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Mitchell duelling pistols

Major Sir Thomas Mitchell's duelling pistols used in 1851
Major Sir Thomas Mitchell's duelling pistols used in 1851. Photo: George Serras.

Major Sir Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) played an important role in the early exploration of colonial Australia. Born in Scotland, he trained as a surveyor in the army before moving to Australia to take up his appointment as Surveyor General of the Colony in 1827. He remained in this position until his death.

Mitchell was responsible for exploring vast areas of south-eastern Australia and opening up new grazing lands in the southern parts of Victoria. His contribution to the surveying of Australia saw him knighted in 1838. An accomplished artist, botanist and poet, Mitchell is also remembered for his 'hot-headed' temper. It is speculated that he is the last person in Australia to ever challenge anyone to a duel.

At dawn on 27 September 1851, Mitchell confronted Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson in Sydney. He had issued the challenge because Donaldson had publicly criticised the over-expenditure of the Surveyor General's Department. Both duellists missed their mark - only Donaldson's hat was damaged in the altercation. Their seconds stepped in to declare that honour had been satisfied and the duel was abandoned.

The Royal Australian Historical Society records that these were the pistols used in the duel. The National Museum of Australia purchased the pistols from the society in 1983.

Johanna Parker

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