street was between the Cathedral and the river Exe where, in those days, fishing boats could land their catches on the docks. Several families in that area found employment as Fish Hawkers. That is, they would buy a cart full of fresh fish on the docks, cover it with salt or ice and then take it to sell throughout the city. So they were in business for themselves. By 1847, when about 20, William met and later married a young Exeter girl - Elizabeth Fone. They soon had a large family - including 3 sons. He named his first boy Thomas after his father and the next one William after himself (just like his grandfather the Militiaman had done). His 3rd son, born in 1860, was called Joseph Millman - after Elizabeth's father. Most of the boys became Fish Hawkers like their father, although William joined the Navy for a time and then became a House Painter.

       Young Joseph Millman, from whom we all descend, and his brothers also, probably had less education in the crowded city centre of Exeter in those mid-Victorian times than their father William had in quieter, rural Crediton. They very likely began helping him sell fish when only 10 or so. How different from their distant 'cousins' who were descended instead from Thomas the Butcher's elder brother Francis. For several generations, these 'cousins' were typically educated at Eton - probably the top Public school in the country - and then on to University or the Services. In contrast, by the time Joseph was 18, he was in work and ready to marry - one Jane Woodhouse. They had two daughters and a son also called Joseph Millman (Jnr) - born in 1882. The younger Joseph would no doubt have, in his turn, followed in his father's (and grandfather's) footsteps - both in terms of a meagre education and becoming a Fish Hawker - had his father not suffered from a tragic early death in 1887, when young Joseph Jnr was just 5 years old. On a Monday evening in early September that year, Joseph Snr decided to go to the Theatre Royal in Exeter to see a new play that started that night - called 'The Romany Rye'. He left Jane at home to look after the children. After 9 o'clock, they let some people into the Gallery for a reduced price - to see the last act. Part way through that act, a terrible fire broke out in the Theatre and those in the Gallery especially had no way to get out. The smoke caused many people to collapse and eventually 186 people died - including Joseph. This is still the largest number of people ever to have died in a fire in England. They laid the bodies out in the stables of the big Hotel next door and it was Joseph's brother William who identified Joseph Millman as 'my brother - the body numbered number 1' lying in those stables. He said in his statement that Joseph 'lived at 50 Coombe Street, was a Fish Hawker and had gone to the Theatre alone'.

       There were dozens of children orphaned by the fire - some losing both parents. Money was collected and most of the children were sent away to receive a proper education - at an Orphanage School in London. The younger Joseph Millman, my grandfather, was one of these. Although orphaned, such children were in one way quite lucky; they would now receive an education at least! Something few of their parents or grandparents had. So Joseph became the first descendent of the Rev Francis Milman's younger son in our family to become at least partly educated (he could still recite poetry by Byron and Shelly in his 70s). He did very well at this school and when he was 14 - when most children had to leave and return home - the Headmaster said that Joseph was 'very bright' and should be allowed to stay on for an extra year - so that he could find skilled 'white-collar' employment in one of the large businesses of London, which is what Joseph himself wanted. But, back in Devon, his widowed mother was missing him and wanted him home. She had arranged for him to have an apprenticeship there with a 'Confectioner' - a kind of fancy Baker - in the town of Honiton (also on 1st map). So, he had to forego his first choice and settle for this - which took 7 more years! He finished in 1902 - with the new century before him - the century that has just finished. What should he do in it, and where?

       What he did at first was to move, with his mother, to Bristol near where large trans-atlantic liners docked and obtained a position as head 'Confectioner-Baker' on one of these. It sailed to Montreal and New York and back to Bristol and Liverpool. But he stayed with this for only two years and decided instead to try his luck as a travelling salesman - selling Artists Prints and then Children's Encyclopaedias. In one of the Stationer's shops he visited in Bristol, he met and soon married Clara Walter, daughter of that shop's owner - a retired Printer Sidney Walter - and had two children - a son Robert and a daughter Marion. Robert Millman (my father) was born in 1907 and won a scholarship to a Bristol Grammar school, where he was also the school's fastest runner. But when his father was offered a position in Canada with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (in 1921) he decided the family should emigrate and poor Robert had to interrupt his education when he was just 15. Once in Canada, he discovered that the local schools there were two years behind in the studies he had been doing; he got bored and left - without the qualifications he certainly had the ability to obtain. Meanwhile Joseph became involved in setting up a chain of cinemas in Vancouver (then a new business) and was the owner and manager of several of these. He retired in 1955, having lived for many years in a comfortable house near the beach in Vancouver where, as a boy, I enjoyed Sunday dinners with him every week. He died in 1963 when he was 81 and had come a long way from the London Orphanage School and the Exeter Fish Hawkers of his youth.

       Robert his son had many different jobs throughout his life - with the terrible depression of the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s disrupting his and many people's lives. He was probably a Real Estate salesman (selling small businesses like shops and cafes) for longer than anything - in partnership with a lawyer - but he ended up in Toronto (a larger city than Vancouver) having become in charge of the 'Schools and Library' division of Encyclopaedia Britannica sales in southern Ontario. He died in 1981 and had been married three times. My mother, Christine Macleod (born in Scotland) was his 2nd wife and I was born in 1930 when they lived for two years in Portland, Oregon (in America) during the terrible Depression. But they returned to Vancouver - where I grew up and was educated - the first finally to get to University. But the present story is really about 'the origins of the Millmans' and not about the detail and complex lives of these later generations (including my own) which can be considered some other time. Suffice it for now to say that from his first marriage, Robert had also had a son - my older brother Robert Millman Jnr who married and had two sons and a daughter. [I apologise for stressing (in bold type) only the male Millmans throughout this account; this is so that one may follow the descent of the Millman family, beginning with Thomas the Miller, by scanning through and noting these bolder coloured entries of the Millman line. The female Millmans, by generally marrying, acquire other surnames such that the pedigrees of one's family genealogy soon become unwieldy.]

       So, why aren't our Millmans of Devonshire now settled and expanding only in Canada - following Joseph's decision to emigrate there in 1921? The reason is that, like Joseph, John Millman (the present author) also decided to emigrate - but in the other direction. In 1964, I returned some of my half of the Millman genes to 'the old country' - coming (after a first marriage) and an earlier visit to pursue my sporting career) for further University studies - where my wife Shirley and I have remained. Our two sons Richard Millman and Christopher Millman therefore grew up, were educated, married and had their families here - 'back' in England. Some of the Millmans whose ancestors originated in Devonshire are therefore now, and will probably remain, Canadians (including my daughter Michele (Shelly) (nee Millman) from that first marriage) - while others are and will probably always be - English (although Richard and son Joseph) have now settled in America, as have Shelly and her son Dylan and family (in Hollywood!). Robert Jnr's older son Mark Millman also had two boys - Joseph Millman and Eamon Millman - lately studying at Colleges in British Columbia; his younger son Paul Millman never married and sadly died recently, aged only 44, of a heart condition. Our son Richard also has a son named Joseph (Liam) Millman pursuing a career in Squash (as well as a daughter Briony attending a Public school in Norfolk), while Christopher has 2 boys - Mark Millman and Freddie Millman (and an older daughter Jill) - all at school in Yorkshire. [By 2006-09, Jill was doing an Honours Maths degree at University. She has now (2010-12) graduated M.A. from same and working in London, while her older brother Mark is stuying for a degree in Music in Yorkshire and younger brother Freddie John completes his 'A levels' (matriculation) in preparation to do a degree in I.T.]

       If any of these grandchildren, nephews, etc ever wonder about their Millman roots, hopefully they will find the answers in this albeit brief and incomplete account. But to 'wonder about' implies 'curiousity' - something, I realise, not instilled in everyone; people do have their own lives to lead and interests to pursue. And who knows what the future will hold? Already, in 2001, we had Richard and wife Pat settled in New York in America (running their successful Squash club but are now in Charleston, South Carolina in this same activity) - while (in Pennsylvania) Robert's son Mark and wife also lived and worked for a time (he as Vice President of a large computer software company). Christopher works in a very similar sphere - in England. International travel is much more affordable today and employment opportunities more international than when Joseph made the first moves - almost a century ago. Its been even longer since Thomas the Miller ran his Mill in Devonshire - in 1660 - and his son Francis became Vicar of Paignton - around 1700.

John Millman, M.A., Ph.D.      -      July 2001

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