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Mitchell, James Sutherland (1819–1893)

by Colin McKenzie

James Sutherland Mitchell, by William Bradley, between 1866-69

James Sutherland Mitchell, by William Bradley, between 1866-69

State Library of New South Wales, 110345966

James Sutherland Mitchell emigrated from the Orkney Islands to Tasmania in his early 20s and found work as a clerk in the Commissary Department in Hobart which administered the colony. He then moved to a similar job in Sydney and shortly afterwards married Elizabeth, daughter of the late Commissary Officer James Laidley.

Having demonstrated his administrative skills in the Commissary Department, James came to the notice of various businessmen in Sydney. He first moved to a fire insurance company but shortly afterwards, at the age of 35, he joined Tooth and Co the long established New South Wales brewery business, as manager of the Kent Brewery. He rose to become the senior partner of the company and in 1860 when members of the Tooth family retired, he acquired a substantial shareholding. Tooth and Co went public in 1888.

Over the years James, known as a genial and large-hearted man, extended his business interests to include amongst others, The Argyle Bond in Sydney, Mort's Dock & Engineering Company, Waterview Bay Dry Dock, Peak Downs Copper Mine in Queensland and the Australia Joint Stock Bank where he was chairman. The AJS Bank had branches across Australia as well as in England, America, India, and China.

James' business ventures made him a very wealthy man. One estimate ranks him as number 151 on the list of Australia's all time richest men. Adjusted for inflation his will would have been worth £45m in 2020.

After 23 years of marriage which produced nine children James' wife Elizabeth died in 1868 aged 46.

The following year James acquired a house set in 40 acres on Darling Point and had it demolished. He replaced it with a new mansion called Etham which was built to his own design. He moved into Etham with his seven surviving children — Eliza 22, William 18, Edith 14, Frank 11, Theresa 9, Maud 8 and James aged 5. It was not until sixteen years later that James aged 65 married again, to Marion Allen aged 35.

Next to Etham on Darling Point stood another large mansion called Carthona, owned by Arthur Allen the brother of Marion Allen, James' second wife. Shortly after James and Marion's marriage Arthur Allen died prematurely and Cathona was put up for sale. James was wealthy enough to be able to buy it for his son William, who by this time was working with his father at the Tooth Brewery. The following year William aged 37 moved into Cathona with his new wife Edith Gore.

One year later James and his new wife Marion had a daughter — Dorothy.

James died on 12 July 1893 aged 74. His death was followed just seven years later by his wife Marion aged 51 and his son William aged 49. As a result both Etham and Carthona were put on the market and sold.

Darling Point is now some of the most valuable real estate in Australia. Carthona still exists and the mansion is listed by the New South Wales Heritage Council as a building of historical significance. Etham was demolished, but it and James Sutherland Mitchell are commemorated in the names of Etham Avenue and Sutherland Crescent.

In addition to his extensive business career, James Sutherland Mitchell was a talented watercolour artist and woodcarver creating huge picture frames of birds, fruits and flowers. Under the name of 'JS Mitchell' he exhibited a work of art entitled the 'Momentous Question' at the Australian Museum Exhibition in preparation for the 1855 Paris Universal Exhibition.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Colin McKenzie, 'Mitchell, James Sutherland (1819–1893)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchell-james-sutherland-23033/text39371, accessed 30 July 2021.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012