Story: Millar, Annie Cleland

Page 1: Biography

Millar, Annie Cleland

1855–1939

Businesswoman

This biography, written by Maida Barlow, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Ann Cleland was born on 15 March 1855 at Coatbridge, near Glasgow, Scotland, the 14th child of Mary Masterton and her husband, Andrew Cleland, a moulder. Seven children in the family had died by the time Ann was born. Nothing is known of her life until she came to New Zealand in her early 20s as companion help to the family of the manager of the Colonial Bank of New Zealand at Invercargill. At the bank residence on 5 January 1885 Annie married John Millar, a self-employed baker. The wedding festivities were not elaborate: John borrowed a trap, yoked up one of his horses from the bread delivery cart and took his bride for a drive in the country, where they shared a bag of blackballs. The couple were to have nine children.

From about 1893 Annie adopted the name Annie Cleland Millar. John Millar's business was failing by this stage and Annie became manager of the Prince of Wales private hotel, living there with her family. The Prince was the main eating house in Invercargill and a gathering place for country people in town for the day. The sale-yards were nearby, and on the weekly sale days when the meal at the Prince was ready the sale was stopped and the crowd flocked through an alleyway into the diningroom.

In 1900 Annie Cleland Millar gave up the lease of the Prince and leased the Coffee Palace, a tearooms, oyster and dining saloon and bakehouse. The building was opposite the post office and from the living quarters upstairs the family had a grandstand view of activities in the centre of the fast-growing town. The name was changed to the ACM Company and the business did well, making mainly cakes and yeast goods. John sometimes helped, making coppers full of jam, for instance, for use in cakes and buns. Disabled by alcoholism, he spent much of his time pottering about a half-acre he owned in south Invercargill.

In 1909 Annie Cleland Millar bought her first motor vehicle, a Cadillac, for deliveries and family use. With a capital of £2,100 ACM Limited was incorporated as a private company in 1910, with Annie and her sons Andrew and George as directors. Life was not all work, however. On 5 November that year the Southern Cross newspaper reported that 'Mrs Millar, the popular proprietress of the ACM Tea Rooms, and her daughter, returned on Monday from an enjoyable visit to the Old Land.'

Around 1911 the lease of the Federal Tea Rooms became available. The three-storeyed Federal had a shop, tearooms and a large function room. ACM Limited was diffident about Annie’s proposal to take up the lease, so she took it in her own name and launched a further success. Southland's population was growing, its society becoming more sophisticated. Functions at the Federal were reported in the local press: gift afternoons, a 'bountiful' wedding breakfast, a 'very dainty' afternoon tea. ACM Limited took the Federal over from Annie in 1913 and retained it until 1936.

In 1913 Annie Cleland Millar was governing manager of the company and manager of ACM Tea Rooms. Her son Andrew was baker in charge, with about 10 staff in the bakehouse. Her daughter Isabella (Dolly) ran the front shop, and waitresses staffed the tearooms and grill-rooms. At the Federal her son Gavin (Guy), by then a director, was baker in charge, and there were three other managerial positions as well as a cook and waitresses. A large new bakery was built in 1915.

John Millar died in 1913. Three of Annie's sons served in the First World War, and the youngest was killed. During the war many ingredients were in short supply and the firm began producing a small bread loaf, called a tea-loaf. Offended by this intrusion into their territory, other bread bakers refused to supply Millars with the bread they needed to make sandwiches. The firm responded by entering the bread-baking industry and bread has been the mainstay of the business from that time.

As governing director Annie Cleland Millar at times had to enforce her powers within the sometimes squabbling family directorate. In 1916 she resigned in favour of her son Andrew. Annie's sons did not sort out their differences until William, with training in law, became the businessman of the team on his return from the war. In 1920 the name of the company was changed to A. C. Millars Limited.

A photograph of Annie in old age shows a kindly, plain-looking woman, a little bowed as she takes support from a carved veranda pole at her home. Her hands are knotted, but she is keen of eye, smiling in the sun. She died in Invercargill on 25 March 1939. Annie Cleland Millar had been firm, just, and a tireless and enterprising worker. Helped by hard-working children and a loyal staff, she had founded a firm and a dynasty. Never static, Millars in 1969 amalgamated with the other remaining Invercargill bread bakery, Lange Brothers Limited, to form Millar–Lange Limited. After this firm was taken over by the Goodman Group in 1982, it became a member of Quality Bakers New Zealand Limited. It was managed until 1993 by Annie's sons and grandsons, and in 1994 a great-granddaughter joined the staff as a food technologist.

How to cite this page:

Maida Barlow. 'Millar, Annie Cleland', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3m52/millar-annie-cleland (accessed 24 March 2019)