Thomas Mitchell (explorer)
|Major Sir Thomas Mitchell|
Portrait of Major Sir Thomas Mitchell (c1830s)
|Born||Thomas Livingstone Mitchell
15 June 1792
|Died||5 October 1855
|Cause of death||Bronchitis|
|Resting place||Camperdown Cemetery, Newtown, New South Wales, Australia|
|Education||Doctor of Civil Law|
|Alma mater||Oxford University|
|Known for||Explorations of south-eastern Australia|
|Title||Lieutenant colonel Sir|
|Parents||John Mitchell, Janet, née Wilson|
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (15 June 1792 – 5 October 1855), surveyor and explorer of south-eastern Australia, was born at Craigend in Stirlingshire, Scotland. In 1827 he took up an appointment as Assistant Surveyor General of New South Wales. The following year he became Surveyor General and remained in this position until his death. Mitchell was knighted in 1839 for his contribution to the surveying of Australia.
Born in Scotland on 15 June 1792, he was son of John Mitchell of Carron Works and was brought up from childhood by his uncle, Thomas Livingstone of Parkhall, Stirlingshire. On the death of his uncle, he joined the British army in Portugal as a volunteer, at the age of sixteen. On 24 June 1811, at the age of nineteen, he received his first commission as ensign in the old 95th Rifles (now Rifle Brigade). He was present at the storming of the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos, and subsequently served on the general staff of Lord Wellington, to whose discrimination he owed his first commission and all promotion afterwards in the army. For his services during the war he received the Peninsular medal and five clasps, and promotion to a company in the 54th Regiment. After the war he was especially commissioned by the Duke to survey the chief battlefields. This service he successfully accomplished, and many of his models are still to be seen in the United Service Institution, while in the Quartermaster-General's department may be seen his "Atlas of Plans and Battles."
In 1827, with Murray's support, Mitchell became Assistant Surveyor General of New South Wales with the right to succeed John Oxley. Oxley died the following year, and on 27 May 1828, Mitchell became Surveyor General. In this post he did much to improve the quality and accuracy of surveying - a vital task in a colony where huge tracts of land were being opened up and sold to new settlers. One of the first roads surveyed under his leadership was the Great North Road, built by convict labor between 1826 and 1836 linking Sydney to the Hunter Region. The Great South Road (now replaced by the Hume Highway), also convict-built, linked Sydney and Goulburn. In 1834 he was commissioned to survey a map of the Nineteen Counties. The map he produced was done with such skill and accuracy that he was awarded a knighthood.
In 1831 George Clark, who had lived in the area for several years, claimed that a river that the Aborigines called Kindur flowed north-west from the Liverpool ranges in New South Wales to the sea. Charles Sturt said that the Murray-Darling system formed the main river system of New South Wales and Mitchell wanted to prove Sturt wrong. Mitchell departed on 24 November 1831 to find the Kindur River. In his party were 2 surveyors, 15 convicts and his personal servant, Anthony Brown who came with him on every expedition. Between 30 November and 11 December he reached Wallamoul Station near Tamworth. Mitchell used 20 bullocks, three heavy drays, three light carts and 9 horses. Most of the time the animals were used as pack animals. Mitchell found a deep, broad river but it was not the Kinder it was the Gwydir. On 21 January Mitchell split his team; one group followed the Gwydir River but Mitchell's group headed north. Two days later Mitchell found a large river and then sent for the other half of the party and began to build a wooden boat. Meanwhile Mitchell explored the river from land but he eventually decided it was the Darling River, with no need for exploration on water. The person who was meant to bring supplies arrived but without supplies because Aborigines had killed two out of the three of his men. Mitchell then had no choice but to call off the expedition and go home.
Mitchell's next expedition was on 7 April 1835. This expedition was put together to trace the course of the Darling River to the sea. In his party, there was James Larmer (assistant surveyor), Richard Cunningham (botanist), Mitchell's personal servant and 20 other men.
On 17 April 1835, Richard Cunningham the Colonial Botanist wandered away from the party near the head of the Bogan River. The party halted and franticly searched for 12 days coming across his horse who had died with the saddle still on. They followed Cunningham's tracks along the Bogan for 20 miles until they disappeared near an encampment of aborigines. At the camp they found the skirt of Cunningham's coat and fragments of a map he was carrying. Although they never found his body, they presumed that he had been murdered by the aborigines. The place where Cunningham was killed is marked on an 1836 map by Mitchell, showing the positions of exploring parties when most assailed by Aborigines.
After the suspected murder of Cunningham, Mitchell decided to continue his expedition. They then followed the Bogan River downstream led by an Aborigine. Mitchell decided to explore the Darling River in two boats they had lugged all the way, but it was too shallow forcing a continuation over land. After one month of following the river, Mitchell believed that it was the Darling and was reluctant to continue.
Mitchell noted, that just after he communicated to his party that he was going to turn back, they heard shots from a forage party up the river. At the same time, a group of aborigines appeared. One of them ran off to inform the rest of the tribe but he was intercepted. Mitchell noted that they gave the chief of the tribe presents but they responded with kicking dust and spitting at the party. The chief then hit one of the men who was carrying water, in order to get his water kettle. The situation deteriorated and the chief was shot in the groin and two others shot dead. The party then left and made fast tracks back to their depot.
He came back on 14 September the same year. While Mitchell didn't trace the Darling River to the sea, the course and terrain of a section of the Bogan River and 483 km of the Darling River had been charted.
The third expedition began on 18 March 1836. Mitchell was instructed once again to follow the Darling River to its end. In his party there was 20 men including his personal servant. At one point Mitchell decided to take a small group west. He found no other rivers so he decided to turn back to camp. On 23 May, he reached the Murray River. His camp was attacked three times by Aborigines. They came across 200 Aborigines who they thought were going to attack. Mitchell's men started to shoot at them and killed seven. He continued to explore and then decided that Sturt was right that the Darling did flow into the Murray River. He was determined to leave the Darling and explore the Murray River. While he was exploring the Murray, Thomas Mitchell decided that the area to the south east looked interesting so he began to explore it. That's how he discovered the Grampians. They then found a river that Mitchell called Glenelg, which Mitchell chose to follow and it led to the sea. They returned to their camp and continued to explore the coast line. They soon discovered the Henty brothers' farm, who were the first permanent settlers in this area. They gave Mitchell supplies and Mitchell headed for home. He returned to Sydney and was happy that he had discovered a vast, fertile region which would undoubtedly ensure his fame as an explorer.
Mitchell's fourth expedition was into Queensland in 1845-46. He was convinced that a significant river must flow north-west into the Gulf of Carpentaria, this being the main thrust of the endeavour.
On 15 December 1845 Mitchell started from Boree (N.S.W.) with a large party, including Edmund B. C. Kennedy (later speared to death at Escape River, near Cape York, In 1848), as second in command. He struck the Darling River much above Fort Bourke thence continued to the Narran River, to the Balonne, and to the Culgoa. On 12 April 1846, he came to a natural bridge of rocks on the main branch of the Balonne, which he called St. George Bridge, and which is the present site of the town of St George (Southern Queensland). Kennedy was left in charge of the main body here, and was instructed to follow on slowly, while Mitchell pushed ahead with a few men. Mitchell followed the Balonne to the Maranoa, and then to the Cogoon (now called Muckadilla Creek, near Roma). This rivulet led him to a magnificent pastoral district, in the midst of which stood a solitary hill that he named Mount Abundance. He then crossed a low watershed to the Maranoa, and awaited Kennedy's arrival. Kennedy rejoined Mitchell on 1 June 1846, bringing despatches.
Leaving Kennedy for a second time, he set out on an extensive excursion of more than four months. Mitchell traversed the country at the head of the Maranoa, and discovered the Warrago River. Keeping north over the watershed, he traversed the Claude and Nogoa rivers, then reached the Belyando River an upper reach of the Burdekin River. This had already been discovered by Ludwig Leichhardt on his expedition to Port Essington, 2 April 1845. Intensely mortified to find that he was on a tributary of the Burdekin River, and approaching the ground already trodden by Leichhardt, he returned to the head of the Nogoa, and struck west, after dividing his party and forming a stationary camp. He continued west, making a new discovery which he was certain was the fabled north-west river. In honour of the sovereign of the time, he decided to call it Victoria River. Having run out of time, he turned back towards the main party. It was here that Mitchell first noticed the well known grass that bears his name. On the homeward journey he trekked along the Maranoa River to St. George Bridge, arriving in Sydney 20 January 1847. Later that year, Kennedy proved beyond doubt that the Victoria did not continue north-west, but turned south-west and joined Cooper Creek. He renamed the watercourse the Barcoo River from a name mentioned by local Aborigines.
In 1837, Mitchell sought 18 months leave from his position and in May he left Sydney for London. During his leave, he published an account of his explorations called Three Expeditions Into the Interior of Eastern Australia: with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and of the present colony of New South Wales. Mitchell sought additional periods of leave and finally arrived back in Australia in 1841. Mitchell left Sydney again in March 1847 on another period of leave. By the time he arrived back in mid-1848, he had published his Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia, in search of a route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Mitchell's journals proved a rich source for historians and anthropologists, with their close and sympathetic observations of the Aboriginal peoples he had encountered. These publications made him the most celebrated Australian explorer of his day. But he was a difficult man to get on with, made evident by this passage made by Governor Charles Augustus FitzRoy:
"It is notorious that Sir Thomas Mitchell's unfortunate impracticability of temper and spirit of opposition of those in authority over him misled him into frequent collision with my predecessors."
In a by-election for the Electoral district of Port Phillip in April 1844, Mitchell was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council. He found it difficult to separate his roles of government employee and elected member of the legislature, and after only five months he resigned from the Legislative Council.
Mitchell is also remembered as the last person in Australia to challenge anyone to a duel. In September 1851, Mitchell issued a challenge to Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson because Donaldson had publicly criticised excessive spending by the Surveyor General’s Department. The duel took place in Sydney on 27 September with both duellists missing their marks. The French 50 calibre pistols used in the duel are in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.
Ophir gold fields
In 1851, Mitchell was instructed by Governor FitzRoy to make a report on, and survey of, 'the extent and productiveness of the goldfield reported to have been discovered in the County of Bathurst.'  He travelled west during winter to visit the Ophir gold diggings, accompanied by his son, Roderick, and Samuel Stutchbury the government geologist.
In June 1851 Mitchell selected the site for the township of Ophir. W.R. Davidson plotted a survey of the ground and Mitchell planned the streets and allotments for the town.
Mitchell returned with a collection of specimens from the diggings, mostly quartz, with 48 of these stored in a wooden chest His report of the goldfields was presented to the Legislative Council in February 1852.
Story of the "bomerang" propeller
The search for a method of screw propulsion of ships intrigued many inventors during the latter half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. An Englishman, K. P. Smith, patented a screw propeller in 1836, and shortly afterwards Captain John Ericsson, formerly an officer of the Swedish army, patented another.
On his travels, Mitchell must have been evolving the idea of his boomerang propeller—he spelled it "bomerang," while newspapers used "bomarang" and "boomerang." The first test was made In the Sydney Harbour in May, 1852, an iron propeller being fitted to the "screw-steamer" Keera. The results of this trial were considered satisfactory, and Sir Thomas Mitchell took his Invention to England. In 1853 the propeller was fitted to the "Genova", and a trial was conducted on the Mersey. Then the Admiralty gave it a test on H.M.S. Conflict. The first two trials were made with the Admiralty dockyard cut screw. In the first trial a speed of 8.975 knots was attained; in the second (on a very calm day), 9.742 knots. The boomerang propeller was used in the third trial, and the average speed attained in a course of six runs was 9.913. The subsequent history of the boomerang propeller has been lost in obsucurity.
In July 1855 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the New South Wales Survey Department. Before its report was published, Mitchell contracted a chill while surveying the line of road between Nelligen and Braidwood. He developed a severe attack of bronchitis and died a few days later at Carthona at Darling Point at 5:15pm 5 October 1855. Newspapers of the day commented:
"For a period of twenty-eight years Sir Thomas Mitchell had served the Colony, much of that service having been exceedingly arduous and difficult. Among the early explorers of Australia his name will occupy an honoured place in the estimation of posterity."
Some of the places Mitchell named on his expeditions were: the Avoca River, Balonne River, Belyando River, Campaspe River, Cogoon River, Discovery Bay, Glenelg River, Grampians, Maranoa River, Mount Arapiles, Mount King, Mount Macedon, Mount Napier, Mount William, Nyngan, Pyramid Hills, St George, Swan Hill and Wimmera River.
Because of his contributions in the surveying and exploration of Australia, Mitchell is commemorated by having numerous localities or objects across Australia being named after him. These include:
- The town of Mitchell in Queensland
- The Mitchell River in Queensland 
- The Canberra suburb of Mitchell
- The electorate of Mitchell
- The Mitchell Highway
- The Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, a species of Cockatoo
- Steam locomotive number S 301 Sir Thomas Mitchell, a member of the Victorian Railways S class locomotives
- Mitchell's Hopping Mouse, an Australian native rodent-like animal
Mitchell is also the namesake in the highest honour of the New South Wales Surveyors Awards, the Sir Thomas Mitchell Excellence in Surveying Award.
- Cumpston, J.H.L. "Thomas Mitchell - Surveyor General and Explorer". Retrieved 22 October 2011.
- Baker, D. W. A. "Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792–1855)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
- "Sir Thomas Livingstone MITCHELL (1792 - 1855)". Former Members Index A-Z. NSW Government. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- "Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell.". Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 14 December 1878. p. 17. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- Canberra's Engineering Heritage, William Charles Andrews, Institution of Engineers, Canberra, 1990 p1
- Mitchell, Thomas Livingstone. "Map to shew the positions of the exploring parties in the interior of New South Wales when most assailed by the natives in 1831, 1835 and 1836". Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- "INTERIOR DISCOVERY,.". The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 - 1848) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 22 September 1835. p. 2. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- Baker, D W A. "Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792–1855)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Beale, Edgar (1983). Kennedy The Barcoo and Beyond 1847. Hobart: Blubber Head Press. ISBN 0 908528 11 6.
- Mitchell, Thomas Livingstone. "Sketch map of the country and the routes between the Maranoa and Mount Mudge, River Victoria". Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- "SIR THOMAS MITCHELL.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 21 April 1945. p. 4. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- Cumpston, J H L. "Thomas Mitchell: Surveyor General and Explorer". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- National Museum of Australia Collections: Sir Thomas Mitchell Duelling pistols, edited essay by Johanna Parker from the Captivating and Curious publication, accessed 18 April 2011
- National Museum of Australia: Object record, Matching cased pair of French .50 calibre duelling pistols with accessories, used by Sir Thomas Mitchell in Sydney in 1851
- "Off to the diggings: Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Mitchell, Thomas. "Sir Thomas Mitchell diary, with comments on the discovery of gold, especially in the Bathurst district, 1851". Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Mitchell, Thomas. "[Gold chest belonging to Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, c.1851-1855]". Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- "SIR THOMAS MITCHELL.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 20 January 1922. p. 10. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- "DEATH OF SIR THOMAS MITCHELL.". The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 10 October 1855. p. 1 Supplement: Supplement to the Maitland Mercury. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- "Looking East: Sir Thomas Mitchell". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
- Bau, Mark. "S class steam locomotives". Mark Bau's VR Website. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thomas Mitchell.|
- Works by Thomas Mitchell at Project Gutenberg:
- The Great North Road - Convict Trail Project