Captain Elizabeth (Betsy) Miller lived from 11 June 1792 to 12 May 1864. She was a pioneering woman sea captain. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Betsy Miller was born in Saltcoats on the Ayrshire coast of the Firth of Clyde. Her father was Captain William Miller a successful timber merchant and a sea captain. Betsy was the oldest of eight children and after finishing school was employed in the family shipping business as an office assistant, helping look after the records and accounts. The seagoing side of the business was meant to go to her brother Hugh. However, Hugh was drowned in an accident at nearby Ardrossan Harbour, and when the increasingly elderly Captain Miller succumbed to an illness that left him bedridden, the business rapidly started running up debts.
Betsy, now in her 30s, stepped in to take over the command of the family's brig, Clytus, and its 14 man crew. For more than three decades she sailed between Ayrshire and Ireland in all weathers and became the first woman sea captain to be certificated by the Board of Trade. Her fame spread far and wide. Known locally in Ayrshire as "the Queen of Saltcoats", she was even mentioned in the House of Commons during a debate on the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1834. By expanding from the cargos of timber shipped to Ireland by her father into coal and limestone, Betsy was also a highly successful businesswoman.
Betsy continued to sail until she was 70. She then handed over command of the Clytus to her youngest sister, Hannah, and retired to the family home in Saltcoats. She died there two years later.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".