On 4 August 1838, my fourth-great grandfather the Reverend William Mitchell (1803 – 1870), accompanied by his wife, four children, and a governess, arrived at Fremantle, on the mouth of the Swan River in Western Australia.

They had left Portsmouth four months and three days before, sailing on the “Shepherd”. Their only intermediate port of call was Porto Praya off the west coast of Africa (now Praia, the the capital and largest city of Republic of Cabo Verde), where the ship took on supplies.

The Swan River Colony – now Perth – was established in 1829 following exploration of the region in 1827 by James Stirling, later Governor of Western Australia. Fremantle was the settlement’s main port.

Swan River 1827 nla.obj-134156746-1

Captain Stirling’s exploring party 50 miles up the Swan River, Western Australia, March, 1827. Oil painting by W. J. Huggins in the collection of the National Library of Australia retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134156746

William Mitchell had been ordained a minister of the Church of England in 1825. In 1826 he married Mary Anne Holmes (1805 – 1831), and soon afterwards, the family moved to India, where Mitchell served as a missionary. They had two daughters and a son. The second girl, Susan Augusta, born on 11 April 1828 in Bombay, was my third great grandmother. Around 1830 Mary Anne became ill and the family returned to England, where she died in 1831. William married again, to Frances Tree Tatlock (1806 – 1879) and returned to India, where this second marriage produced three more sons. Frances and the children returned to England in 1834 and William returned in 1835. In 1838 William was appointed by the Western Australian Missionary Society to be clergyman for the residents of the Middle and Upper Swan regions of the new colony of Western Australia.


Reverend William Mitchell portrait from “Mitchell Amen” by Frank Nelder Greenslade

The oldest child of the Reverend William Mitchell, born to his first wife Mary, was Annie (1826 – 1917). She was 12 when the family arrived on the “Shepherd”. In her memoirs, written many years later, she described their arrival:

The ship “Shepherd” anchored off Garden Island on 4 August 1838, after a voyage of four months and three days. We landed at Fremantle by the ships boats. The first sight we witnessed was a very large whale lying on the sea beach at Fremantle, from which the natives were cutting large pieces and carrying them away on spears.

We lodged at Fremantle for a week and then proceeded to Government House where we were entertained by Sir James Stirling and Lady Stirling. It was usual practice at this time for new arrivals to call at Government House on arrival. We stayed at Judge Mackies house for a while (he was the first Judge in the Colony). After this we went to Henley Park, on the Upper Swan, by boat. Major Irwin was landlord at this time. He was Commandant of the troops in W.A. We stayed with him for a week or so then went to the Mission-house on the Middle Swan where we settled.

The whole of Perth at this time was all deep sand and scrub. There was no road or railway to Perth. All transport was done by water travel. The banks of the Swan River were a mass of green fields and flowers, with everlastings as far as the eye could see.

At the time of arrival, there were only two vessels, the “Shepherd” and the “Britomart” plying between London and Western Australia. When a ship arrived, a cannon was fired to let people know that a vessel had arrived. The people used to ride or row down to Fremantle to get their letters. There were then about seven or eight hundred people settled in W.A. mostly along the banks of the Swan.

There was no church in the colony at this time and the services were conducted in the Courthouse by the Revd John Wittenoom, the first colonial chaplain.


Panorama of the Swan River Settlement, ca. 1831 by Jane Eliza Currie (wife of explorer Mark John Currie)

The Mitchells lived at Middle Swan, now a Perth suburb, 12 miles from the city centre.

In 2000 we visited Mitchell’s church at Middle Swan. The original octagonal church, built in 1840, was replaced in 1868 by the present-day building.

St Mary's Octagonal Church Middle Swan

St Mary’s Octagonal Church, Middle Swan, sketch published in “Mitchell Amen” page 14


St Mary’s Church, Middle Swan photographed 2006 by Wikipedia user Moondyne

William Mitchell died at Perth and is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Middle Swan with his second wife and his son Andrew (1846 – 1870).

Mitchell gravestone Middle Swan

William, Frances Tree & Andrew Forster Mitchell, gravestone at St Marys, Middle Swan. (Photograph provided by a 3rd great grand daughter of William Mitchell and used with permission)


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