Miller, William Allen (DNB00)
MILLER, WILLIAM ALLEN (1817–1870), chemist, was born at Ipswich on 17 Dec. 1817. His father, William Miller, having acted, during nearly twenty years, as secretary to the General Hospital, Birmingham, became a brewer in the Borough, London, and married Frances Bowyer, whose strong, sagacious character her son inherited. After a year at Merchant Taylors' School, Miller was transferred to a quakers' seminary at Ackworth in Yorkshire. There he met William Allen (1770–1843) [q. v.], whose name he bore, and had his scientific tastes stimulated by chemical lectures and the occasional use of a telescope. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to his uncle, Bowyer Vaux, a surgeon in the Birmingham General Hospital, and five years later entered the medical department of King's College, London. Having obtained in 1839 the Warneford prize in theology, he worked for some months of 1840 in Liebig's laboratory at Giessen, was appointed on his return to England demonstrator of chemistry in King's College, and in 1841–2 took degrees of M.B. and M.D. in the university of London. John Frederic Daniell [q. v.] warmly patronised him. Miller was his assistant lecturer from 1841, co-operated in all his investigations, and joined with him in communicating to the Royal Society on 25 Feb. 1844 ‘Additional Researches on the Electrolysis of Secondary Compounds’ (Phil. Trans. cxxxiv. 1). On Daniell's death in 1845, he succeeded to the chair of chemistry in King's College, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. His lecture-notes furnished the materials for his ‘Elements of Chemistry, Theoretical and Practical,’ of which the first part, on ‘Chemical Physics,’ was published in 1855; the second and third parts, on ‘Inorganic’ and ‘Organic Chemistry,’ appearing successively in 1856 and 1857. A sixth edition of the first and second parts was issued in 1877–8, a fifth edition of the third, mostly rewritten by Dr. Armstrong and Mr. C. E. Groves in 1880. The work was also several times reprinted in the United States, and by its sound and useful character deserved the popularity it attained.
Miller's first experiments in spectrum analysis were made in a lumber-room underneath the lecture theatre at King's College. They applied both to absorption and flame-spectra, and their results, including some observations of the ‘rain-band,’ were made known at the Cambridge meeting of the British Association in 1845, and printed in the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ (xxvii. 81). Diagrams of flame-spectra were here for the first time given. At the Manchester meeting of the British Association in 1861 Miller delivered a lecture on spectrum analysis of considerable historical value, which he repeated on 15 Jan. 1862 before the Pharmaceutical Society of London (Pharmaceutical Journal, iii. 399, 2nd ser.) Six months later he communicated to the Royal Society a paper ‘On the Photographic Transparency of various Bodies, and on the Photographic Effects of Metallic and other Spectra obtained by means of the Electric Spark’ (Phil. Trans. clii. 861). The use of quartz-prisms had enabled him to get collodion-negatives of the spectra of twenty-five metals, showing great and characteristic differences. A ‘Note on the Spectrum of Thallium’ followed (Proc. of the Royal Society, xii. 407).
In 1862 Miller entered, with Dr. Huggins, his neighbour at Tulse Hill, upon a memorable series of investigations into the spectra of the heavenly bodies. Having constructed a special apparatus, they analysed with till then unapproached accuracy the light of the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and many of the fixed stars; and through their original method of direct comparison with terrestrial spectra, procured the first detailed and trustworthy information regarding stellar chemistry. Their results, in a preliminary form, were laid before the Royal Society on 19 Feb. 1863, and more fully on 26 May 1864 (ib. xii. 444; Phil. Trans. cliv. 413). The gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society was conferred upon them jointly in 1867 for these ‘discoveries in astronomical physics.’ A photograph of the spectrum of Sirius, the earliest specimen of its class, taken by himself and Dr. Huggins, was exhibited by Miller in the course of a lecture at the Royal Institution on 6 March 1863 (Proc. of the Royal Institution, iv. 42). He was soon, indeed, obliged to desist from adding night-work to his arduous daily duties, yet he assisted Dr. Huggins in spectroscopic observations in 1866 of α Orionis (Monthly Notices, xxvi. 215), and of the temporary star in Corona Borealis (Proc. of the Royal Society, xv. 146). In May 1867 he gave a course of four lectures on spectrum analysis at the Royal Institution (Chemical News, vol. xv.), and explained the bearing of the method on astronomy to the working men of Exeter during the meeting there of the British Association in 1869 (Popular Science Review, viii. 335).
Miller prepared in 1851, at the request of the government, with Professors Graham and Hofmann, a ‘Report on the Metropolitan Water Supply’ (Quarterly Journal of the Chemical Society, iv. 376), investigated the combined action of water and air upon lead, and lectured before the Chemical Society in 1865 on the analysis of drinking water. He reported to the British Association in 1857 on the ‘Recent Progress of Electro-chemical Research’ (Report, p. 158), and served on the several committees appointed by the same body to superintend the working of Kew Observatory, to provide for uniformity in weights and measures, and to determine standards of electrical resistance. He moreover presided over the chemical section at the Birmingham meeting in 1865. His useful invention of a ‘self-registering thermometer adapted to deep-sea soundings’ (Proc. of the Royal Society, xvii. 483) resulted from his attendance at the committee of scientific preparation for the voyage of the Porcupine, and he served from 1866 on the committee for organising meteorological observations under the board of trade. He became a member of the senate of the university of London in 1865, sat on the royal commission on scientific instruction in 1870, aided in the chemical testing of the stone employed in building the houses of parliament, and was assayer to the mint and the Bank of England. His services to the Royal Society as member of council, 1848–1850 and 1855–7, and as treasurer from 1861 until his death, were of great value. He took a prominent part in the foundation of the Chemical Society in 1841, and was twice its president. A degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Edinburgh in 1860; he was made D.C.L. of Oxford in 1868, and LL.D. of Cambridge in 1869, when he was Rede's lecturer, ‘Coal-tar Colours’ forming the subject of his discourse.
Travelling to Liverpool for the meeting of the British Association, Miller was struck with illness resulting from brain fatigue, and died of apoplexy at Liverpool on 30 Sept. 1870. He was buried in Norwood cemetery beside his wife, who had died a year previously. He had married in 1842 Eliza, eldest daughter of Edward Forrest of Birmingham, by whom he had two daughters and one son. Miller was a man of sound and penetrating judgment. His ideas were slowly formed, but tenaciously held, and unswerving integrity was united in him with a refined and sensitive nature. On one occasion, when under cross-examination as a scientific witness in a patent case, he fainted on the judge throwing momentary doubt upon his veracity. The religious convictions, which were the mainspring of his life, obtained partial expression in an address on ‘The Bible and Science’ to the Church Congress at Wolverhampton on 3 Oct. 1867, and in an introductory lecture at King's College on 1 Oct. 1859. Miller edited Daniell's ‘Meteorological Essays’ in 1845, and his ‘Introduction to the Study of Inorganic Chemistry’ appeared posthumously in Goodeve's ‘Text-Books of Science,’ 1871.
[Proc. of the Royal Soc. vol. xix. p. xix.; Quarterly Journal of the Chemical Soc. ix. 617; Nature, ii. 517; Robinson's Reg. of Merchant Taylors' School; Ward's Men of the Reign; Poggendorff's Biog. Lit. Handwörterbuch; Royal Society's Cat. of Scientific Papers.]