The diaries of Blanche Mitchell offer a glimpse of life in Darling Point during the Victorian era.
Born in 1843, Blanche was the youngest of the twelve children of Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, explorer and Surveyor-General, and his wife Mary.
The couple sailed to Sydney from Scotland in 1827, where Mitchell would become Surveyor-General. In 1841 they moved their growing family to Lindesay at Darling Point. It was a temporary move while Mitchell built the nearby Carthona House, where Blanche and her siblings enjoyed a privileged life.
Blanche begins writing
Blanche began writing while living at Carthona House. On Christmas Day in 1850, she wrote the religious-inspired Sonnet of Darling Point, referencing the Christmas Bush that at the time grew wild along Darling Point Road. The diaries also capture scenes of the Mitchell children playing on Carthona’s beach, visits to friends at Lindesay and other social activities.
But when Thomas Mitchell died at Carthona House in 1855, leaving considerable debt, the family found themselves in reduced circumstances. They were forced to move to the much smaller Craigend Terrace at Woolloomooloo.
Despite this, Blanche continued to write and maintain a close connection to Darling Point.
Carthona and St Mark’s through Blanche’s eyes
Blanche’s old home was never far from her mind, as she mentions Carthona House many times in her diaries after the family had moved out.
In 1860 she writes of walking past Carthona House and, pining for her former home, describes “the old place looking so fresh and green”. On Good Friday two years earlier she recounted a longing for Good Fridays spent at Carthona House, offering us a vision of life at the mansion more than 160 years ago:
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“… the past crowds on me, and I see before me again, our drawing room at Carthona, Emily and Millie with their respective husbands, and all of us, a happy party, have just retired from dinner, all happiness … A ring comes at the bell, it is only the Bradleys [from Lindesay] and we have greater fun. I go down to the cool rocks, with Minna and Alice, happy careless children. The present is sweet. We catch fish, and amuse ourselves.”
Blanche also recalls frequent visits to St Mark’s, commenting that on one occasion it was so hot inside the church that “a boy fell down in a fit, and was carried out by two men”. She makes special mention of a sermon she liked, delivered by a Mr McArthur, which included advice to the young “never to indulge in evil thoughts, and to conquer sin, while yet young, as when it becomes old, it becomes incurable”.
Wild Darling Point
In December 1858, Blanche writes of passing “the thick lonely wood of solitary Darling Point Road”. In its early years the suburb was still largely bushland, very dark at night and not always safe. The overgrown area in front of Mona House was known as a place where thieves would hide to ambush passers-by.
The sight of that “thick lonely wood” perhaps brought to mind an event involving her father. After dinner one night at Victoria Barracks, Mitchell was on his way home when he was accosted and relieved of his boots, watch chain and cash. His response was to install a cottage on the corner of Yarranabbe Rd for police use.
While living at Carthona House, the Mitchells kept a cow, which provided light relief for locals when it escaped. “Heard from two milkwomen that our cow had jumped over, or broken through the fence of its paddock, and is now on its way to Darling Point … Cow, the disturber of the peaceful inhabitants of Darling Point, taken up the country.”
Blanche continued writing until 1861. Eight years later, she sadly died of consumption aged just 26.
Blanche is just one of Darling Point’s fascinating residents over the years. Want to know more about Darling Point? Call me today.
Photo credit: From State Library New South Wales