John Riggs Miller

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Sir John Riggs-Miller, 1st Baronet (c. 1744 – 28 May 1798) was an Anglo-Irish politician who championed reform of the customary system of weights and measures in favour of a scientifically founded system.

Early life

He was born John Miller in County Clare, Ireland.[1] His father was John Miller and his mother, John's wife, Anne née Browne. He was educated at Dalston School and Eton College before joining the British Army in 1760 as a cornet. He was on active service in the Battle of Emsdorf and at Belleisle, France in 1761, before retiring from the army in 1763. He was admitted to study at the Middle Temple in 1765, though does not seem to have made any progress with his legal studies. He also studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, though he did not graduate.[2] In August 1765 he married Anna née Riggs (1741–1781), adding her name to his own. They had a son and a daughter.[3] In July 1762 he inherited his family estates;[3] they were worth little,[4] but his wife brought substantial wealth to the marriage, enabling him to build a prestigious house at Batheaston, Somerset.[3] The couple there held a fortnightly literary salon along with competitions and prizes. The prizes were drawn from an ornately decorated Roman vase and the affair was mocked as Lady Miller's Vase, though that did not dissuade distinguished contributions from the like of David Garrick and Christopher Anstey. In 1778 he was created a Baronet, of Ballicasey in the County of Clare.[3] Anna died on 24 June 1781; on 9 September 1795 he married Jane née Sell, widow of Sir Thomas Davenport. He was elected Member of Parliament for Newport, Cornwall in 1784.[3]

Weights and measures

He made a careful study of the contemporary state of weights and measures before proposing reform in the British House of Commons on 5 February 1790.[3] In France, Charles Maurice Talleyrand was pursuing similar goals with a unit of length based on the seconds pendulum, as was Thomas Jefferson in the US having been charged by President George Washington with measurement reform. Talleyrand had ambitions that France would establish itself at the centre of a new international measurement system that would form the basis of global trade and, on hearing of Riggs-Miller's initiative, proposed a tripartite collaboration. After some diplomatic manoeuvring by Talleyrand, the definitive pendulum measurement was agreed to take place in France.[5] However, France's official approach for collaboration was then rejected by Foreign Secretary the Duke of Leeds. Riggs-Miller continued to campaign on the matter but, when parliament was dissolved in 1790, he was not re-elected.[3] Ultimately, in 1791, the French National Assembly vetoed the pendulum in favour of the meridional definition of the metre, bringing an effective end to hopes of collaboration.[5] France unilaterally adopted the metric system in 1793.[3]

After parliament

After parliament, Riggs-Miller settled in Bloomsbury Square, London. He allegedly became known in society as an inveterate gossip and newsmonger, and was a well-known figure in many gentlemen's clubs. He died suddenly and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son by his first marriage, John Edward Augustus Miller (1770–1825).[4][6] Riggs-Miller was buried in Bath Abbey.[3]


  1. ^ Lee in the DNB states that his family seat was Ballycasey (Lee 1894, p. 419), but Miller writing in the updated ODBN states that he was born in Drumlin (Mayes 2004).
  2. ^ "Miller, [post Riggs-Miller], John (MLR761J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mayes 2004
  4. ^ a b Lee 1894, pp. 419,420
  5. ^ a b Adler 2002, pp. 93–95
  6. ^ Urban 1798, pp. 626–7 and Urban 1825, p. 286


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Elizabeth (1894). "Miller, Anna". In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 419, 420. The entry cites:
    • Allibone, ii. 1286;
    • Miss Seward's preface to her Poem in Memory of Lady Miller;
    • Collinson's Somerset, i. 103;
    • Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 495

Further reading

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Viscount Maitland
John Coghill
Member of Parliament for Newport (Cornwall)
With: John Coghill 1784–1785
William Mitford 1785–1790
Succeeded by
Viscount Feilding
Charles Rainsford
Baronetage of Ireland
New creation Baronet
(of Ballicasey)
Succeeded by
John Edward Augustus Riggs-Miller

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