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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mitchell, Joseph Earl Cherry (1840–1897)

by Colm Kiernan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Joseph Earl Cherry Mitchell (1840-1897), shipowner, politician and steel manufacturer, was born on 22 July 1840 in Cheshire, England, son of Richard Mitchell, shipbuilder, and his wife Margaret, née Cherry. After apprenticeship to his father he migrated to Sydney in 1859. He set up as a coal merchant in Newtown and later extended his interests to collieries and shipping, sending his colliers as far afield as China. Elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly he represented Newtown in 1881-82, 1883-85 and 1888, and Illawarra in 1889-91. A staunch free trader, he supported Henry Parkes.

Mitchell, who held a major interest in the South Bulli mine and was associated with the adjoining Bellambi colliery, made the first positive move in New South Wales to establish an iron and steel industry when he visited England in December 1889 to increase his capital. English aid was offered, conditional on government support and the outcome of an investigation into iron ore resources near the Illawarra by the Scottish metallurgist, Ormiston.

Soon after Ormiston's favourable report G. & C. Hoskins emerged to challenge Mitchell. Protectionists supported the Hoskins's claims for a tariff of at least 15 per cent and a substantial government subsidy to compete with British steel. Mitchell ably put the free trade case that neither tariff nor subsidy was necessary. On his side, he requested a contract to supply the government with steel rails. After several more visits to England Mitchell was assured of financial support and the issue was contested in parliament and the press. On 27 September 1897 cabinet accepted his terms but before parliament could ratify the decision Mitchell died from cancer on 22 October at his home, Milton House, Bellambi. He was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery, survived by his wife Charlotte, née Harrison, of Bowral, whom he had married in 1866, and by three sons and five daughters. Charlotte died on 13 March 1919 at Milton House. Before Mitchell built the Methodist Church still in use at Bellambi, a monthly service was held at Milton House. Mitchell Street, Alexandria, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8, 9, 18 Jan 1885, 23 Oct 1897
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 Jan, 18, 19 Feb, 28, 30 Sept 1897
  • Mitchell papers (Wollongong City Library, and State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Colm Kiernan, 'Mitchell, Joseph Earl Cherry (1840–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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