DARLEY, Sir Frederick Matthew (1830-1910)

DARLEY, Sir Frederick Matthew (1830-1910)
chief justice of New South Wales
son of Henry Darley, a member of the Irish bar, was born in Ireland on 18 September 1830. Educated at Dungannon College, where he had as a schoolfellow, George Higinbotham (q.v.), afterwards chief justice of Victoria, he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, in July 1847, and graduated in July 1851. He was called to the Irish bar in January 1853 and practised for about nine years on the Munster circuit. He met Sir Alfred Stephen when the latter was on a visit to Europe, and was told that there were good prospects for him in Australia. Darley decided to emigrate and arrived in Sydney in 1862. He established a good practice, and for the 20 years preceding his elevation to the bench, there was hardly an important case at Sydney in which he did not appear on one side or the other. In September 1868 he was nominated to the legislative council, and was a constant and conscientious attendant at its debates. He had a good deal of influence in the house but was not anxious for office, and it was not until November 1881 that he became vice-president of the executive council in the third Parkes (q.v.) ministry. In November 1886 Darley was offered the position of chief justice in succession to Sir James Martin (q.v.), but he did not desire the office and to accept it meant a considerable monetary sacrifice; he was probably earning more than twice the amount of the salary offered. He declined the position and it was accepted by Salomons (q.v.) who, however, resigned a few days later. There was a general feeling that Darley was the right man for the position, and on his being again approached he accepted it and was sworn in on 7 December 1886. He carried out his duties with great distinction, and on the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen at the end of 1891 was appointed lieutenant-governor of New South Wales. He administered the government on several occasions with such success that when the position of governor became vacant in 1901 there were many suggestions that Darley should be given the post. He visited England in 1902 and was appointed a member of the royal commission on the South African war. In 1909 he again visited Europe and died at London on 4 January 1910. He became a Q.C. in 1878, was knighted in 1887, created K.C.M.G. in 1897, and G.C.M.G. in 1901. He was appointed a member of the privy council in 1905. He married in 1860 Lucy Forest, daughter of Captain Sylvester Browne, and sister of Thomas Alexander Browne (q.v.). She survived him with two sons and four daughters.
Darley had a conservative cast of mind yet as a politician he was responsible for some acts of a distinctly liberal nature. Among the measures he introduced and carried through the legislative council were an equity act, a divorce act, which gave to the wife the same rights as those of the husband, and the act authorizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Though so able and successful as a barrister he could scarcely be called a great judge. It has been suggested that he lacked to some extent that subtle power of analysis that is so valuable to the judicial mind. But he was a good disciplinarian, ever courteous and thoroughly impartial, with the practical common sense that made him an admirable judge at nisi prius and in criminal cases. He was of most distinguished appearance, always equal to the dignity of his offices. Sir Samuel Way (q.v.) spoke of him "as in many respects the noblest figure we have ever had on the Australian bench".
The Times, 5 January 1910; The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 6 January 1910; The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 November 1886, 6 January 1910; A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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