William Mitchell (20 November 1803 – 3 August 1870) was a Church of England priest who was the first ordained person to provide religious services in the Swan Valley area of the Swan River Colony. He worked in the Swan Parish for over 20 years before moving to Perth to take up a position working with convicts and prisoners in the Perth Gaol in Beaufort Street.
Mitchell was the first rector of the Swan Parish, an area which extended north to Gingin and Chittering and east to Toodyay and York. The southern boundary included Guildford and Midland.
Mitchell was born in the County of Monaghan, Ireland. He and his three brothers were orphaned as young children after his father, William Mitchell, was reputedly killed in Dublin riots (his mother's cause and date of death is uncertain). The boys grew up in "Stackallen House" in County Meath, Republic of Ireland, the home of an uncle and under the care of a nurse. In 1810 he moved to live with his grandfather, Blayney Owen Mitchell, in Dublin who was a well-known attorney. While living there he was apprenticed to an apothecary for about one year and studied at Trinity College, Dublin before deciding to become a missionary.
Missionary training was done at Olney, Buckinghamshire and at the Church Missionary House in Salisbury Square, London which was run by the Church Missionary Society from where he was ordained as a priest by the Bishop of London in 1825. In January 1826 he married Mary Anne Holmes. They left Ireland for a missionary position in India, where two daughters and a son were born in 1826, 1828 and 1829.
Due to the failing health of his wife, the family returned to England. However, she died in March 1831.
Mitchell's second wife, Francis Tree Mitchell (née Tatlock)
Mitchell met a school teacher, Francis Tree Tatlock, and they married on 24 January 1832 before sailing for India to continue the missionary work in Bombay. His wife gave birth to a son, Blaney, on 12 November 1832 but he died on 16 August 1833. A second son, Samuel, was born on 5 February 1834. Frances and the children returned to England on board the Severn in February 1834, leaving William to continue his missionary work until he returned to England in April 1835 due to his own failing health. After recuperating for some time on the Isle of Wight, Mitchell had a disagreement with his Church Missionary Society employers and started to seek alternative missionary work.
Frederick Irwin travelled to England in 1834 to seek clergy for the Swan River Colony and, as a result, a society within the Church of England was formed called the Western Australian Missionary Society, later to merge with other similar societies to become the Colonial and Continental Church Society. This organisation provided Anglican missionaries for many of England's colonies in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
In 1836, a meeting was held in Guildford of residents of the Middle and Upper Swan regions of the new colony ... for the purpose of obtaining a clergyman for those populous districts, which owing to their remoteness from the Colonial Chaplains' residence, were destitute of spiritual leadership and devoid of public worship.
Shortly after, the Revd Louis Giustiniani was appointed, arriving at the Swan Parish in July 1836. He started a church at Woodbridge in Guildford and established the Middle Swan native mission (at the site of what was to become St. Mary's Church, Middle Swan), aimed at evangelising the local indigenous population. His tenure was unpopular however and he left the colony in 1838.
Mitchell was appointed to the replacement position and he and his family and a governess named Anne Breeze left Portsmouth on board the Shepherd on 1 April 1838, arriving at Fremantle on 4 August 1838.
The mission house in Middle Swan which had been built for the Revd (???) Giustaniani was built on a narrow strip of land which was known as the Mission Grant was purchased for £150. The 866 acre (350 ha) grant was originally given to settler John Wade in September 1829. It ran for about 10 miles (16 km) from the river to the Darling Range but was only 10 chains (220 yards/200 m) wide. The house was made of mud bricks with a thatched roof and is believed to have stood where Huddelston House now stands at Swanleigh, a short distance from St Mary's.
Immediately after arrival, a school was established, with Anne Breeze assisting.
A church for which construction had been initiated by Giustiani in East Guildford was completed in 1839. It was consecrated as "St Matthew's".
On 5 August 1839 the foundation stone for St. Mary's Church in Middle Swan was laid, and opened fifteen months later by Governor John Hutt on 29 November 1840. It was built in memory of Lucy Yule, the wife of Magistrate T.N. Yule who died and was the first person buried on the site in 1838. The church was built with an octagonal layout and could hold about 100 people. It was consecrated in 1848 and remained in use until 1869 when it was replaced by a new rectangular church immediately adjacent.
Prior to the arrival of Mitchell, church services in Upper Swan were conducted at Henley Park by lay-preachers, either by Major Frederick Irwin who was the joint owner of that property with Judge William Mackie, or by George Fletcher Moore who had a land grant on the opposite (eastern) side of the river. Moore would often swim across the river to conduct the service. Part of the Henley Park estate included the site at which James Stirling had camped in his 1827 exploratory journey up the river. Accordingly, an area of land within Henley Park was donated by the owners for the construction of a church which was named All Saints Church. The foundation stone was laid on 31 October 1839 with the church consecrated on 21 November 1848. That church is the oldest still-standing church in the State.
Within three years of his arrival, Mitchell had overseen the opening of three permanent church buildings in his parish where Perth and Fremantle were yet to have one.
In December 1840, Mitchell officiated at the marriage of Anne Breeze and Henry Camfield, the Post Master General at St Mary's.
In 1842, he was reclassified by the governor from a missionary to a chaplain and first rector of the Swan Parish.
Three additional children were born in the Mission House, in 1841, 1843 and 1846, which meant a family of seven children spanning 20 years.
In 1858, after 20 years in the Swan Parish, Mitchell was transferred to Perth where he and his family lived at the Deanery. His position was Chaplain of the Perth Gaol as well as chaplaincy duties at various hospitals in Perth.
After returning from a brief trip to visit his son Samuel in Albany in 1870, his youngest son Andrew died suddenly on 31 May. Mitchell became ill and died in Perth, Western Australia at the age of 66 on 3 August 1870. He was buried at Middle Swan. His wife Frances died in Perth on 1 July 1879. They are both buried, along with Andrew at St. Mary’s graveyard.
A full list of his children and their spouses is as follows:
First wife: Mary Anne Holmes (1803–1831). Married 1826
Annie (1826–1917). Married: Edward Lane Courthope
Susan Augusta (1828–1867). Married: Philip Lamothe Snell Chauncy
William Owen (1829–1914). Married: Isa Izon Bickley
Second wife: Frances Tree Tatlock (1806–1879). Married 1832
Samuel (1834–1908). Married: Mary Ann Bispham
Francis Tree (1841–1894). Married Archdeacon James Brown
Charlotte (1843–1922). Married (1): Frederick Parker. Married (2): John Adam
Andrew Forster (1846–1870) (unmarried)
∼Born in Ireland in 1803, ordained 1825. Was a missionary in India and arrived in Western Australia in 1838. Rev. William Mitchell was the first Minister to attend the church. William Mitchell is buried in the graveyard with his son Andrew (1846 - 1870) and second wife Frances (1806 - 1879).