The Papers of John Hallowes Miller

Scope and Content

The collection contains a large number of hand-drawn crystallographic images, none of which appear to be dated; 22 manuscript notebooks charting Millers measurements of crystals, notes on physic problems, abstracts from published texts, and details of specimens collected and stored at the Cambridge Mineralogical Museum; correspondence and notes with Henry James Brooke, a crystallographer, 1834-1857; and some material relating to the teaching of mineralogy.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Hallowes Miller was born 6th April 1801 at Felindre, near Llandovery, the son of Captain Francis Miller and his second wife, Ann, nee Davies, who was Welsh. His mother died a few days after giving birth to him.

After being educated at private schools he proceeded to St Johns College, Cambridge. He graduated as a fifth wrangler in 1826 and was elected to college fellowship in 1829, and to the Professorship of Mineralogy in 1832. After marrying Harriet Susan Minty 5th November 1844, he had to give up his fellowship.

Miller published brief textbooks on hydrostatics and hydrodynamics before developing a system of crystallography. In 1839 he published his Treatise on crystallography, in which, following a suggestion by Whewell, he introduced what became known as the Millerian system of notation of crystal faces using Miller symbols or Miller indices.

This is a method for specifying the positions of crystal faces in space by reference to three (sometimes four) crystallographic axes. In this same work he formalized the law of rational sine ratios (Miller's law) after its recognition by several earlier workers. This law is concerned with the angular relation of crystal faces and their Miller indices. In order to give graphical expression to the system of facial indices and to facilitate calculations, Miller introduced the use of the stereographic projection which underpins much of his 1839 treatise.

With Henry James Brookes (1771-1857) he published in 1852 a new edition of Elementary introduction to minerals by W. Phillips, which introduced much new crystallographic data.

Miller was involved with the reconstruction of the standards of length and weight which had been destroyed (tally sticks) in 1834 when the houses of parliament were burnt. He gave an account of the operations for restoring the value of the old standard of weight in the Philosophical Transactions for 1856.

In 1858 Miller helped Charles Darwin with his study of the geometry of bees cells. Miller and Darwin corresponded, and Darwin cited Miller as his authority on the subject in his Origin of Species.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1838 and was its foreign secretary from 1856 to 1873, and awarded a royal medal in 1870. He was a knight of the order of Sts Maurizio e Lazzaro in Italy and of the order of Leopold in Belgium, and a corresponding member of many foreign societies, including the Academie Francaise.

Millers health began to fail in 1876. After a slight stroke of paralysis in the autumn, and a slow decline, he died in Cambridge on 20 May 1880.


Original order of the files amalgamated into boxes during the 1990s has been lost. No clear original order of these records, or the others exists.

The collection is still to be arranged and catalogued.

Access Information

The papers are open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Please contact the Archivist, Sandra Marsh to make an appointment or make an enquiry about the collection.

Other Finding Aids

The DDF Archive Inventory spreadsheet is available which contains basic box listing entries for the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Earth Sciences. There are additional detailed notes available (not yet typed) about some of the boxes (boxes 554-556). Please ask staff for further information.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some of the material is fragile. Staff will advise.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh and Dr Lyall Anderson of Sedgwick Museum in December 2010 using information from Millers entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, and from the papers themselves.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and printouts from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of William Hallowes Miller

Appraisal Information

The collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

5 boxes were identified as being records created or retained by William Hallowes Miller. These were repackaged into 10 conservation grade boxes during the DDF project (2010-2011)

As no documentation could be recovered in legacy Museum correspondence files to ascertain the provenance or acquisition details, it is not clear when these records were physically transferred to the Museum.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 1991-2009.


No more records are currently expected.

Related Material

There are letters to George Stokes, 1855-1857 at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

There is correspondence between Charles Darwin and WH Miller both at Cambridge University Library, and the American Philosophical Society, USA.