MITCHELL, Sir William Henry Fancourt (1810-1884)

MITCHELL, Sir William Henry Fancourt (1810-1884)
son of the Rev. George Mitchell of Leicester, England, was born in 1810. He came to Tasmania in January 1833, entered the government service, and in 1839 was assistant colonial secretary. He crossed to Victoria in 1842, and taking up land in the Kyneton and Mount Macedon districts became a large proprietor. He entered the old legislative council in 1852, and shortly afterward, at the request of La Trobe (q.v.), became chief commissioner of police. Mitchell encouraged the enlistment of a good class of man, and succeeded in successfully reorganizing the force and practically stamping out bushranging. He then resigned his position, paid a visit to England, and on his return, towards the end of 1855, was elected a member of the Victorian legislative council as one of the members for the north-western province. He was defeated at an election held in 1858 but was returned at the next election, and held the seat until his death. He was honorary minister in the first Haines (q.v.) ministry from 28 November 1855 to it March 1857, postmaster-general in the second Haines ministry from 29 April 1857 to to March 1858, and showed himself to be an able administrator. He was minister for railways in the O'Shanassy (q.v.) ministry from 30 December 1861 to 27 June 1863 but did not hold office again. During the conflict between the assembly and the council Mitchell was one of the leaders of the council, and in 1868 was responsible for the act which reduced the qualification of council members and electors. He was elected president of the council in 1870, and carried out his duties with ability, decision and courtesy. In the struggle with the assembly he fought well for the privileges of the council, and advocated that the qualifications for both members and electors should be further reduced. He died at Barfold near Kyneton after a short illness on 24 November 1884. He was knighted in 1875. He married Christina, daughter of Andrew Templeton, and was survived by children.
One of Mitchell's sons, Sir Edward Fancourt Mitchell (1855-1941), educated at Melbourne Grammar School and Cambridge, was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, London, in 1881, and returning to Melbourne practised there for nearly 60 years. He became an eminent constitutional and equity lawyer, and the acknowledged leader of the Victorian bar. At various times he was president of the Melbourne Cricket Club, of the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria, and of the Old Melburnians. He was also chancellor of the diocese of Melbourne, and as a trustee of the Edward Wilson (q.v.) estate, was responsible for the distributions of large sums in charity. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1918. He published in 1931, What Every Australian Ought to Know, a work dealing with the legality of financial agreements between the Commonwealth and the states. He married in 1886 Eliza Fraser, daughter of Alexander Morrison (q.v.), who survived him with four daughters. Lady Mitchell was a leader in such organizations as the Bush Nursing Association, and the Country Women's Association and was created C.B.E. in 1918. She published a volume of reminiscences, Three-quarters of a Century, in 1940. Of her daughters, Mary Mitchell became a well-known novelist, her earlier books are listed in Miller's Australian Literature, and Janet Mitchell published a novel, Tempest in Paradise, in 1935, and an excellent autobiography, Spoils of Opportunity, in 1938.
Eliza F. Mitchell, Three-quarters of a Century; The Argus, Melbourne, 25 November 1884, 8 May 1941; The Age, Melbourne, 25 November 1884; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1940, 1942; The Herald, Melbourne, 8 May 1941.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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