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Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792-1855)

Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792-1855)
Image from the Australian Museum Archives. Inscription reads: Copied & Enlarged by Appleby, Strand Arcade, Sydney. 
© Australian Museum 
photographer: AM Archives
Skilled draughtsman and surveyor, Mitchell arrived in Sydney in 1827, the same year the Australian Museum was founded. Appointed surveyor-general in 1828 he comprehensively reformed the Survey Department and the scope of its operations. As surveyor and explorer he undertook and completed some enormous tasks, but he was not a good administrator, often in conflict with his superiors and inadequately supervising his staff.

Mitchell designed or rerouted the major roads around Sydney and beyond, including the roads to Parramatta, Liverpool, Goulburn via Berrima and Bathurst via the Blue Mountains. In the 1830s and 1840s Mitchell conducted several journeys to western New South Wales and into Australia’s interior. He attempted to find an overland route to Port Essington (north-east of Darwin, Northern Territory) in 1845. He was a strong proponent of retaining Aboriginal place names and in this way contributed to the preservation of some aspects of indigenous culture, giving Australia a pool of distinct geographical names. Mitchell was interested in designing a ship’s propeller based on the boomerang.

Mitchell’s second journey to the interior in 1835 aimed to trace the course of the Darling River down to its junction with the Murray River. He charted the long sections of the Bogan and Darling rivers and made observations of local Aborigines, collecting some artefacts. These artefacts, 23 in total, he donated to the Australian Museum, making it probably the first set of Aboriginal artefacts ever obtained by the Museum in its eight years of existence (Australian Museum Catalogue 1837).

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