THOMAS LIVINGSTONE MITCHELL was born at Grangemouth in Stirlingshire, Scotland on the 15 June 1792 and died at Darling Point, Sydney, on the 5th of October 1855. The family home in Scotland was called Parkhall. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, but the poverty of his family following his father’s death led him to join the Army in 1811 where he learned surveying. Mitchell served as a lieutenant in the Napoleonic Peninsular wars (1807-1815). During the campaign he was appointed to help survey the battlefields, and when the war was over he continued with the work of surveying and sketching, first in Spain and then back in England. He saw service in Portugal, where Sir George Murray, later to be Colonial Secretary, was the Army’s Quartermaster-General, and became Mitchell’s most important connection. In 1817 he married Mary Blunt in Lisbon. When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 Mitchell returned to the dull routine of peacetime soldiering. His skilled dedication to this work led to his promotion to Major, and to his being offered the position of Deputy Surveyor General of New South Wales, where he arrived in 1827. He was then named Surveyor General to succeed the ailing John Oxley. 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. At first frustrated in his desire to lead expeditions to explore the interior, he worked on the survey of New South Wales. One of the first roads surveyed under his leadership was the Great North Road, built by convict labour between 1826 and 1836 linking Sydney to the Hunter Valley. The Great South Road, 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. He was then able to conduct three expeditions of exploration. After his third journey in 1836 to ‘Australia Felix’, (latin for “fortunate Australia”) an early name given by Mitchell to lush pasture in parts of western Victoria, and a sojourn in England, he returned in 1841 to oversee the building of an English style mansion on property that he had acquired in the parish of Wilton, County of Camden.
As a major on half pay, Thomas Mitchell was entitled to a grant of 2560 acres in the colony. He had selected property in the County of St. Vincent soon after he arrived in1828, but in the next year exchanged this for land at East Bargo, in an unnamed parish that would soon be the parish of Wilton. The land was the traditional country of the Dharawal people, a place of meeting aboriginal people and for the reconciliation of disputes.
Mitchell soon purchased a further1950 acres adjacent to the grant. This was the country through which he believed the Great South Road was to pass, but a different route through the Camden area was chosen and it was not until one hundred and fifty years later that the F5 Freeway to Canberra and Melbourne cut off a portion of his property.
In memory of his happy childhood home, he dreamed of erecting a new Parkhall on the land, but nothing was done until he returned in 1841 from his visit to England. In April 1842 he was able to lay the foundation stone, with a cavity containing a parchment inscribed in Latin:
Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Knight, Honorary of Civil Law in the University of Oxford, accompanied by Charles Nicholson, Doctor of Medicine, in the year of grace 1842, and in the reign of Queen Victoria, laid the foundation stone of this house in a land now divided from the world, but which may one day equal in all the acts of civilization the illustrious regions of his native country.
The house was patterned on ‘A Villa in the Cottage Style’ from an English book of designs described as Gothic Picturesque, with tall chimneys, pointed gables, dormer windows, crenellation, tracery and turrets. Mitchell and the builder James Hume modified the design to make it somewhat simpler, and added the observation tower. It was built with local materials: shingles cut from the bush, sandstone from Clements Creek; but it was to be a little bit of the old country in the new colony, and a fresh start for a noble Briton in a new untainted land, away from the strife of the city.
Mitchell’s feelings can be seen in his (incomplete) poem, Lines Written at Broughton Pass:
Here limpid streams surround untainted earth
Secure from tyranny since Nature’s birth
To such steep rocks, the sons of freedom fly
“Lords of the lion hearted and eagle eye”
No other road besides this rugged Pass
Admits the roaming herds to steal the grass
No highway here for highwayman to ply
A th riving trade …
No wrangling …
No shop keeper …
No public here …
No mob …
Nor brazen statues, brazen lies to bear
No public meetings called with private crews
No nouveaux riches…
No quakers anxious to save human life
Save when their shepherds with the blacks have strife…
No civil officers so deep in debt
That only creditors aught good can get.
Here from all these, O Nature, keep keep me free
Beyond this Chrystal stream my dwelling be
Thy shady forest dark and meadows green
Refresh the soul where no such men are seen
Here harvests yield the unaluminous bread
No sky blue here, but milk from udders shed
Seated beneath the fig and climbing vine
We quaff the unadulterated wine
Or heaped with blazing logs our ample hearth
Resounds with social hospitable mirth
As in the olden time Come Briton come
Be no man’s servant make the woods thy home
National Estate Listing: ‘A two storey Gothic Revival sandstone house (c. 1842-4) built for the Surveyor General Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell, to a design from Francis Goodwin ‘s ‘Rural Architecture’ and supervised by James Hume. There is a fine geometrical stone stair with cast iron balusters, several original chimney pieces, and Mitchell Arms on the eastern gable. An arcade, tower and chapel were added sometime after 1860, Blacket being commissioned to add the arcade. Apart from its importance as Mitchell ‘s country residence, “Park Hall” is one of the last stylistically significant houses built before the depression of the early 1840s.”
Parkhall (also sometimes written as Park Hall) was to be his country retreat; at the same time he was building a Sydney residence ‘Carthona’ at Darling Point. Parkhall building must have lived up to Mitchell’s expectations, but his plans for the whole property were not so successful. Encouraged by Caroline Chisholm, he sought to settle farmers on small plots along the township line of Wilton, but this was not successful, the settlers giving up their farms within a short time, and the town allotments not selling. At Parkhall Mitchell raised horses and produced a Bargo from his vintage.
Surveyor and Explorer
Major Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was surveyor and explorer of south-eastern Australia. His exploratory career saw four expeditions, which opened up much of land for freehold settlers.
In 1831, George Clarke who had lived in the area for several years claimed that a river that the Aborigines called Kindur flowed north-west from 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 then set off on the 24th of November 1831 to find the Kindur River. In his party was 2 surveyors, 15 convicts and his personal servant, Anthony Brown who came with him on every expedition. Between the 30th of November and the 11th December he got to 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. A little while later an Aborigine named Mr Brown joined his party and led them into unexplored territory. Mitchell found a deep, broad river but it was not the Kinder it was the Gwydir. On the 21st 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 the 7th April 1835. This expedition was put together to trace the course of the Darling River to the sea. In his party, there was an assistant surveyor, James Larmer, botonist, Richard Cunningham, Mitchell’s personal servant and 20 other men. After the murder of botanist, Richard Cunningham, who was killed by Aborigines while he was by the Darling River, Mitchell decided to continue his expedition. They then followed the Bogan River downstream led by an Aborigine. Mitchell decided to explore the Darling River with two boats they had lugged all the way there with them but is as it was shallow they continued over land. After one month of following the river, Mitchell believed that it was the Darling and didn’t want to continue. He came back on the 14th of September the same year. His expedition had achieved very little because he didn’t trace the Darling River to the sea.
Expedition 3 started on the 18th of March 1836. Mitchell was instructed once again to follow the Darling River to its end. In his party there was 25 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 the 23rd of 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, 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.
Retirement and Death
In retirement Mitchell published the journals of his expeditions, which have 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 famously difficult man to get on with. In 1850 Governor Charles Augustus FitzRoy wrote: “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.” Mitchell died in Sydney in October 1855. A newspaper 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, Ballonne River, Belyando River, Campaspe River, Cogoon River, Discovery Bay, Glenelg River, Grampians, Muranoa River, Mount Arapiles, Mount King, Mount Macedon, Mount Napier, Mount William, Nyngan, Pyramid Hills, St George, Swan Hill and Wimmera River. Among other ways, Mitchell is commemorated by the town of Mitchell in Queensland, the electorate of Mitchell, and in the name of Mitchell College in Wodonga, Victoria. The Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is named in his honour, as well as Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse, Mitchell Falls, Mitchell Highway, Mitchell Park, Mitchell Plateau, Sir Thomas Mitchell Road in Bondi Beach, Mitchell’s Lookout and Mitchell River.. Mitchell is also the namesake in the highest honour of the New South Wales Surveyors Awards, the Sir Thomas Mitchell Excellence in Surveying Award.
THOMAS OCTAVIUS MITCHELL. On Sir Thomas Mitchell’s death in 1855, his son Thomas Octavius Mitchell inherited the property, and is said to have made some improvements to the property. The record of a visit by his sister Blanche speaks again of the peaceful setting of Parkhall:
“Arriving at the Pass I started off alone, leaving the gig far behind a setting off my horse at a canter felt free again and delirious with joy and excitement. Ride where I choose, jump over a log, dismount, do anything that my wish proposed. There was no one to prevent me. Far away from any human creature or dwelling, I felt alone alone in the majesty of the woods, and experienced all the delight of freedom. Pulling up for up for one instant I looked around and felt what I had often wished to feel before, loneliness. There was no sound to disturb my musings. No, not a breath disturbed the air, not the note of a bird, nor the lowing of a cow. It was delightful … all had the air of sacredness and respect.”
She also describes the small farms at nearby Condell Park. But Thomas had trouble with his tenants, and with a fire that destroyed the vineyards and garden, and with illness. In 1861 Parkhall was sold to Dr Richard Jenkins.