Patrick Miller of Dalswinton 1731-1815
The landlord of Ellisland Farm.
Patrick Miller entered Burns's life in December 1786, several days after his arrival in Edinburgh. On 13th December Burns wrote to John Ballantine:
'An unknown hand left ten guineas for the Ayrshire Bard in Mr Sibbald's hand, which I got. I have since discovered my generous unknown friend to be Patrick Miller, Esq. Brother to the Justice Clerk; and drank a glass of claret with him by invitation at his own house yesternight.'
A month later, on 14th January, Burns wrote to Ballantine prophetically:
'My generous friend, Mr Miller... has been talking with me about the lease of some farm or other in a n estate called Dalswinton which he has lately brought near Dumfries. Some life-rented, embittering Recollections whisper to me that I will be happier anywhere than in my old neighbourhood, but Mr Miller is no Judge of land; and although I dare say he means to favour me, yet he may give me, in his opinion, an advantageous bargain that may ruin me.'
The arrangement between Miller and Burns was that Miller gave the poet £300 with which to build a farmhouse and fence the fields. The rental was to be fifty pounds annually for three years, and thereafter, seventy pounds during the seventy-six term. Burns was to take possession on Whitsunday, 25th May 1788. The building of the farmhouse took about a year, and was only achieved after numerous delays.
By September 1788, with his first harvest in, Burns's doubts about Ellisland were already growing. By July 1789, he was 'deliberating whether I had not better give up farming altogether, and go into the Excise wherever I can find employment.' By 11th January 1790, he had had enough. 'This Farm had undone my enjoyment of myself', he burst to his brother, Gilbert: 'It is a ruinous affair on all hands. But let it go to hell! I'll fight it out and be off with it!'
It might not have been so easy for Burns to 'be off with it', had not John Morin, the owner of the adjoining estate of Laggan, offered Miller £1,900 for it. Burns wrote to Peter Hill early in the autumn of 1791: 'I may perhaps seee you about Martinmass. I have sold to My Landlord the lease of my farm, and as I roup off everything then, I have a mind to take a week's excursing to see old acquaintances.'
Not unnaturally, relations between Burns and Miller, during the latter part of Burns's Ellisland tenancy, became strained, and Burns told Hill: 'Mr Miller's kindness has been just such another as Creech's was, but this for your private ear.'
"His meddling vanity, a busy fiend
Still making work his selfish craft must mend."
Once the business relationship was ended, however, Burns and Miller became friendly again.