Thomas Mitchell

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Major Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) was an explorer and a surveyor. He was Surveyor-General of the colony and as such, was responsible for laying out roads, bridges and towns. He was also responsible for surveying much of the eastern part of Australia. Born in Scotland, Mitchell joined the army where he learnt to be a surveyor and in 1827, arrived in Australia where he  took over from John Oxley as Surveyor-General. Mitchell was a hot headed man and was the last person in Australia to challenge anyone to a duel. Fortunately he only shot a hole in the man's hat. Mitchell was a very talented artist and also wrote poetry. He was also a geologist and botanist. Mitchell wrote books about his journeys and these were very popular. In 1838, Mitchell was knighted  and became Sir Thomas Mitchell. He was responsible for exploring vast areas of south-eastern Australia and opening up new grazing lands in the southern parts of Victoria. These he named "Australia Felix". He led four main expeditions. During these expeditions he often fought with aborigines, sometimes killing them and also losing some of his own men. He was widely criticized in the colony for his treatment of the aborigines.


On his first expedition, Mitchell set off in 1831 to explore a river to the north west of Sydney, reported by an escaped convict. They passed a number of rivers and Mitchell believed that they were all part of the Darling River system. However, his path was blocked by a war party of natives who killed two of his men and stole their supplies. As they had no fresh supplies,  Mitchell was forced to turn back and return to Sydney.


On his second expedition, he proved that the rivers crossed by Cunningham flowed into the Darling river. Mitchell planned to trace the course of the Darling River to the sea. In 1835, he followed the Darling for about 500 kilometres. Again aboriginals were sighted, and this time Mitchell's men opened fire. Several natives were killed and again he was forced to turn back.


On his third journey he followed the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers to where they joined the Murray. Crossing into what is now known as Victoria, Mitchell found the aborigines were friendly and traded a tomahawk for a beautifully woven native bag.  The party killed 3 kangaroos and 2 emus. They also found a number of emu eggs which they used for  breakfast for several days. Mitchell then mapped the western area of Victoria and named the Grampian Mountains. It was the middle of winter and the peaks were frozen.  Across the mountains, Mitchell found excellent grazing land - land richer than any grazing land he had found in New South Wales and named this country "Australia Felix". Travelling south west, they crossed mountains and rivers that no white man had ever seen. They came to the Glenelg River and after rowing down it, reached the sea at Portland Bay. Mitchell was very surprised to meet here, the Henty brothers, who had settled there in 1834. He was amazed to find a thriving community complete with potato paddocks, roads and a ship at anchor in the bay. The Henty brothers were raising sheep and cattle as well as catching whales. They had been there for two years without telling the officials and had built cottages and sheds for their stock. The Henty brothers supplied food and other materials to the whalers who sailed these waters.  On this expedition Mitchell had found excellent farming land and when he returned to Sydney with the news, it started a land rush. Mitchell was knighted for his discoveries in 1837.


Mitchell's fourth and last expedition was a 12 month journey into central Queensland. His party consisted of 29 men.  Of these,  23 were convicts. There was a blacksmith, 2 carpenters and a butcher. Most of them behaved very well except for 6 of them. They took with them bullock drays and light carts. Mitchell also took 2 iron boats that could be bolted together whenever they  needed them to cross rivers. They took enough supplies to last a year, including 250 sheep. The men had straw hats, woollen jackets and heavy coats for cold weather. They took with them 2 aboriginal guides. If Mitchell had had the time and supplies, he could have reached the Gulf of Carpentaria.  After naming the Victoria River, he returned to Sydney. This expedition led to the opening up of rich pastoral areas of Central Queensland.

Mitchell had an unusual way of counting how far they had travelled. He would count the stroke of his horse's hoof. When he reached 100, he would put his hand into his pocket and remove a counter, such as a bean or a pea and put it into his other pocket. He claimed that 950paces of his horse made up a 1.6 kilometres and after this he would take a new compass reading and he would start counting again.

Mitchell caught a chill while surveying a road and this turned into pneumonia. He died in 1855. One of his sons also became a surveyor and mapped large areas of New South Wales.

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Up Edward John Eyre George Bass Robert O'Hara Burke Matthew Flinders John Forrest Edmund Kennedy Ludwig Leichhardt Thomas Mitchell John Oxley Charles Sturt Gregory Blaxland