The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone

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Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone, D.C.L., a well-known explorer and sometime Surveyor-General of New South Wales, was the eldest son of John Mitchell, of Grangemouth, and was born at Craigend, Stirlingshire, in 1792. He entered the army in 1808, and served through the most stirring scenes of the Peninsular war. He was afterwards employed in making surveys of the great battlefields of the Peninsula and published a series of military maps which are preserved in the Ordnance Office. He was made Surveyor-General of New South Wales in 1827, and devoted the next twenty-eight years to the task of exploration and the laying out of Australian towns and roads. In Nov. 1831 he started from Sydney with a party to find a passage to the interior of the continent, and ultimately reached the Darling. Here he waited for supplies from a permanent depôt, which he had established on the Nammoy. But when his assistant, Finch, arrived, he had no provisions with him, but only a sad tale to tell how the camp had been surprised by the blacks, the two men in charge murdered, and the cattle and most of the stores carried off. This put an end to the expedition. Mitchell returned to the depôt, where he buried the bodies of his two murdered assistants, and then retraced his steps to Sydney. Again in March 1835 Mitchell started with a strong party, amongst whom was Allan Cunningham, the botanist. When they reached the Bogan, Cunningham was missed. A search was at once instituted, but he was never found. His tracks were followed for seventy miles; his horse was found dead; his whip and gloves were also picked up. Afterwards the melancholy facts were revealed. Cunningham had lost his way, and wandered about for five days, when he fell in with some natives. At first they treated him kindly, but the horrible nature of his position overpowered his strength, and he became delirious. This sealed the poor fellow's fate. The natives became terrified at their strange guest, and murdered him. After this Mitchell continued his exploration of the Bogan for some time, but an unfortunate encounter with the natives, in which three of them were killed, induced the speedy return of the expedition to Sydney. His next expedition was into Australia Felix, as he styled the rich pastoral districts of what is now known as Victoria, in 1836. Mitchell's party started on March 17th, and soon reached the Lachlan, which they explored for a considerable distance. On the Murray an encounter with the natives, took place, in which seven of them were killed. On June 20th the party reached the Loddon Junction. On the third day they lost the Loddon, and then went through a pastoral country, past the Avon and Avoca rivers, obtained a fine view of the Grampians—so named by Mitchell—fell in with a deep creek, the Richardson river, and at length came to the Wimmera. A few days afterwards they came upon and named the Glenelg. Striking southwards, they descried the sea and came upon the settlement of the Hentys, formed three years before at Portland, Vict., as a whaling station. When the party again reached Sydney, they had traversed two thousand four hundred miles of magnificent country. Mitchell named it Australia Felix, or the Happy. He was knighted in 1839, and made an honorary D.C.L. of the university of Oxford. In 1845 he undertook another expedition to explore the Darling. The party included Mr. E. B. Kennedy, a young surveyor in the Government service, Dr. Stevenson, and twenty-six men; they had provisions for a year. The start was made from Parramatta. They reached the Macquarie, and from thence crossed to the Upper Darling. Advancing beyond the Darling and making direct for the tropic, he found himself within a network of streams, taking their rise in the Dividing Range and flowing through broad tablelands. Mitchell's chief discovery was the Barcoo river, which he named the Victoria. In 1851 he was sent to report on the Bathurst goldfields in New South Wales. On his first visit to England he had taken with him a large collection of specimens, amongst which were the first gold given him by the shepherd Macgregor and the first diamond discovered in the country, presented to him by Thomas Hale. On a second visit he patented the boomerang propeller for steamers. He published "Battlefields of the Peninsula," "Three Expeditions into the Interior of Australia" (1838), "Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Australia," "Australian Geography" (for the use of schools), besides numerous maps of his surveys in Australia. He also translated "The Lusiad," by Camoens. It may be added that in 1843 Sir Thomas Mitchell unsuccessfully contested Port Phillip for a seat in the New South Wales Legislature. The next year, however, he was elected. The distance from Sydney made the attendance of Port Phillip residents in Parliament so difficult that three out of six members allotted to the district and to Melbourne resigned, and two who took their seats in 1844 were Government officers, vis., the Surveyor-General and the Sheriff. The former was now warned by the Governor, Sir George Gipps, that, though in his private capacity he was welcome to his opinions, as Surveyor-General he must support the Government. Sir Thomas thereupon immediately resigned his seat. Subsequently the Governor appointed a board to inquire into the working of his department, a step which pained him greatly. He died at Darling Point, Sydney, on Feb. 5th, 1855.