Major Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell (1792-1855)
Thomas Mitchell was the son of a Scots Harbour Master and had a natural flair for
drawing and painting which was to serve him well in later life.
He trained as a military officer and served in the Napoleonic wars in Spain where he developed skills as a surveyor. He also compiled a mammoth work on the war titled "Maps and Plans of the War from 1808 to 1814, in the Spanish Peninsula and South of France" which took 13 years to complete.
Ambitious and eager he was appointed Surveyor-General of the Colony of New South Wales in 1827 and served in that position for 27 years under 5 Governors.
In his posting to the new colony he undertook expeditions to survey the Darling River and in 1836 set out to confirm this river joined the Murray River and explore the hinterland. The Darling joins the Murray at Wentworth in south-western New South Wales and is part of the largest river system in Australia.
The well equipped expedition was, at the time, the largest and most costly yet seen, comprising 11 horses, 52
bullocks, 100 sheep, 22 carts and a boat carriage. His assistant on the journey was
Assistant Surveyor Granville Stapylton, and there were 22 convicts providing the man power
for the trek.|
The group left Orange in western New South Wales and followed the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers to the junction with the Murray, then travelled west along the river to the Darling junction. Having confirmed his theory, the party returned east and crossed the Murray River at Boundary Bend, near the Murrumbidgee River Junction, on the 13th. of June to enter what is now Victoria.
His explorations through Victoria were broad and rewarding. Turning south-west from Pyramid Hill, near Swan Hill, he passed through rich farming country and named the Grampians Ranges, the Glenelg River which flows through to Portland, visited the first settlers there, the Henty Family, and trekked east to near present-day Melbourne and visited a small settlement at Mount Macedon. He returned to Sydney in November 1836 after covering 1700 kilometres (1000 miles).
As a result of his glowing reports of the regions he had visited and described as "Australia Felix" (fortunate land), within months settlers from New South Wales were making their way to the 'promised land'.
In his travels he named many rivers, the Loddon, Avoca, Campaspe and Wimmera Rivers and the mountains, Mount Abrupt and Mount William (which he climbed and camped atop) in The Grampians, and Mount Macedon.
The route taken by Mitchell and his party is now a tourist route known as the Mitchell Trail and you will see many markers beside the road along the trail which follows the route as closely as possible. A book of the trail is available from the Victorian Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands or Tourist Information Centres in Western Victoria. The Major Mitchell Trail was developed under the Commonwealth/State Bicentennial Commemorative program (1988).
Mitchell - The Man
Mitchell married Mary Blunt in 1818 and had 12 children, 6 boys and 6 girls. he was arrogant and independent and was known for an explosive temper.
Although he was considered a fair and trusted leader by his contemporaries and those under him, he was regarded with some trepidation by his superiors.
In 1850 Governor Fitzroy wrote of Mitchell.
"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".
His interests included drawing, sketching and painting. He had an interest in mammalian fossils, poetry, geometry and mechanical design. He spoke Spanish and Portugese and could manage French.
Mitchell died on the 5th. of October 1855 and a newspaper of the day reported:
" 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".