THOMAS MITCHELL REGISTERED LETTER, BLACKALL QLD to STETTLER AB, CANADA
This is one of the many Royal Geographical Society of Australasia covers but there is added interest in that it was sent Air Mail and Registered to Canada as a First Day cover, and the reverse backstamping was quite a surprise. The postage adds up to 2 shillings and 9 pence, made up of the complete Thomas Mitchell set (plus and additional 1 shilling copy) and a single of the brown 3d KGVI stamp. There are four postmarks of BLACKALL/ 530P 140C46/ QUEENSLAND, this being the day of issue for the Mitchell set. It is addressed to Mr. Ed. Kelly, P.O. Boc 320, Stettlet, (sic) Alberta, Canada (Figure 1).
The reverse has a total of ten cancels with a different originating Blackall cancel (now without the time), a REGISTERED BRISBANE/ 430P 18OC46/ QUEENSLAND transit, as well as a GPO SYDNEY/ IR/ 28OC46A/ 7/ N.S.W-AUST transit (and there is nothing shown to account for the 14 days’ delay for the letter to leave Australia!). The first stop in Canada is where a large undated bilingual NATIONAL REVENUE/ Postal Service post mark is applied at Montreal, as well as a MONTREAL/ 16/ NO 5/ (46) transit postmark. These are followed by three CALGARY/ NO 7/ 46/ ALBERTA postmarks, and two COR. & LAC. R.P.O./ 30/ NO 7/ 46/ NO 1 postmarks (similar to Australian TPOs), followed by the arrival postmark at Stettler/ NO 7/ 46/ ALBERTA (Figure 2).
Major Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was born in Scotland the son of a harbour master on 15 June1792 and he had a natural flair for drawing and painting which was to fair him well in later life. He trained as a military officer and served in the Napoleonic wars in Spain where he developed skills as a surveyor. He was appointed Surveyor-General of N.S.W. in 1827 as the successor to John Oxley and served in this position for 27 years under 5 Governors. During this time he undertook 4 major explorations in the Eastern portion of Australia, particularly in N.S.W., Victoria and the central regions in Queensland.
In 1844 he was elected to the Legislative Council at a by-election at Port Phillip and he had promised to support the separation of that district from N.S.W. Governor Gipps keenly felt the anomaly of a government officer sitting in the Legislature and likely to vote against government measures. In August Mitchell prudently resigned his seat!
Mitchell married Mary Blunt in 1818 and they had 12 children, 6 boys and 6 girls. He was an independent man and had an explosive temper. He was considered as a fair and trusted leader by his contemporaries and those under him, but was regarded in some trepidation by his superiors. In 1850 Governor Fitzroy wrote of Mitchell: "It is notorious that Sir Thomas Mitchell’s unfortunate impracticability of temper, and spirit of opposition of those in authority over him, misled him into frequent collision with my predecessors." His interests included drawing, sketching and painting, as well as in mammalian fossils, poetry, geometry and mechanical design. He spoke Spanish and Portuguese and could manage French.
When Mitchell died at his home in Sydney from pneumonia on 5 October 1855, a newspaper of the day reported: "For a period of 28 years Sir Thomas Mitchell had served the Colony, much of that service having been exceedingly arduous and difficult. Among the early explorers of Australia his name will occupy an honoured place in the estimation of posterity." Thomas Mitchell’s picture speaks volumes about the man as is shown in Figure 3.