SALTCOATS’ QUEEN OF THE SEA. 1792 - 1864.
achieved the unparalleled distinction of being the first woman
ever to be registered as a ships captain and named as such, in
the House of Commons and House of Lords.
Betsy was the eldest daughter born to Captain William Miller and
his wife Mary, who lived in Saltcoats, a small coastal town on
the beautiful west coast of Scotland. Captain Miller ran a
shipping company carrying cargo across the waters to Ireland.
As a young child, Betsy would accompany her father on his
journeys. Betsy was totally captivated by the sea and dreamed of
being master of her own ship one day, following in the footsteps
of her father.
However, in those early days it was unthinkable that a woman
would work on board a sailing vessel let alone be ‘Master of the
Ship’. Yet, how young Betsy would dream …
When Betsy reached adulthood she worked for her father in his
company, whilst her brother Hugh was groomed to take over the
company and run the ship. Tragedy hit the Miller household when
Hugh was drowned in an accident at nearby Ardrossan harbour, and
Captain Miller, her father, suffered an illness which left him
an invalid. The Miller family had incurred colossal debts and
Betsy, by then 46, stepped into the realms of history and set
about reinstating her family name and making her fortune.
Betsy gained a reputation as a fine ‘seawoman’ who was capable
of handling the Brig Clytus in the stormiest conditions. Very
much a lady, and a genteel one at that, Betsy was a stickler for
being properly dressed for all occasions and took great pride in
her appearance, her delicate lace caps always pristine, her
dress impeccable. Her youngest sister, Hannah accompanied Betsy
acting as her chaperon.
Betsy’s fourteen man crew had great respect for the ‘skipper’,
for Betsy would sail when other experienced Captains would not.
Betsy was a woman of guile and humour and her crew loved her for
She was a shrewd business woman and traded in coal and limestone
between her home port of Saltcoats and the major ports in
Captain Betsy Miller retired when she was seventy to the family
home in Saltcoats and died two years later leaving her youngest
sister Hannah, to continue where she left off.
Linda Harnett ©2008
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, ED WALKER & LINDA HARNETT ©2008