Reuben William Miller

– the story behind the picture

by Martin McKay

Reuben William Miller with wife Emma and child.

Reuben William Miller with wife Emma and child.


One of the most enjoyable parts of running the BTPHG website is getting an unexpected piece of information through the Contact Form.

This was the case recently when I received a message from David Grimstead, which stated:

Reuben W Miller whilst in Anvers, Antwep.

Reuben W Miller whilst in Anvers, Antwep.

“In the photograph of the Grimsby Docks Police (Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway) on your first page, the officer third from the left with the modern-looking, continental goatee beard is Reuben W. Miller, son of a Grimsby coastguard and ex mariner on the Grimsby to Antwerp passenger ships. I recognised him from a photo with him in his MS&L uniform with his wife and one child. My Great-Grandmother was a witness at his wedding to her long-term friend Emma in Spring 1885.”

I was obviously intrigued and asked David if he had access to the photograph and if he knew any more about Reuben Miller. David was soon back with three photographs and this additional information:

“I don’t know much about him, except his wife Emma Birkwood was in service with my Great-Grandmother Betsey Haith at Baltic House Bargate Grimsby in 1881, both working for importing timber merchant Samuel Ellis. Betsey was then one of the witnesses at her wedding to Reuben W. Miller, a bachelor sailor, 26, living at 5 Duncombe St, Grimsby, on 22nd March 1885. His father was William Miller, a coastguard. They married at St Andrews Church (which was on Freeman Street, Grimsby – but now gone). As far as I can piece it together, they had a son first, 1887 but he died very young, then a daughter, Maud 1890, but she also died very young. Then daughters Ruby and Ethel. Emma and Betsey stayed friends, as I have postcards from her and Reuben, but Emma died in March 1916. Her daughter Ruby was by then a friend of my grandmother. I don’t have a date for the death of Reuben but I do think he changed profession because I have a professional photo taken by him of Emma and probably Ruby some time between, I’m guessing, 1900 and WWI.

I’ve attached copies of the photo of Reuben in uniform with Emma and a child, one of a younger Reuben in Anvers, Antwerp and one of the professional photo by him of Emma and Ruby.

By the way, it’s Reuben William Miller (middle-named after his Dad) and he was born in Suffolk, which probably means his father and family came up to Grimsby with the fishing smacks that moved up from East Anglia in the 1850’s when Grimsby’s dock facilities improved. Emma’s full name was Charlotte Emma Birkwood.

Reuben W Miller's wife and daughter, Emma and Ruby.

Reuben W Miller’s wife and daughter, Emma and Ruby.

I’m not in Grimsby these days but spent most of my first 30 years there. No docks police connection but my dad was a wartime Special and his cousin Peggy, the first policewoman in Grimsby.”

Many thanks to David Grimstead for filling in another piece of information about our BTP forebears.

Earlier research by Steve Beamon recorded that Reuben Miller joined the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Police on 13th December 1886.
(Source: – MS & L Railway & Canal general staff book – via

The photograph that sparked David’s interest can be seen on our front page and also, with added detail, in the photo gallery.