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Robert Duncan Milne

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Robert Duncan Milne, (Robert Duncan Gordon Milne), (07 June 1844 – 15 December 1899) was born in Cupar, Fife, at Carslogie House.

Carslogie is now a ruinous and roofless late 16th/17th century derelict.

He attended Oxford University before moving to California in the 1860s, and settling in San Francisco.

He met an unfortunate end one night in December 1899 when he was hit by a trolley car as he was crossing the street. The San Francisco Call newspaper reported that it was "car 281 of the McAllister street line". Gripman P Healy appeared in court the next morning, but by then Milne had succumbed to his injuries.

His funeral was held on 19 December 1899 with little fanfare according to the Call, "there were few real mourners and few tears".

In 2016, it was reported that Dundee University has launched a bid to revive interest in "Scotland's answer to HG Wells", and he was described as the 'father' of science fiction, having had more than 60 stories published in the late 19th century.

Milne will be honoured as part of a programme of events to mark the 150th anniversary of HG Wells’ birth a year after the university became the first educational institution in Scotland to offer a sci-fi degree.

The little-known life and legacy of Milne will be discussed by English lecturer and sci-fi expert Dr Keith Williams and PhD student Barry Sullivan, who has been tracing the Scot’s curious career. He has not been officially recognised since the US sci-fi historian Sam Moskowitz published the only significant collection of Milne’s work, Into the Sun & Other Stories, in 1980.

Mr Sullivan, also from Cupar, said: “What little is known of Milne’s early life suggests that he was a promising student. He attended Almondbank College, in Perth, where he won prizes for Latin verse and went on to study classics at Oxford, after which he quit Britain at some point in the 1860s. Exactly how, why and when he arrived in California has yet to be established.

“His early short stories in The Argonaut, which were effectively reminiscences of his early life in America and detail his less than glamorous past working as an itinerant shepherd, cook and labourer.

“He became the go-to guy for The Argonaut for scientific articles and had a 20-year writing history, producing more than 60 pieces of science fiction, and his work was syndicated all over the world. In the mind of Sam Moskowitz, who stumbled across Milne’s work in the early 1970s, this made him the first full-time writer of science fiction in America.”

- Scot who was ‘father’ of science fiction is honoured - The Scotsman[1]

Journey to California

Although the preceding quotation states that the circumstances around his arrival in California were yet to be established, the following article offers details of the journey:

My source of information on Milne was vague on when his journey began, suggesting that he left the UK sometime in the 1860s. Although it is not sound genealogical proof to work from only one source, I was able to find a ship’s manifest entry for R D Milne who travelled from Liverpool to New York on a ship arriving 11 August 1868:


The age is right for it to be the same Milne. He declares himself to be Scottish, but plans to become an inhabitant of America. R D Milne traveled on the RMS Russia, probably owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (later Cunard).


He traveled in a cabin, as did all the passengers on this ship. He would have had a reasonable level of comfort for this 8 – 9 day voyage across the Atlantic, including a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as afternoon tea.


So over a period of roughly 4 weeks this Scotsman was able to find his way from Liverpool to California in 1868. List of passenger arrivals from Panama were usually published in the Daily Alta but I have not been able to find one listing Robert Duncan Milne as a passenger. In fact he disappears from any California records for some years, suggesting that he may have been in another state or somehow avoided being “enumerated” by the census takers in 1871 or 1881. From 1881 he is in the city directory, listed alternately as a journalist and an editor.

- Robert Duncan Milne – from Scotland to San Francisco, 1868-style. – kin histories[2]


Although not referred to in other articles (when this page was assembled), according to this item seen in a web site dedicated to San Francisco history and credited to Stephen Black, Milne was a drunk and waster when he died:

When, towards the end of his life, Milne received $2,000 from his family to finance an edition of his selected stories, he spent the money instead on drink, thus condemning himself to literary obscurity. His fate was sealed when near the turn of the century he staggered into the street and under the wheels of technology.

- Robert Duncan Milne - FoundSF[3]


1 Scot who was ‘father’ of science fiction is honoured - The Scotsman Retrieved January 18, 2017.

2 Robert Duncan Milne – from Scotland to San Francisco, 1868-style. – kin histories Retrieved January 18, 2017.

3 Robert Duncan Milne - FoundSF Retrieved January 18, 2017.

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