In the footsteps of Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855): soldier, surveyor, explorer, geologist, and probably the first person to compile geological maps in Australia
D. Oldroyd, 2007. "In the footsteps of Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855): soldier, surveyor, explorer, geologist, and probably the first person to compile geological maps in Australia", Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel, P. N. Wyse Jackson
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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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In the last four centuries geologists have traversed the globe, searching for economically important materials or simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Geologists have often been at the vanguard of scientific exploration.
The microscopist Robert Hooke explored the Isle of Wight, and Charles Darwin the Cape Verde islands and parts of South America. The volcanic wonders of Italy and central France attracted native and foreign visitors including Lyell and Murchison. The Tyrrell brothers faced great hardship in northern Canada, as did the actor and mineralogist Charles Lewis Giesecke in Greenland. The development of Sydney, Australia depended on finding limestone for building. French geologists relied on camels in the Sahara, and Grenville Cole trusted his tricycle to carry him across Europe.
Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel focuses on the complexities of geological exploration and will be of particular interest to Earth scientists, historians of science and to the general reader interested in science.