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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

David Mitchell, n.d.

an unknown artist

watercolour on ivory (frame: 10.5 cm x 7.5 cm, sight: 9.0 cm x 7.0 cm)

David Mitchell (1829-1916), builder, contractor and businessman, arrived in Melbourne in mid-1852 in the Anna. He worked as a mason and built a shanty in Burnley Street, Richmond; the site was to remain the centre of his various business ventures over the next four decades. In 1856 he married and built a new home, Doonside, on the block. Having won the tender for the masonry work in St Patrick's Cathedral, Eastern Hill, in early 1856, he worked there until mid-1858, when the structure was demolished to be rebuilt with WW Wardell as architect. From that time on, among a great many large structures, Mitchell built the Menzies Hotel in William Street (1857), Scots Church, Collins Street (1873-74) and the Presbyterian Ladies' College, East Melbourne (1874). Meanwhile, by 1859 he had established a factory for steam-made and pressed bricks at Burnley Street; in 1874 he became a shareholder in the Melbourne Builders' Lime and Cement Co; and by 1878 he had bought Cave Hill farm at Lilydale and began working its limestone deposits, later also handling the distribution. During the 1870s he employed 400 men on his greatest venture, the Exhibition Building, which opened in 1880. In 1888 his Richmond workshops were destroyed by fire. In the rebuilt works he conducted two new ventures, the production of 'Adamant' plaster and, with RD Langley as a partner, a Portland cement factory using materials from Lilydale. In 1890 he formed a company to mine a channel and tunnel on the Yarra River at Pound Bend, Warrandyte, and employed gangs of Chinese men to work some 5 km of riverbed for gold. By 1894 he had cheese, butter, bacon, ham and soap factories at Cave Hill. He retired from building in 1899 and concentrated on his other business interests, including vineyards and wineries at Yeringberg, Coldstream and St Hubert's, and several large stations in various districts, most of which were subdivided and sold. A Presbyterian, he was a long-time member of Scots Church choir. He played the violin at home and encouraged the talents of his daughter Helen, later Dame Nellie Melba, but even when she became world famous he did not praise her singing openly. The father of ten, he was a widower for more than thirty years.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Mitchell Family 2012

Accession number: 2012.162

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

David Mitchell

Subject professions

Business, trades and industry

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.