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David Mitchell (1829–1916)

Expressions of regret were widespread on Saturday, when it was learned that Mr David Mitchell, father of Madame Melba, had died early in the afternoon. Mr Mitchell, though he had reached the age of 87 years, attteded to his business up till last Tuesday. He then underwent an operation at a private hospital for an internal complaint, which had recurred within two years of a previous operation. For two or three days after this second operation his condition encouraged the hope that he would recover. But on Saturday morning his strength failed, and he died shortly after midday.

Mr. Mitchell was a native of Scotland, having been born in Forfarshire on February 16, 1829. He arrived in Melbourne in 1857, being then a strongly built young  man of 26 years of age. A stonemason by  trade, he immediately began business as a building contractor on the site in Burnley street, Richmond, where, excepting for a short visit to Bendigo, he remained up till his death—a period of 64 years. Here were born the whole of his family of 10 children, seven of whom survive him. Mr. Mitchell's visit to Bendigo was made 12 months after he came to Melbourne. He had a contract for the erection of a building, but when it was nearly completed the prospective owner   was unable to pay for it. Mr. Mitchell stopped the work, and joined in the quest for gold. He met with moderate success, but his health was not satisfactory, and he determined to return to Melbourne. Vehicles were not then readily obtained, and to use his own words in telling this portion of the story of his early life, he walked all the way back in order to get home quickly. He was back in Melbourne 24 hours after leaving Castlemaine. Mr Mitchell for about 45 years afterwards carried on the business of a builder and contractor, and many extensive undertakings were entrusted to him. The most notable was the erection of the existing Exhibition Building. He was also the builder of the old Masonic Hall, Prell's Buildings, in Collins street; the New Zealand Loan Company's Wool Stores, at Kensington, the Equitable Building, Collins street; and Scots Church, in Collins street. While erecting the last-named building Mr. Mitchell took his daughter Nellie—now Madame Melba—who was then a girl about 15 years of age, to the top of the spire. Part of the ascent had to be made by haulage in a barrow. In 1899 Mr. Mitchell retired from the occupation of a builder, and entered extensively into the production of lime and cement, getting the limestone from his Cave Hill estate at Lilydale, and manufacturing the cement at his works in Burnley street. He also purchased several station properties, holding at different periods the Bethanga Estate (Upper Murray), Jancourt (Western district), Gooramadda, Dueran, Barjarg, and Colbinabbin. Most of these properties have been cut up and sold in recent years. He, however, retained the Cave Hill Estate, where he engaged for some time in the business of ham and bacon curing. He was also a viticuland bacon curing. He was also a viticulEstate, Yering, near Lilydale, which he disposed of to the original owner, Mr. Joseph Timms, after holding it for three years. Latterly he confined his attention to his Latterly he confined his attention to his a keen, hard-working, conscientious business man, and these qualities, combined  with marked capacity, brought to him fortune.

Mr. Mitchell was an ardent musician. For a long period he was a member of the  Scots Church choir, whilst in his home he displayed a particular taste for the violin, which he played. Early in life he en[couraged?] his daughter Nellie, and he lived to see her become world-famous. It was the nature of  the man that seldom did he praise the singing of his daughter, even in the height of  her fame. But his pride in her manifested  itself by the expression of his features whenever he heard her singing. When on one occasion Madame Melba was told that her father had openly and effusively praised her she was as pleased as she was astonished. Mr. Mitchell was anxiously looking forward to the return of Madame Melba, who is expected to arrive in Melbourne next Monday. Her last letter to him was received a few  days ago.

Though so extensively engaged in business affairs, Mr. Mitchell did not figure largely in public life. For many years he was a member of the council of the Royal Agricultural Society and he was a member  of the Builders and Contractors' Association. He was of a most charitable disposition, making his gifts quietly. His wife predeceased him 35 years ago. He leaves a  family of three sons and four daughters. Madame Melba is the eldest surviving member of the family. The other daughters are Mrs. H. Box, of Melbourne; Mrs. T. A. Patterson, of Auburn; and Mrs. Charles Lempriere, of Melbourne. The sons are Messrs. Frank, Charles J., and Ernest Mitchell.

The funeral will leave the late residence of Mr. Mitchell, Doonside, Burnley street, Richmond, at 3 o'clock this afternoon. 

As a mark of respect and of sympathy with Madame Melba, the Conservatorium of Music will be closed against teaching today.

Original publication

Citation details

'Mitchell, David (1829–1916)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1829
Forfarshire, Scotland


25 March, 1916 (aged 87)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (bladder)

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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