David Mitchell | The Farmer

Early land holdings

While he may have taken up leases of properties earlier in the Upper Yarra Valley region, it was not until the Victorian Government Gazette of December 8, 1868, page 2345 that David Mitchell is listed as paying rent for that year for a property at Steel’s Flat between Healesville and Coldstream. (1)

Other Crown leases included:

  • Dalry – first recorded in the Victorian Government Gazette on December 19, 1873. (2)
  • Gruyere run. (3)

Other runs soon followed:

  • Gracedale gazetted July 28, 1876. (4)
  • Healesville March 16, 1877. (5)

By June 1879 he had property holdings in various parishes and counties – Evelyn, Yering, Gruyere, Gracedale, Wandin Yallock and Mooroolbark, Wandin, Gracedale and Mornington. (6)

It was at Steel’s Flat his family spent the summer holidays away from Melbourne. He later became a substantial landowner both in Lilydale and Yarra Valley area, northern Victoria and the Western District.

Properties he owned included: Jancourt near Camperdown, Dueran, Bethanga Park, Gooramadda and Colbinabbin near Rushworth. He also owned part of Mitta Mitta stations and Bar Jag near Maindample. (7)

With the recession in the late 1880s, David Mitchell was able to acquire many properties. One was St Hubert’s which he acquired from Andrew Rowan in 1901 saw him develop an interest in wines as the property was one of the state’s largest vineyards. At that time, St Hubert’s comprised 2478 acres, plus buildings and winery. (8)

While the Shire of Lillydale listed David Mitchell as the owner, in fact a search of the relevant land titles shows he never owned the property. It is probable he purchased the business and leased the land from Andrew Rowan.

With the acquisition, David Mitchell became the largest vineyard and winery owner in the Yarra Valley. He operated St Hubert’s until 1906 when the property owner changed to Joseph Timms, now a farmer. (9)

In that year, David Mitchell did some experimentation and cultivated a large area of flax hemp at St Hubert’s. In the March 30, 1906 edition of the Lilydale Express it was reported the crop realised 50 tons which was carted to Cave Hill for treatment and conversion into a marketable product, probably for paper, cordage and textiles.

In other parts of the state, the government was looking at opening up the land for closer settlement.

In November 1903, Gooramadda Estate of 2200 acres was purchased by the Minister of Lands for Closer Settlement. The cost was £8/5- an acre.(10)


Cave Hill Farm

After retiring from the contracting and building business, David Mitchell spent his time developing up his farming interests, particularly at Cave Hill Farm, the property surrounding Cave Hill Quarry at Lilydale.

Like a true Scot he wasted nothing and everything was vertically integrated on the farm.


Butter Factory

He had imported the Holstein breed into the colony and won numerous awards with his prized cattle.

Like many other farmers, he was suffering from low prices for his milk which was purchased by dairies in Melbourne.

After numerous discussions and meetings with local dairymen, he set up a butter factory at Cave Hill in 1892 and was soon exporting the butter to England. The local farmers were getting a reasonable price for their milk and David Mitchell had a guaranteed supply to make his butter.

For operation and opening of factory see:

The first shipment of butter left Cave Hill on Saturday, October 8, 1892. It was an event the Lilydale Express gladly reported the following Friday, October 14:

Advance Lilydale! On Saturday last the first lot of butter, consisting of 11cwt., was despatched from the Cave Hill Butter Factory to Newport, from whence it was placed on the steamer Cuzco, which sails tomorrow. This is the first lot designed for export, and the result of the sale in London will be awaited with interest. The milk factory is being well supported by the district dairymen, the quantity received daily being almost 1000 gallons. (We are informed that Mr Mitchell intends shortly to have a trial of a patent milking machine – one of the very latest type). We are further informed that freezing works are to be erected at Cave Hill, and the residents of Lilydale may be supplied with ice daily.
(Lilydale Express October 14, 1892)

The result of the sale in England was announced just before Christmas:

It is with great pleasure that we chronicle the fact that the first shipment of butter from the Cave Hill Butter Factory has been a great success. By cablegram we learn that the shipment realised the highest market price 129s per cwt. We trust that Mr Mitchell will be equally successful with the remainder of his shipments.
(Lilydale Express December 15, 1892)

Improvements at Cave Hill
It is well-known that during the winter the milk factory at Cave Hill has been closed, but now that spring is approaching and milk becoming more plentiful, a representative of this journal, during the week, visited Cave Hill for the purpose of ascertaining the truth or otherwise, and also to inspect the new curing factory erected by Mr David Mitchell. On our representative arriving at Cave Hill, he was met by Mr C. Mitchell, the general manager, and on the scribe representing his mission, Mr Mitchell at once expressed his willingness to give every information that he possibly could on the subject.

“You see,” said Mr Mitchell, at once plunging into the subject, “we intend to re-open the milk factory on the 1st September. When we opened the factory we gave nearly 1d more per gallon for milk than many other factories. Now that the bonus for butter export has been withdrawn, we have decided – in fact, we are compelled – to reduce the price to be paid for milk, under the following conditions which are the same as many other factories are about to do.

The milk will be tested with one of A. Weigall’s milk testers, and for all milk between 7 degrees and 8 degrees, we will pay 2 &½ d per gallon. If the milk is not up to this standard, it will be very poor, and will take over 2 & ½gallons to make a pound of butter. For milk between 9 degrees and 10 degrees, we will pay 2&¾ d per gallon, and for 11 degrees and over, we will pay 3d per gallon. Now as to butter-making, I will show you that there is not much profit in it.

Take, for instance, milk which averages 8 degrees. It will take 2&½ gallons to make a pound of butter. Well the milk will cost us 6&¼d at the factory then allow 2d more for the making; 1d for export freight; 1d for the gents; ad 1d for wear and tear; so that it costs 10&½d to make a pound of butter for export before we can look for any profit.

This is taking everything at the lowest export price, so there is not much profit as supposed. Even if the butter averages 95s per cwt. at home, it will be as high as can be expected, and even then at this price there will be but very little profit for the producer. I may say, that the district milk should not average lower than 10 degrees.

We are also going to start dairying operations at the Stringybark station, where we will have about 200 cows in milk. The sheds etc., will be erected shortly.

(Lilydale Express, August 18, 1893)


In the year after he established his butter factory, David Mitchell expanded and in 1893, he established cheese making at Cave Hill.

For how cheese was made see:

Cheese making at Cave Hill

It was not long before the factory was producing large quantities of cheese.

As the Lilydale Express reported:

Cheese-making at Cave Hill is now in full swing, upwards of eight tons being despatched from the factory last week for shipment to London, where it is to be hoped ‘Cave Hill Straw Color’ will meet with the reception it deserves. Bacon curing is also steadily carried on, the output averaging we are informed about 100 sides per week.(Lilydale Express, February 23, 1894)

Cheese production was suspended for some time when David Mitchell agreed to allow The Pure Milk and Dairy Co Ltd the use his facilities to develop pasteurised milk processing. When the demand outgrew the facilities, Cave Hill again went into cheese production at the end of 1898:

Cheese-Making at Cave Hill

With his characteristic enterprise and desire to make the industries of Lilydale as prosperous as possible, Mr David Mitchell has decided to again carry on cheese-making at his extensive Cave Hill Estate. This was formerly conducted until the advent of the Fresh Milk and Dairy Company here, and it was only with the desire to assist the management in bringing about a much needed reform in the milk supply of the metropolis that operations at the commodious factory were suspended to accommodate the plate used for pasteurisation.

The adaptability of the premises with the splendid herd at Cave Hill was unsurpassed in the colony, and it was only the rapid expansion of business that rendered the removal of the company’s plant to the metropolis absolutely necessary.

It may safely be stated that had the company not been so fortunate in meeting with such generous treatment at the hands of Mr Mitchell, the concern would not be in such pleasing and prosperous circumstances.

The excellence attained in cheese-making, however, was not lost sight of, and as an opening presented itself in the transference of the company’s business to Melbourne, Mr Mitchell decided to meet the wishes of numerous customers for a renewal of supplies of the ‘coagulated product.’ Milk growers will observe by advertisement that 3d per gallon is offered for all surplus milk of approved test.

It is gratifying to observe that other industries are progressing splendidly at the well-known works, and in consequence, a large staff continues to be permanently employed. Although a great amount of supervision is necessary in connection with the various departments, everything is conducted with smoothness and is highly complimentary to those engaged under the direction of the genial general manager Mr Chas. Mitchell.

(Lilydale Express November 18, 1898)

Bacon curing plant

David Mitchell also established a bacon curing plant to process the pigs raised at Cave Hill Farm.

The range of products was interesting – bacon, hams, port, sausages, German black and white puddings and other smallgoods.


Bacon curing operations

The Lilydale Express gave an update on bacon production:

Bacon curing is also steadily carried on, the output averaging we are informed about 100 sides per week.
(Lilydale Express February 23, 1894)

The popularity attained in connection with bacon curing has severely taxed the capacity of the farm, and in order to keep pace with the local demand, the pig market promises to be brisk. If sufficient inducement offers, it is not unlikely that a large quantity of bacon will be shipped to the home market
(Lilydale Express November 18, 1898)

The first plant manager was E Boyden who left Cave Hill in August 1902 but the plant continued to operate.

The range of products produced by the factory was proudly displayed at the 1904 Combined Ringwood and Districts Show:

Cave Hill Bacon Factory

One of the principal exhibits in the large marquees was that made by the Cave Hill Bacon Factory under the supervision of Mr A Lohman. Hams cured under the famous London Mild Cure process, were arranged as background to the exhibit.

In the centre was a pig, cured whole, around which were temptingly displayed other products of the factory, such as brown fitz sausage, saveloys, bladders of lard, and cheese, the whole constituting an interesting contribution to the show, and an evidence of the capabilities of the local factory.
(Lilydale Express March 11, 1904)

Milk Pasteurisation Plant

By the late 1890s, butter production ceased as the colony’s leaders grappled with the increasing number of infant deaths due to the drinking of contaminated milk. In 1897 a new company, The Pure Milk and Dairy Co Ltd, was formed to introduce pasteurisation of milk to Melbourne.

Armed with information from overseas, the company received strong support from David Mitchell who let the company use his refrigerating plant and premises at Cave Hill for its experiments. This saved the company thousands of pounds and led to the opening of the milk factory using Mitchell’s Holstein cattle. The plant opened in the cheese factory which has been closed down for the project on February 11, 1898. But when demand outstripped the plant the operations were moved and the cheese factory re-opened in November 1898.

See below for operation and official opening:

Pasteurisation plant

Soap Making

While it has not been established when the soap factory was set-up at Cave Hill and when it ceased production, it certainly was operating by 1904 as the staff had proudly set up a display at the local Combined Ringwood and District Show where it caught the eye of the Lilydale Express reporter:

Cave Hill Soap Factory
The Cave Hill Soap Factory was represented by a fine display of their indispensable manufacture. The different coloured soaps were nicely arranged as a pyramid in the centre of a large table at the entrance of the marquee. Around the pyramid, and covering the whole of the table, were piled in tablets and bars, all manner of soaps. Conspicuous amongst the collection was the well-known “Kleenit” brand, besides which were noticeable the ordinary yellow household article, borax, brown Windsor, marble, and several toilet soaps. This exhibit, which was arranged by, and in charge of Mr W. Beal, was purchased by Mr Hutchinson, storekeeper of Main-street.
(Lilydale Express March 11, 1904)

Later, the staff at the newspaper received samples of possibly a new soap and wrote about it:

We have received a sample of the ‘Special’ soap manufactured by the Cave Hill Soap Company, and having subjected it to a fair test, find it admirably adopted to laundry and general household work, and would advise those who have not yet done so to give it a trial.
(Lilydale Express Friday, July 1, 1904)

David Mitchell’s Life Story:


1. While the first listing to identify Steel’s Flat was published in the Government Gazette 86 page 2345 on December 8, 1868, David Mitchell may have held the lease earlier as he is listed in the Government Gazette as early as June 1864 but the run was described only as in the Melbourne District.

2. Government Gazette 97 page 2194.

3. Government Gazette 86 page 2345 forfeited in 1869 for non payment of license fees but re-gained the lease in June 1873.

4. Government Gazette p 1374.

5. Government Gazette p 521.

6. Land Tax Register Government gazette p 1300 June 13, 1879 and page 3062 December 11, 1879.

7. N. McPherson Smith, A Child of Cave Hill, Nell McPherson Smith, p 11.

8. Shire of Lillydale rate books for 1902 page 16.

9. Shire of Lillydale Rate Books 1906 page 12.

10. Lilydale Express November 27, 1903.

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Our home is the Old Lilydale Court House:
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Hours of opening:
By Appointment only:
Fridays 1 to 4pm and Saturdays to Mondays 11am to 4pm.
Sundays are preferred.
Closed Public Holidays

Nellie Melba Museum

Contact Details:
Sue Thompson: 0475 219 884

Nellie Melba Museum

Contact Details:
Sue Thompson: 0475 219 884

Our home is the Old Lilydale Court House:
61 Castella Street, Lilydale 3140
Hours of opening:
By appointment only:
Fridays 1 to 4pm and Saturdays to Mondays 11am to 4pm.
Sundays are preferred.
Closed Public Holidays

Share Your Information
with Nellie Melba Museum!

Sue Thompson: 0475 219 884