Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Mitchell (1834–1915)

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William Mitchell (1834-1915), businessman and civic leader, was born on 18 June 1834 at Aberdeen, Scotland, son of David Mitchell and his wife Margaret, née Annand. With his parents, two brothers and three sisters he sailed from London in the Thetis and arrived at Port Phillip in February 1849. Apprenticed to a Melbourne baker, he broke his indentures in 1851 to visit the diggings at Castlemaine, where in six weeks he won gold worth £120. On his next visit he was joined by his father and they made £400 in about seven weeks. After equal success on a third trip William set up as a baker in Flemington but moved the business to Footscray in 1854. At St James's Church, Melbourne, on 19 August 1857 he married Margaret Powell.

In 1864 Mitchell sold the bakery to his brother David (1837-1919) and set up as a building contractor. The business thrived and soon became a major enterprise. With others he successfully floated the Footscray Gas Co. in 1874 and was a director for twenty years. Later he helped to start the Australian Woollen Mills in Footscray. With prosperity he turned to civic affairs. He won a seat in the Footscray Municipal Council in 1866; contesting each election he served as a councillor until 1893 and was mayor in 1885 and 1890. He was a member of the Melbourne Harbor Trust in 1884-86 and served on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. He was appointed justice of the peace in January 1876 and perhaps his greatest achievement was as chairman of the local bench from 1885 to 1915; his varied magisterial work involved an estimated 30,000 cases and despite his few peculiarities won him repute for his fairness and sincerity.

Mitchell was fond of sport. He was elected a member of the Victoria and Caulfield Racing Clubs in 1882 and the first president of the Footscray Bowling Club in 1901. On 19 August 1907 he celebrated his golden wedding. Serving on the bench to the end, he died of heart failure at his home Lyndhurst in Footscray on 21 June 1915 and was buried privately in the Melbourne general cemetery. He was survived by his wife, nine children and thirty grandchildren.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • H. Mitchell (ed), Footscray's First Fifty Years (Footscray, 1909)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1915
  • Advertiser (Footscray), 26 June 1915
  • Independent (Footscray), 26 June 1915.

Citation details

'Mitchell, William (1834–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 June, 1834
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


21 June, 1915 (aged 81)
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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