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In the footsteps of Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855): soldier, surveyor, explorer, geologist, and probably the first person to compile geological maps in Australia

By
D. Oldroyd
D. Oldroyd
School of History and Philosophy
,
The University of New South Wales
,
Sydney, New South Wales 2075
,
Australia
(e-mail: doldroyd@optushome.com.au)
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Published:
January 01, 2007

Abstract

The Scotsman, Thomas Mitchell, was one of Australia's leading pioneers and explorers. Trained as a military surveyor, he travelled to Sydney in 1827, and was soon in charge of the mapping of New South Wales, an important position as it was vital to get the new colony surveyed, so that land could be apportioned correctly and fairly. In addition, Mitchell had responsibility for laying out the plans for the early road system of New South Wales, in which work he displayed excellent judgement, selecting a viable route for a road across the Blue Mountains, and directing the construction work. But Mitchell also had ambitions to be a proper explorer and to make original scientific contributions. He undertook four major expeditions, and later wrote them up in what are now classics of early Australian geographical writing. His Department's masterly ‘Nineteen Counties’ topographic map of the Sydney region and its hinterland, produced in 1834, was a milestone for the development of NSW. Mitchell had no formal training in geology, but on learning that he was to take up an appointment in NSW he rapidly made the acquaintance of London geologists and acquired the rudiments of the subject. While in the field in 1834, he was fortunate to be an early visitor to Wellington Caves, west of the Blue Mountains, where he excavated, collected, and dispatched many new mammalian specimens to experts in Britain. These attracted great interest in Edinburgh, London, and Paris, where the study of cave remains had been attracting attention for several years. Also in 1834, Mitchell coloured the outcrops of the main rock types of the Sydney region onto his ‘Nineteen Counties’ map, thus producing what was probably the first geological map of any part of Australia. This is reproduced here in colour for the first time. His later, published, geological maps of the Wellington area and a locality near Bathurst are also reproduced. The paper discusses the possible sources of information for the 1834 map. Mitchell wrote up his Wellington observations and submitted them to the Geological Society of London, but only an abstract was published and the full paper was refused publication (for unknown reasons). He eventually wrote up his findings, with illustrations, in a book describing his explorations (1838); but following his ‘rejection’ he did little further work in geology other than a hasty examination of a goldfield near Bathurst at the time of the NSW gold rush (1852). The present paper seeks to give a comprehensive account of Mitchell's geological work, which was an important adjunct to his career as a ‘traveller/explorer’ and cartographer.

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Contents

Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel

P. N. Wyse Jackson
P. N. Wyse Jackson
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
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Geological Society of London
Volume
287
ISBN electronic:
9781862395350
Publication date:
January 01, 2007

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