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Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792–1855)

It is our melancholy duty, this morning, to announce the death of one of our most distinguished colonists, Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, who expired at his residence, Darling Point, about a quarter past five o'clock yesterday afternoon. The immediate cause of death was a severe attack of bronchitis, which defied all the efforts of medical skill, and terminated fatally after a few days' illness. We are partly indebted to an English paper for the following particulars of the deceased gentleman's life:—

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell Knight, D.C.L., &c., was nephew of the late T. Livingstone, Esq., of Park Hall, Stirlingshire, by whom he was brought up from childhood. Joining the British army in Portugal, on the death of his uncle, he served with it as a volunteer, at the age of sixteen. With his regiment, the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, he was at the storming of the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos; and, subsequently, served on the general staff of Lord Wellington, to whose discrimination he owed his first commission, and all promotion afterwards, in the army. He was sent by Wellington, after the war was over, back into Spain and Portugal, with orders to survey the different battlefields. The model he made of all the Lower Pyrenees is to be seen in the United Service Museum, in London. In Portugal he surveyed the lines of Torres Vedras, and all the positions of Marshal Massena in his retreat out of Portugal; also the fields of battle of Busaco, Fuentes d'Onoro, Sabugal and those of other minor actions on that frontier. On returning to England this service was acknowledged by giving him the unusual rank of Brevet Captain. Under the direction of the Duke of York and the late Sir Henry Torrens, Captain Mitchell drew the manoeuvres of the army according to a plan of his own invention, by which their accuracy could be tested on mathematical principles, and under which test many old errors of movement in echellon and wheeling were exploded, and new methods of forming squares were introduced from his drawings.

In 1827 he was requested by the English Government to undertake the survey and division of Eastern Australia into counties, and to lay out towns, roads, and reserves for public purposes. He arrived in this colony in the latter part of that year, having previously received promotion to the rank of Major. His first civil appointment in the colony was that of Deputy Surveyor-General, which he held till the death of Mr. Oxley, when he succeeded to the office of Surveyor-General of the colony. During the last twenty-eight years of his life, the scientific talents of the late Sir Thomas Mitchell were devoted to the survey of New South Wales. We believe he cut all the passes that lead through the mountains to the interior; planned upwards of 200 towns and villages; conducted four expeditions of discovery into the interior, during one of which he conquered, as it were, from the aborigines, and surveyed at the same time, Australia Felix, now the colony of Victoria, Early in the present session of the Legislative Council, a sum of money was voted to defray the expense of printing an elaborate report by Sir Thomas Mitchell, on the public works planned and executed under his direction. This report, which, we presume, is now in a forward state in the hands of the printer, will be accompanied by a large number of valuable illustrations from his own drawings. Sir Thomas Mitchell paid two visits to Europe since his first appointment to office in the colony, the first being in 1838, when he received the honour of knighthood from her Majesty in acknowledgment of his Australian discoveries. Whilst in England, he published in two volumes, his "Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, with Descriptions of the Recently Explored Region of Australia Felix, and of the present colony of New South Wales." In 1848, he issued from the press his second work on his Australian discoveries, "A Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia, in Search of a Route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria." Both these works were illustrated from very interesting drawings by Sir Thomas; and his travels have gained for him from a popular author the appellation of "the Cook of the Australian interior." Besides these, Sir Thomas was author of several other works. More than thirty years ago, he published some works of acknowledged authority on military science. His "Manual" and "Platoon Exercises" appeared about this time, consisting of ninety figures of soldiers, with the proper position of the fingers in every part of the exercise in loading and firing a musket. These works long formed part of the requisite equipment of young officers joining the army, as his plans of battles still form studies at the Royal Military College for senior students.

When last in England, he published a beautiful Trigonometrical Survey of Port Jackson on a large scale, and a translation of the Lusiad of Camoens. The principal object of Sir Thomas's last voyage to England was to introduce into scientific circles his invention of the Boomerang Propeller for steamships. On his obtaining leave of absence, the Legislative Council voted to Sir Thomas Mitchell his full salary as Surveyor General during his absence, in consideration of his long and useful services, and specially considering the importance of his invention.

On the establishment of an elective Legislature in the colony, in 1813, Sir Thomas Mitchell was elected as one of the members for the district of Port Phillip, but, as he and one or two other gentlemen similarly situated frequently voted against the measures of the Government, their independence was made a matter of complaint to the Colonial Office, and a despatch came out from the then Secretary of State (the present Earl of Derby), laying it down as a principle of official conduct, that those officers of the Government who might allow themselves to be elected, must support the Government policy. On the receipt of this despatch Sir Thomas Mitchell, with others, immediately resigned their seats.

We believe Sir Thomas Mitchell had it in contemplation to retire from office, and that a communication had been received from the Colonial Office, within the last few weeks, intimating that the rank of Major-General would be conferred on him on his retirement. He was a Follow of the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society, and other learned bodies. We understand he was in his fifty-second year at his death. The Legislative Council adjourned last evening in testimony of respect to his memory.

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'Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792–1855)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2019.

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