DARLING, Sir Ralph (1775-1858)

DARLING, Sir Ralph (1775-1858)
governor of New South Wales
was born in 1775. His father, Christopher Darling, who had risen from the ranks, became adjutant to his regiment in 1778 and afterwards quartermaster. Darling entered the army as an ensign in 1793, and in August 1796 was military secretary to Sir Ralph Abercromby. He commanded a regiment at Corunna, was brevet-colonel in 1810, major-general in 1813, and was on the horse guards staff in 1815. From the beginning of 1819 to February 1824 he was in command of the troops at Mauritius, was acting-governor for the last three years of his stay, and showed administrative ability. In 1825 he was appointed governor of New South Wales and arrived there on 18 December.
Darling knew something of the difficulties he would have to face, and in particular he was warned against John Macarthur (q.v.). He soon found there was reason for the warning and in a dispatch to under secretary Hay mentioned that Macarthur had called on him to complain about his treatment in the Sydney Gazette, that he was "determined to destroy Mr Howe" and that "he had never yet failed in ruining a man, who had become obnoxious to him". "I understand," said Darling dryly, "when speaking to others he does not except even governors". With such evidence of the strong feeling in the community Darling felt that an attitude of impartial firmness was the only possible one. When in England he had been successful in bringing in reforms in the recruiting service, no doubt he hoped to bring in reforms in the government of New South Wales. His predecessor, Brisbane (q.v.), had suffered from want of complete loyalty in the civil service staff, but when Darling attempted to re-organize the service he was able to do little more than make himself unpopular. In November 1826 a storm burst of which Darling was not to hear the last for a long time. Two private soldiers, J. Sudds and P. Thompson, forming the opinion that the life of a convict was preferable to that of a soldier, deliberately committed robberies and were sentenced to seven years transportation to a penal settlement. The governor commuted this to seven years work with the road gangs. They were also put in chains and drummed out of their regiments. Sudds died a few days later and the Australian made a strong attack on the governor. A temperate letter from McLeay (q.v.) led to a withdrawal of some of the statements (H.R. of A., ser. I, vol. XII, pp. 716-24), but strong feeling against Darling continued for years. A select committee of the house of commons reported in September 1835 that Darling was "under the peculiar circumstances of the colony . . . entirely free from blame". It seems clear that considering the state of Sudds's health he was treated with dreadful brutality, but it is probable that Darling did not realize what was being done. The case, however, had other repercussions. Darling at first had followed Brisbane in allowing reasonable liberty of the press. But when the newspapers attacked him over the Sudds and Thompson case he began to fight back. No doubt he was convinced that it was necessary to take a firm stand and that liberty had degenerated into licence. In 1827 he attempted to bring in acts by which papers would require to be licensed and a heavy stamp duty would be payable. He did succeed to some extent in muzzling the press, in spite of the action of (Sir) Francis Forbes (q.v.) the chief justice, who refused to certify to the acts as he considered they were opposed to the law of England. Darling became very unpopular with a large section of the colonists, and his long struggle with the press did not cease until his recall.
Various important developments took place during Darling's time. On his way to Sydney he had proclaimed in Tasmania its separation from New South Wales. In April 1826 the Australian Agricultural Company obtained its lease of the coal mines at Newcastle, which must have been an important source of the colony's subsequent prosperity. These mines had already been worked by the government with little success. In 1827 Captain Sturt (q.v.) arrived in Australia, and encouraged by Darling began his important exploration work. Many years afterwards Darling showed his appreciation of Sturt's work by warmly recommending to the secretary of state that Sturt should be allowed to go on his exploration expedition in 1844 to the centre of the continent. Another feature of Darling's administration was an augmentation of the membership of the legislative council, and some development in connexion with trial by jury. Generally speaking it was a stormy period. In 1831 Darling was recalled and he left Australia on 22 October of that year. In England he continued his military career, and after being exonerated by the committee of the house of commons in 1835 was knighted. He became a general in 1841 and died at Brighton, England, on 2 April 1858. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel John Dumaresq, and was survived by at least one son.
Darling's honesty has never been questioned, and he worked hard during his administration, showing great attention to detail. But he was by nature and training a disciplinarian and a Tory; to him Wentworth was merely a "demagogue", and he had not the breadth of mind and tact that might have made his governorship more successful.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XII to XVI; Official History of New South Wales; L. N. Rose, Journal and Proceedings, The Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. VIII, pp. 49-176, a careful study of the period; Report, Select Committee House of Commons, 1835. Various pamphlets of the period may be consulted with caution. A collection of them at the Public Library, Melbourne is in three volumes labelled "Darling Pamphlets".

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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