William Robert Mitchell[1]

Male 1830 - 1908  (77 years)

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  • Name William Robert Mitchell 
    Nickname Robert 
    Born 6 Oct 1830  London, Middlesex, England Find all individuals with events at this location  [2, 3
    Christened 26 May 1833  London, Middlesex, England Find all individuals with events at this location  [2, 3
    All Souls, St Marylebone 
    Gender Male 
    _UID F3AEB4EEC1424B34AEF9C6C22318155B9FFA 
    Died 15 Jun 1908  Christchurch, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  [4, 5, 6
    Avonside, Richmond 
    Buried 17 Jun 1908  Christchurch, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    Holy Trinity churchyard, Avonside, Richmond 
    Person ID I1701  Treefive
    Last Modified 9 Sep 2016 

    Father Robert Mitchell,   b. Abt 1792, Whithcombe, Somerset, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Bef 1872, England Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 79 years) 
    Mother Sarah Weston,   b. Abt 1801, Stanlake, Oxfordshire, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 27 Mar 1826  London, Middlesex, England Find all individuals with events at this location  [7, 8
    St. Anne, Westminster 
    Family ID F457  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Euphemia [Unknown],   b. Abt 1834,   d. Abt 1896, Christchurch, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 62 years) 
    Last Modified 12 Sep 2019 
    Family ID F1014  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos
    00056 W.R. Mitchell - Cobb and Co photos 1882
    00056 W.R. Mitchell - Cobb and Co photos 1882
    Jas M. Sutherland, Hugh Craig and Kyeburn Hotel

  • Notes 

    • This biography was compiled from the MacDonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, an obituary in The Press on Tuesday 16 Jun 16 1908 and an obituary in the Star on 16 June 1908 .

      William Robert Mitchell was born in 1830 in England. He was christened at All Saints, London on 26 May 1833, the same day as his younger sister Mary. He left England when he was twenty-two years of age, and went to Australia, arriving in Melbourne in October 1852. For two years he tried his luck on the Victorian goldfields. He saw life there in its most picturesque days. He was present at the riots that took place when the Eureka Stockade was rushed by the miners, and he saw the burning of Bentley’s Hotel.

      When Cobb & Co was established, in 1855, Mr Mitchell found that an entirely new career had been opened up to him. He was one of the first members of the firm’s staff, being appointed agent at Mary Borough, Ararat and Pleasant Creek in Victoria. When the great rush to Ararat took place in 1857, he was appointed manager of the firm for that district, and was for several years engaged in putting on lines of coaches to the various goldfields.
      He took up residence in the small but rising township. He was elected chairman of the municipality, and was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1861 he was elected chairman of the Ararat Road Board, the first Board established under the Victorian Road Board Act of 1861. He took an active interest in the work of fire brigades, and, having organised the fire brigade in the district, was elected the first president.

      In 1862 he left Victoria and came to New Zealand with Mr Lee Cole. He took horses and coaching plant for Cobb and Co to Dunedin. In 1862 he was appointed manager of that firm in New Zealand, whose head office was in Dunedin. After arranging several routes – north, south, east and west – before roads were made or accommodation houses provided, he visited Canterbury. He found the mail services were being worked in the slow-going manner of those times, when a journey to Timaru took three days, to Oamaru five, and the scarcely ever attempted through journey to Dunedin occupied seven days.

      Determined to extend the operations of his firm to Canterbury, upon his return to Otago he reported so favourably upon the prospects that shortly afterwards, in 1865, when the Coles started Cobb & Co in Canterbury, he became manager. He retained that position, occupying an office on the site where the Grain Agency Company’s Buildings now stand, until he purchased the business, in connection with Mr Burton, in 1859. He was at one a partner with Mr A. G. Howland in the American Carriage Factory, and took part in the affairs of other businesses in Christchurch, notably the Kaiapoi Woollen Company and Whitcombe and Tombs, being a director of both those concerns.

      After Lee Cole left for America, Cobb & Co’s West coast mail contract was taken over by William Mitchell and W.H. Burton in February 1870. William drove a buggy and pair over the Christchurch/Akaroa Road in January 1871. This was a trial trip preliminary to Mitchell and Burton starting the Christchurch Akaroa coach service. The first coach was driven by Burton over the route in February 1872. The road along Lake Forsythe was still very bad. At a dinner given on the road the Superintendent (Rolleston) and R.H. Rhodes were present and Mitchell in a speech said he was probably the only man present who had helped Cobb to lay out coaching routes in Australia. Cassidy and Clarke took over the West Coast service in 1873. The goodwill included the Cass Hotel and the changing places for horses.

      From almost the first day that he set foot in Christchurch, William associated himself with the city’s affairs. He was an officer of the Christchurch Fire Brigade in July 1868. He was one of the original promoters who established the Fire Police and he took a very keen interest in it. He held the position of Captain for some time and was appointed as a fire inspector.

      As an organiser of demonstrations & processions, William was always to the fore, and in conjunction with Superintendent Harris and Mr R. C. Bishop, he acted on numerous public occasions as Marshal.
      In the cause of charity and benevolence, he gave freely of his time and money. Whenever any organisation was started for charitable or benevolent purposes, William was sure to be called on to fill the office of honorary secretary or honorary treasurer, and upon him in those capacities devolved the lion’s share of the work. He was one of the Committee who organised the welcome to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869.

      He was a very active member of various committees which had for their object the entertainment of the public. One of these was the Popular Amusements Assoc, which organised sports in Latimer Square July 71. He was musical and took part in the musical life of Christchurch. He was one of the judges of vocal solos at a concert, the other two being J. B. Stansell and Richard Packer, both traders of music in Christchurch.

      William was elected to the East Christchurch School Committee October 1874. He left for a trip to England in May 1876 and was given a reception and a presentation. He resigned his post of Fire Inspector and M.E. Alport succeeded him. It is possible that he met his sister Emma Pheney and her children in England and persuaded them to return to New Zealand.

      He returned in January 1877 and he and W.W. Wood, also a passenger were quarantined in Auckland because of a suspected smallpox case. He was welcomed back by the Fire Police.

      He was secretary and a performing member of the Orchestral Society, under the baton of Colonel Lean, treasurer of the Benevolent Association until Charitable Aid Boards were established, secretary to the first International Exhibition in New Zealand, held in Christchurch in 1882 - he was the official agent of New Zealand, and its success was due in a large degree to his energy.

      He was treasurer to the Canterbury A & P Association in 1890, auditor of the Canterbury Jubilee Exhibition in 1900, and treasurer of the Queensland, Wairarapa Disaster, and Hawkes Bay Relief Funds. He was also treasurer of the Jubilee Home Fund, and a member of the committee of the Rhodes Convalescent Home.

      As a Freemason, Mr Mitchell was a long-time member of the Lodge St. Augustine, and for a number of years he acted as District Grand Secretary of the District Grand Lodge of Canterbury, and was District Grand Treasurer until 1900.

      In later years William lived a retired life, his health not permitting him to take part in any public affairs.

      William passed away at his house at Avondale, Christchurch on 15 June 1908. His wife died about 12 years earlier and they left no children. Frances Pople Pheney (William's eldest niece) was the executor of his will. He bequested 250 pounds to Frances' sister Emma, 250 pounds to Robert Francis Vaughan Pheney, the rest to Frances Pople Pheney. An affidavit by Frances Pheney indicates the estate was worth less than 10,000 pounds.

  • Sources 
    1. [S244] Biography Mitchell, William Robert - biographical material.

    2. [S83] BIR051 Birth Mitchell, Robert, BIR051.

    3. [S2393] ancestry.com England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Robert Mitchell.

    4. [S157] DTH073 Death Mitchell, William Robert - transcript (Judy Sinnott), DTH073.

    5. [S304] DTH089 Death notice Mitchell, William Robert, DTH089., death notice; 16 June 1908.

    6. [S322] DTH111 Death notice Mitchell, William Robert, DTH111., death notice; 15 June 1908.

    7. [S172] MAR009 Marriage Mitchell, Robert and Weston, Sarah, MAR009.

    8. [S4005] ancestry.com London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932, Bishop's Transcript. 27 Mar 1826, Robert Mitchell and Sarah Weston.