The Naming of Garrett Nelson Trafalgar Miller

Iris Watercolor by Wendy Harty 2021

Garret paced his library. Sixteen steps, then sixteen back. His oldest, barely two, Augusta, came dancing in on sturdy legs. “Mama says” she stuttered in her excitement to get the news out, “Mama says, that I’m going to have a baby!” It made him smile, “yes, will it be a boy or girl that you want,” he questioned? Garrett had read the mornings newspaper, already a week old. He had the perfect name picked out if the child was a son. Garrett after himself, then Nelson Trafalgar. Garrett had grown up on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and rode many the mile between the city of Halifax and his home at LaHave on the river. He’s been versed in news of the high sea adventures from a lad with tutelage of his father, a Loyalist, of German Irish-Palatine descent, who became a successful merchant and privateer. The British had been very good to his family. Now, while the Napoleonic War was ongoing between Britain’s Royal Navy and the fleets of both the French and Spanish Navies, a victory had come at the command of Admiral Lord Nelson. Along the coast of Spain, off Cape Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson’s decisive, action when he directed his fleet into two columns, and sailed straight into the enemy had overcame them. Garrett read of the twenty seven British ships fighting against thirty-three in a fierce battle. Although heavily battered and nearly disabled, Nelson had the greater experience and training. The causalities were great to the French and Spanish 6900 killed or wounded, 8000 captured and 21 ships boarded with one destroyed. He would name his son after Nelson who was shot by a French musketeer and died just before the battle ended. In Garrett’s eyes Lord Nelson was Britain’s greatest naval war hero. This battle ended Napoleon’s quest to invade England and the English Channel. It was good news for his merchant ships, and allowed Britain to become the largest sea power. So too was it great news when he was summoned to the bed of his wife, Catherine Pernette Miller and shown a healthy boy that October in 1805. Garrett, the father, would teach Garrett about Nelson, show him on a map where Trafalgar Cape, Spain was and as a young man, Garrett would tell his children about a place in London, England, named Trafalgar Square.

Garrett Nelson Trafalgar Miller grew up in a life of privilege, but he also worked hard following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He was called handsome, tall and stately and soldierly in bearing. At age 35 he married Maria Morris, 27 years old. Maria came from another socially prominent merchant family from Halifax, whose ancestors had been Surveyor General of Nova Scotia, helping to survey the land grants of the Loyalists who came to Nova Scotia. At the age of three, Maria’s father died. Her mother, Sybella opened a school in Halifax, in 1830, labelled to instruct young ladies with polite and elegant accomplishment of drawing. At age 17, Maria was teaching there and by the time she was 20 opened her own drawing school. Maria was young, single, and able to support herself. During the Victorian era of Halifax, Maria Morris was quite unique. In this era women were called upon to lead lives revolving around their family, motherhood and respectability, she did things her way. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was recognized around the world as an artist.

At the first art exhibition ever held in Canada, she won first prize at Dalhousie College. She worked with scientists, the first three were also government officials, the Secretaries of Agriculture in Nova Scotia. The first, a botanist, Titus Smith, encouraged her and she produced albums of 146 watercolor paintings of wild flowers and natural flora found in the province. Titus Smith brought her the wild flowers to capture on paper immediately before they wilted, then he wrote the accompanying botanical notes. Supported in her work by Smith and with the patronage of Sir Colin Campbell, the newspaper, Novascotian, wrote, “to be in possession of Maria Morris’s botanical wildflower illustrations would give a family reputation for good taste in art and appreciation of science, 1837.” In 1840, six of her paintings were chosen as hand colored lithographs and published by a London bookseller. At her wedding to Garrett Nelson Trafalgar Miller that same year, at St. Paul’s Church, her dress was styled from fabric given to her, as a present from Queen Victoria, as a toke of admiration for her illustrations.

In the next ten years, Garrett and Maria, had five children, 3 sons and 2 daughters. They lived a remote from the city life on the Miller Estates, on the LaHave River, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. Rumors of an unhappy marriage circulated. Perhaps it was her mother-in-law who hired the butler to spy upon her, but by 1850, her youngest in diapers, Maria reemerged and advertised her drawing school in Halifax, for the next twenty years. Garrett gave her wings and the family are together on the next census. By 1853, Maria had her second set of lithographs published, then petitioned the provincial government for financing and printed the 3rd by 1866 and a fourth printing 1867. This was the year her work was part of the Nova Scotia exhibit at the International Expos in Paris. She and her sister also published a book of poetry called Metrical Musings. Teacher, artist, poet and mother, Maria Morris Miller was a middle class woman, who capitalized on an economic opportunity, and as a professional woman artist in Nova Scotia, I call her a feminist heroine. Marie died in 1875, a very well known artist.

A sample of Maria Morris watercolors

Garrett Miller’s obituary tells me he died, 22 years later July 20, 1897, of heart failure, age 92 and 3 months. Listed as one of the largest real estate owners in Halifax, including Miller’s Woods, beside Point Pleasant Park, and the residential blocks on Young Avenue, as well as property at Morris and Water Street. With his brother, Jacob he was in business on the southern extreme of Water Street, carrying on an extensive shipping business at Miller’s Wharf. At LaHave, where he spent his summers, he was sitting in his dining room, when he fell suddenly to the floor. His housekeeper rushed to his aid, but he never spoke, expiring immediately. The note concludes with speculation of his wealth in the hundreds of thousands.

The tombstone of Garrett Nelson Trafalgar Miller 1805-1897

Garrett Nelson Trafalgar Miller is buried in the cemetery on land he donated at St. Peter’s Cemetery, LeHave, Nova Scotia.

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