Online Gem No. 12: David Scott Mitchell and his library, a Sydney icon, Honest History, 13 September 2016
David Scott Mitchell, born in Sydney in 1836, has been described as Australia’s greatest book collector. He was an early undergraduate of the University of Sydney, obtaining a BA in 1856 and an MA three years later. He was admitted to the Sydney Bar in 1858 but never practised law. Lionel Lindsay etched Mitchell using Syer’s sketches but photographs of him are rare.
Mitchell had a reputation for scholarship in English literature. He also developed a passion for book collecting. The principal focus for his collecting was documents and publications relating to Australia, the Pacific, the East Indies and Antarctica and he built up comprehensive holdings in these fields; they filled his study.
In 1898 Mitchell offered to bequeath his collection to the Public Library of New South Wales. In accepting the offer, the New South Wales Government supported the building of a Mitchell wing for the Library. Mitchell died on 24 July 1907 and bequeathed his entire collection plus an endowment of £70 000 or (very roughly) $10 million today.
The Mitchell Library, the first part of the new Public Library building, was opened to the public in March 1910. In 2007 the State Library of New South Wales organised an exhibition, A Grand Obsession: The D S Mitchell Story, which commemorated the life of David Scott Mitchell and his gift to the nation.
Also in 2007, the David Scott Mitchell Fellowship was established to encourage and support the use of the Mitchell Library’s collections for the study and research of Australian history. The Fellowship was established through the generous benefaction of Edward John Merewether, great-great-nephew of David Scott Mitchell.
Read more from the author and journalist David Marr writing on the history and significance of the Mitchell Library. Or visit the Mitchell next time you are in Sydney.
Tasman’s map, set into the floor of the foyer of the Mitchell Library (Wikipedia)