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Mitchell, Roderick (1823–1851)

The subject of the present memoir, having received his early education at Mr. Cape's School, in Sydney, was sent next to that of Mr. Bowles, a double-class man of Oxford, as a boarder; thence, at the age of 14, he went to study at the University of Durham as an engineer student. The celebrated George Townsend, Prebendary of Durham, an old friend of his father's, recommended him to the special care of Professor Chevallier, one of the first mathematicians of the age.

When young Mitchell passed his examination by the Board established by Sir George Gipps, to ascertain the qualifications of candidates for admission into the survey department in New South Wales, Colonel Barney, who presided, declared him to be the best qualified youth who had until then come before the Board.

As an Assistant-Surveyor, Mr. Mitchell's first duty was to survey and explore, along with Mr. Surveyor Burnett, the great coast range extending northwards from New England, a geographical feature, whereof the contour, until then, was unknown to geography. His next service was the survey of the Woronora; and the direct line of route to the Illawarra was marked out by his party.

It was considered desirable, and it was no doubt a very judicious measure, that the Commissioners of Crown Lands in the new department for the leasing of lands for grazing purposes, should be Surveyors. Mr. Mitchell was removed by Sir George Gipps from the Survey Department, and made a Magistrate and Commissioner of a district, that of Liverpool Plains, then the most extensive and also the least known of any in the colony. Mr. Mitchell soon made out a map of his district, and reduced to orderly arrangement the numerous occupations that had extended far and wide over the fine territory along the Nammoy, the Gwyder, and the Darling. So extensive was the territory, which was then considered all one district, and called Liverpool Plains, that it comprised the whole of the two modern districts of Liverpool Plains and Gwyder, besides part of Bligh and Maranoa. The selection of Tamworth, and its erection into a township, was the work of Mr. Mitchell.

About this time, the utility of these officers was to be exemplified to the Colonial Minister, and Sir George Gipps transmitted home a letter of Commissioner Mitchell's, although the youngest of all, not being more than 21 years of age, in order to show the extent and importance of their duties, which letter appears amongst the papers printed by order of the House of Commons, in the year 1846.

In taking up new territories, it is important to keep up a good understanding with the aborigines. Mr. Mitchell was, in general, successful in propitiating the neighbouring tribes, and by this means he was enabled to obtain much useful information for the Surveyor-General when proceeding to explore the northern part of Australia. Commissioner Mitchell then, with only one or two men, preceded his father, advancing to Fort Bourke, and ascertained the course of the Maranoa, sending him a sketch of the five branches of that noble river, until then unknown; and affording such other information as enabled the Surveyor-General to determine at once on a practicable plan of route.

Mr. Mitchell's removal from Tamworth was inconvenient to himself, but useful to the colony, as he had succeeded in doing for the still more remote district of the Maranoa, what he had previously done for that of Liverpool Plains.

The natives of the far north speak "Jerulleroy," a dialect which is known only to few of the aborigines on the Maranoa. Mr. Mitchell had maintained at his head-quarters on the Maranoa, two native youths whom he had taught to read, and who could also speak "Jerulleroy." With such auxiliaries he cheerfully accepted the command of the expedition, which was to have been sent in search of Dr. Leichhardt, but the ways of providence are inscrutable. Mr. Mitchell, full of that excitement so frequently a concomitant with deeds of noble enterprise, embarked in a small craft, in hopes to come to Sydney sooner than by the steamer; and, as it has been our painful duty to record, in a former number of this journal, he fell overboard during a storm and perished.

It may be remembered that the small vessel, the Beaver, has since been wrecked on the Solitary Isles; and, not less remarkable is the fact, that the vessel sent to the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria in search of Dr. Leichhardt was also wrecked.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • death notice, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 1851, p 3

Citation details

'Mitchell, Roderick (1823–1851)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mitchell-roderick-28050/text35773, accessed 9 December 2019.

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