In many ways, David Mitchell’s contribution to the development of Victoria has been neglected and this section will only scratch the surface of the visionary, hard working, practical man he was. As more is discovered about David Mitchell the man, it will be added to this website as he was so much more than the father of Dame Nellie Melba and the builder of Melbourne’s Exhibition Building.
David Mitchell was an entrepreneur and always seemed willing to try something new and different. He was involved in the early pasteurisation of milk, installed an early milking machine and imported the first Holstein (Fresian cattle) into the country.
He supported a young John Monash when he wanted to establish a company which became Monier Cement Company.
His own words
Perhaps, David Mitchell’s own words give us some insight into the person and his life.
Speaking at a special banquet in his honour, David Mitchell spoke about his early life in the Lilydale district the Lilydale express reported what he had said:
It was just 35 years since he came to the district and selected land on what is known as Steel’s Flat. He also took up the Dalry property which he greatly improved and afterwards sold to Mr D. Syme.
He then bought the Cave Hill property, which was at that time a barren waste. Perseverance, however, and the expenditure of a considerable amount of capital have wrought a wonderful change in the appearance of Cave Hill. It was certainly a long while ago and he was beginning to think he must be getting old.
He believed that through his lime works they got the railway sooner than they otherwise would. Cave Hill had been a great acquisition to Lilydale.
He employed as many as 150 to 200 men on the works, and paid high wages. He found that unless he paid good wages he could not get men to suit him. He had seen the advantage butter factories were in other places, and he decided to try one at Cave Hill. So far he had no reason to complain.
He hoped his factory would be a benefit to the district. One feature about the butter they manufacture – it was made one week and shipped away the next week. (Lilydale Express, October 28, 1892)
David Mitchell died on March 25, 1916 it was the end of an era and his obituary recorded his great contribution to the lives of many Australians.
David Mitchell was buried at Melbourne General Cemetery with his beloved wife Isabella and three young children.
Sadly, Melba was unable to get home in time for the funeral but later in December 1916 moved the remains of her parents and siblings to Lilydale Cemetery where they were privately interred. (Lilydale Express December 15, 1916)
Later the family erected the striking monument which reflects the strength of a stone mason. Nearby is Melba’s own proud but simple tombstone.
Trustees take control
Following his death until 1958 the affairs of the David Mitchell Estate Lime Manucturing were operated as part of the trust estate. David Mitchell’s son Frank Mitchell and manager E.A. Newbigin were executors of his will with provision for The Trustees Executors & Agency Co Ltd to be appointed in certain circumstances.
After the death of E.A. Newbigin’s son, E.L. Newbigin, in 1939 The Trustees Executors & Agency Co Ltd was the sole trustee.
With the death of David Mitchell’s last child Dora Lempriere in 1958, the business was formed into a public company – David Mitchell Estate Limited on July 1, 1958. Various family members were members of the board throughout the years.
The chairmen have been
Gerald Patterson 1958-60 and 1964-66
Tom Mitchell 1960-62, 1972-78
C.G. Rigg 1962-64, 1966-72
Charles Maple 1994-
(Reference: Over 100 Years of Lime Manufacture, David Mitchell Estate Limited, published in 1978)
In its publication Over 100 Years of Lime Manufacture, the company, David Mitchell Estate Limited wrote:
The lime manufacturing operation at Lilydale stands as permanent memorial to the expertise and vision of the founder. The name David Mitchell still remains and this is the ultimate tribute to him, his children and their descendants who have contributed to the development of the company and which today is one of the largest lime manufacturing organisations in Australia.
Cave Hill’s Future
Sadly, in 2002, the final Mitchell link was broken when David Mitchell Estate Limited was sold to Unimim whose parent company is the Belgium based Sibelco. Sibelco continued operating Cave Hill until mining ceased and in late 2016 when the 163ha site including the 25ha quarry pit and buildings were sold to Melbourne developer Intrapac Property, in a joint venture with Brencorp Properties and Bayport.
The pit, and buildings are now heritage listed and will be incorporated in the developer’s plans for the site which will see the building of up to 3200 houses, town houses and apartments as well as commercial and retail centres. The 120m deep quarry will be filled at a cost of around $100 million. The development has been called Kinley Estate.
David Mitchell’s Life Story: