In 1790, a Scottish banker called Patrick Miller, sent King Gustav III of Sweden, a big, beefy boat (it was quite clearly a ship but I rather like the alliteration). This ship was called The Experiment and was built in 1787.
Miller had considered paddle wheel power on ships for a while but, for reasons unknown, he decided to create a vessel powered not by steam but by man power. The ship was powered by 30 men turning four capstons on the deck. (Sounds like a crap job if you ask me… though they could manage speeds in excess of four knots.) It’s not like there wasn’t steam engines by then. In fact there was a worldwide mania for them with a race for who could get there first. Watt’s successful inventions of 1765 would prove all the impetus marine engineers would need.
For Patrick Miller, the dream was big ocean going craft rather than little lake ferries and towards this he created The Experiment. The thing is, he’d not always been interested in ships.
Eventually he became the Governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, having been born in Leith ‘without a sixpence.’ He was, at various times, a shopkeeper in the US, a merchant in Greece and a director in the private banking firm of Mansfield Ramsay and Company but that was nothing when compared with his outside of work activities.
He worked on improving maritime ordnance and principally on the carronade, after purchasing the estate of Dalswinton, Dumfriesshire, he worked hard on agricultural improvement and, of course, he designed a lot of ships. He is also very well known for working alongside William Symington on the development of the Dalswinton Steamboat which is acknowledged as the first working steamboat in Britain. While Bill designed the engine, Pat designed the craft.
Patrick was also rather interested in the Arts and a great patron of artists and poets such as Henry Raeburn, Alexander Nasmyth and Robert Burns.
To suggest that Miller was interested in everything would not be too broad a description. I’m surprised he had time to marry and have kids but he did. In fact, he had five. Sadly, after he died, his children went a bit acrimonious over their inheritance which ended up at the House of Lords…which seems a bit excessive if you ask me.
Anyway, that’s all by-the-by. The main thing that makes Patrick Miller such a memorable chap is a present he received from King Gustav III after he received The Experiment (1787). Even though the king wasn’t that keen on the ship and, in fact, his lead maritime authority claimed it was a joke and ridiculed it whenever he could – I can see him regaling his bitchy pals whenever they gathered at the Swedish Ministry of All Things Naval – he understood the social niceties and sent Patrick a gift in return.
This gift was a snuff box. While a bit smaller than The Experiment, the snuff box was decorated with beautiful paintings including one on the bottom featuring Miller’s ship in Stockholm harbour. More important though was the contents. Gustav had included some magic beans. More accurately, he’d packed a load of turnip seeds. But these weren’t any old turnip seeds. They were red topped Swedish turnip seeds.
After Patrick successfully harvested his first crop they became known as… drum roll…Swedes! And, in Scotland, they became neeps, which, along with tatties, are served with haggis.
So Gustav III may have been the king of Sweden but Patrick Miller was the king of the Swedes!