Major Mitchell and his trail

If you drive into mid-western Victoria in Australia it is impossible to escape the references to Major Thomas Mitchell and his trail

mitchell-front

http://www.majormitchellexpedition.com/

Major Mitchell was born in 1792 in Stirlingshire Scotland. He was a surveyor and in 1827 he took up the position of Surveyor-General of NSW. In 1836 Major Mitchell became the first European to travel across the plains of Western Victoria.

IMG_7565Just out of Dunkeld

The purpose his mission was to follow the Darling River to discover if it flowed into sea or into the Murray. He was then instructed to follow the most promising stream from the Murray and see in which direction it went. This resulted in him crossing Victoria’s western plains. Which is described in his diary thus:

“The scene was different from any I had seen in New South Wales or elsewhere. A land so inviting, and still without inhabitants. As I stood, the first European intruder of the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks and herds; I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes; and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and animals for which it seemed to have been prepared.” In fact he thought the land was so good he called it the Australian Felix

I would like to take this moment to point out that the land was far from uninhabited as it was home to several groups of indigenous Australians.  In fact Mitchell certainly encountered some of them because in “December 1836 the Executive Council conducted an inquiry into the killing of Aborigines near Mount Dispersion. It regretted that Mitchell had not made sufficient efforts to conciliate the natives, but in view of their numbers and threatening aspect the council could not severely blame ‘a want of coolness and presence of mind which it is the lot of few men to possess’.”[1] From records it seems that Major Mitchell’s group was followed by a group of Aboriginal people and they felt threatened so they planned an ambush in which 7Aboriginal people were killed. While he was acquitted by an enquiry, as explained above, the incident tarnished his reputation for the rest of his career.

Mitchell’s names for many of the places in the area are still used today and many of them still carry a certain Scottish flavour.

The Grampians

IMG_7542IMG_7596IMG_7588Grampians from a distance

IMG_7853IMG_7851Half way up one of The Grampians

Lake Linlithgow

IMG_7593IMG_7605IMG_7612IMG_7610A very dry Lake Linlithgow

Mount Rouse

IMG_7590The side of Mount Rouse
IMG_7570Mount Rouse from the road

Mount Abrupt

IMG_7552Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt

Mitchell was also the first European to truly explore the Glenelg river.

IMG_7688IMG_7687The Glenelg in mid western Victoria near Harrow.

IMGP1460IMGP1461The Glenelg much further down stream near Nelson on the Sth Australian border

 

Mitchell surveyed the area as he went and this resulted in what was known as Major Mitchell’s trail. You can still follow the trail today, there are marked points and a map.

IMG_7562Monument just out of Dunkeld

IMG_7700Monument just out of Harrow

Other settlers soon followed Mitchell and the European colonisation of western Victoria had begun. Today it is still very much farming country with small towns often bearing very European names, as is true of much of Australia.IMG_7647Balmoral

IMG_7682Harrow

IMG_7793Avoca

IMG_7631Rail bridge over the Wannon in Cavendish

While Major Mitchell’s trek heralded the influx of European settlement to this part of Victoria, he was a skilled surveyor and his diaries give an extraordinary glimpse into what the country would have been like in the mid 1800s.

Resources

Australian Dictionary of Biography

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchell-sir-thomas-livingstone-2463

Major Mitchell Expedition

http://www.majormitchellexpedition.com/

Penshurst Portraits. ISBN: 9780646515939

The photos are all mine

 

[1] Major Mitchell ADB http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchell-sir-thomas-livingstone-2463

 

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