I have no idea to be honest. It's bugged me for ages that I can't seem to pin down who my front yard is named after. Obviously it was a Mr Miller. Doesn't take rocket science to work that one out. But who was he, and why did he get it named after him. More questions than answers.
Google wasn't much help, so headed off to the various libraries in town. Gotto say the Main Library is a pretty rad old building, and even got to visit the basement in search of old Admiralty maps to see if it was marked off on those. Nup, no such luck. Although Bird Rock was already named back then. And Avo's was called Fishery Point. A few hours scouring the old PE history books didn't shed any further light on matters, although it did at least raise a coupla contenders for naming rights.
But let's dip into a bit of the area's history first. The beachfront at Millers was originally part of a huge farm called Strandfontein (which later became the Summerstrand). It belonged to Piet Retief from 1814 to 1821. He then left PE to became a Voortrekker leader, and was killed in 1837 by Zulu king Dingane during negotiations about land. The memorial on the grass in front of Summerstrand Village shopping centre is dedicated to him.
Strandfontein comprised of the land from the Shark River (Humewood Beach) to where Humewood Golf Course is today. The homestead was situated where the Beach Hotel now is.
In 1821 Frederick Gordon was granted a piece of land next to the farm Strandfontein for a whale fishery. The small cove was said to provide safe landing for boats - and is most probably where Avalanche is today. Likely that there were no rocks on the beach in those days due to the huge driftsands emptying into the sea along that whole stretch of coast.
Members of the whaling team included a famed Portuguese harpooner and a West Indian boat captain. The whale fishery ended up becoming a fish salting factory until they all got engulfed by the driftsands by around 1909.
His whaling industry alone was bringing him in over four thousand pounds per year besides the lease of Saint Croix and Bird Island which produced in one season over 14,000 seal skins. No less than 152 whales were killed in Algoa Bay between 1819 and 1841.
These fisheries were very successful, but declined, owing in later years due to the large number of foreign
whalers on the coast, who apparently used to intercept the whales on their way to calve in the bays. No less than 60 to 100 vessels, principally American, are said to have been fishing off the South African coasts at one time.
Summed up perfectly by one dude who said :"The whale fishery is a lottery, in which there are now too many tickets for the number of prizes."
Found some classic descriptions of the whale fishing industry back in the day in some old books in the library:
"We had the good fortune to see a fine fish killed, which was done thus. As soon as it was observed in the bay, three boats set off from the fishery, having 4 oars and 6 men in each. That which carried the harpooner led the way. No sooner was the fish struck then he made a desperate plunge towards the bottom, carrying the harpoon with him. But soon, returning to the surface he dragged the boat along with the greatest velocity, until being exhausted he once more permitted them to approach, where they dispatched him with spears and then towed him ashore."
In 1828 Retief sold a section of the farm, called Gomery (now the suburb Humewood), to a WB Frames. In 1851 Frames started a woolwashery at the Shark River (which runs out to the sea at Humewood). In 1864 he then dammed up the river and became the first water supply to PE.
Ok, so history aside, how did Millers get it's name? Best place to start seemed to be to find some famous Miller's in PE that somehow might have ended up with it getting named after them.
A dude called John Miller came out to PE with the 1820 settlers, and became mayor from 1868 to 1879. Besides being the mayor he also was responsible for opening a number of churches in town, notably the Hill Presbyterian and St Augustines. So he was a well known Miller - but still no connection with why he would give his name to a stretch of beach.
Roll forward a few decades, and along comes Allister Miller, the pioneer of civil aviation in South Africa. In November 1917 he landed the first plane in Port Elizabeth, at the PE Golf Course of all places. No airports back then! The whole town showed up to watch and there were so many ou's lining the 17th fairway that he ended up having to crash the plane into the bunker so as to avoid running into them. Planes in those days didn't have brakes! Luckily all that bust was the propeller - which still resides as a memento in the Golf Club to this day.
Miller was a member of the Royal Flying Corps, and fought in the skies over the Western Front in France and Belgium. He'd returned to SA on a recruiting drive for the RFC, and recruited more than 8,000 volunteers, of whom 2,000 were accepted, most of them as pilots. They were known collectively as "Miller's Boys".
In 1929, Miller founded Union Airways, as the country's first commercial mail and passenger carrier. It amalgamated with South West African Airways in 1932, and was taken over by the government in 1934 and renamed South African Airways. The main road leading to the PE airport is named after him.
So yah - he's a pretty famous PE Miller. But is he the Miller that Miller's is named after? Maybe the point was used as a landmark when planes flew in to land, hence being named Millers? Who Knows?
Maybe there was an old sawmill there back in the day? Hence Miller's Point?
If anyone can shed any light on how Miller's got it's name that'd be great!
A cutting from EP Herald of the flight:
"The whole of the city had arranged to suspend activities from 10.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in order to afford everybody the opportunity to witness the arrival, it being expected that the plane would circle around the city before landing on the golf links. A large crowd had gathered from an early hour, some had come in from the outer districts, such was the excitement and novelty of the occasion; many of these people had never seen an aero plane before.
The occasion - the first long distance flight in South Africa - would have been dramatic in any event but the unexpected climax lent additional force to it. Major Miller left Cape Town at 6.30 a.m. accompanied by Sergt. Mechanician Way, in fine weather, the flight took 5 hours and 22.5 minutes. This was of-course the fastest time ever up to that date.
Every vantage point in and about the city was thronged with eager people. The Donkin Reserve was crowded as with the Market Square and also the roofs of most of the buildings in the city. Unfortunately these latter spectators saw very little of the aeroplane. Many failed to see it at all particularly those on Market Square. It having been expected that it would circle overhead before landing.
The plane circled twice dropping in altitude all the time until at a couple of hundred feet a white message bag with streamers in the colours of the R.F.C. was dropped to the waiting crowd.
He "volplaned" down to the fairway of the eighteenth hole, dashed towards the green crashed into the bunker and buried the nose of the 'plane into the turf it remained balanced on its nose (planes of those days did not have brakes). If he had swerved he would have gone into the crowd. Ready hands assisted both the pilot and mechanic out, unharmed, wild excitement gripped the crowd. The propeller was in splinters, undercarriage twisted, a wheel totally wrecked and damage was caused to a wing. Later he said that he should have touched down further back as the breeze at ground level was very slight."
Part of my research involved buying an amazing book on PE's history. It's simply called "Port Elizabeth" (written by Margaret Harradine) and can be bought at no7 Castle Hill museum, which is near the Donkin. It gives a short summary of the most important happenings in each year, from 1820 through to 1945, and is an absolutely fascinating (and easy) read, plus has some cool old pics. Cool coffee table book to have.