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John Mitchell (1848–1928)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

John Mitchell (1848-1928), schoolteacher and palaeontologist, was born on 9 March 1848 at Baillieston, near Glasgow, Scotland, son of James Mitchell, contractor and mine manager, and his wife Margaret, née McNab. He arrived in New South Wales with his parents in 1849 and lived and was educated at Newcastle. On 21 March 1870, with Baptist forms, he married Sarah Ashton at Wallsend.

In 1873 Mitchell joined the Department of Public Instruction and trained as a teacher at the Fort Street Training School. After teaching briefly in the Newcastle district he was transferred to Balranald where, in his spare time, he collected beetles and butterflies. In 1883 he was moved to Bowning near Yass where he amassed a fine collection of fossils and began to study palaeontology seriously. Next year he joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales and in 1886 published the first of a number of papers in its Proceedings.

Moved to Narellan in 1888, Mitchell collected fossil insects and plants from the Wianamatta Series and in 1890 discovered the first Australian specimens of Leaia, described by Robert Etheridge under the name of Leaia mitchelli. In January 1898 he was appointed science master at Newcastle Technical College with a salary of £275. Next year he gave evidence to the Victorian government's royal commission on technical education. As well as his administrative duties he lectured on a wide range of subjects including geology, botany, chemistry and assaying, and continued his palaeontological research and publications. In 1909 he recorded the discovery of Estheriae (first collected by him near Glenlee in 1890) in the Newcastle coal-measures.

Mitchell's published work was largely confined to the groups Trilobita and Brachiopoda on which he was highly regarded as an authority. Between 1890 and 1917 he collaborated with Etheridge and produced six important papers on the Silurian trilobites of New South Wales; in 1918 he published a summary paper on Australian Carboniferous Trilobita. In 1920 he collaborated with W. S. Dun on the Palaeozoic Atrypidae of New South Wales.

Mitchell visited technical colleges in Europe in 1910 and accompanied Sir George Reid to an educational conference in Belgium. A short, portly man with a full white beard, he retired in 1913, but remained very active in the field and discovered the first fossil insects in the Newcastle coal-measures. These insects, including the notable Belmontia mitchelli, were described by R. J. Tillyard. Mitchell's last paper, on Australian Estheriae, was read to the Linnean Society in 1927.

He died on 14 January 1928 in the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley, Sydney, survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters, and was buried in the Anglican section of Sandgate cemetery, Newcastle.

Select Bibliography

  • C. F. Laseron, Ancient Australia (Syd, 1954)
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 42 (1917), p 480, 721, 44 (1919), p 231, 50 (1925), p 438, 52 (1927), p 106, 53 (1928)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 17 Jan 1928
  • Teachers' records (Dept of Education, Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Mitchell, John (1848–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1848
Ballieston, Lanarkshire, Scotland


14 January, 1928 (aged 79)
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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