The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Darling, Lieut.-General Sir Ralph

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The Dictionary of Australasian Biography by Philip Mennell
Darling, Lieut.-General Sir Ralph

Darling, Lieut.-General Sir Ralph, G.C.B., seventh Governor of New South Wales, was the son of Christopher Darling, who was promoted from Sergeant-Major to the adjutancy of the 45th Foot in 1778, and was afterwards Quarter-Master of that regiment. Sir Ralph, who was born in 1775, was employed in the Custom House at Grenada. In May 1793 he was appointed Ensign in the 45th Foot, and was engaged in suppressing the negro insurrection in Grenada. In 1795 he became Lieutenant, and was Adjutant of the 15th Foot at Martinique, where, in August 1796, he was appointed Military Secretary to Sir Ralph Abercromby. After seeing a variety of service, he commanded a regiment at the battle of Gorunna, and was Deputy-Adjutant-General in the Walcheren expedition. He became brevet-Colonel in 1810, Major-General in 1813, and in 1815, when on the Horse Guards' staff, took the extraordinary step of writing to the Duke of Wellington, asking for a command in the army in Belgium. This elicited a characteristic reply from the Duke. He commanded the troops in Mauritius from 1818 to 1823, and in May 1825 was gazetted Lieut.-General. In the same year he was appointed to succeed Sir Thomas Brisbane as Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales and its dependencies. He was sworn in at Sydney on Dec. 19th, 1825. On his way out from England he called at Van Diemen's Land, which until then had been a dependency of New South Wales, and on Dec. 3rd proclaimed its independence as a separate colony. His first task on his arrival in Sydney was to re-organise the Civil Service, and he thus commenced by creating illfeeling and discontent. According to Blair, he was precise and methodical, his habits being painfully careful, and exhibiting that sort of diligence which takes infinite trouble and anxiety over details to the neglect of larger and more important matters. He had not been long in the colony before he embroiled himself with the press, and became involved in mostly bootless prosecutions for libel. The Joint Stock Company mania came on the top of other troubles. A drought of three years ensued; a financial crash followed, the value of cattle falling from pounds to shillings. The Governor reduced the compulsory scale of rations issued to assigned servants in consequence of the scarcity, and of course became still more unpopular. The feeling against him was intensified by his conduct towards Sudds and Thompson, two soldiers who committed a theft in order, as they thought, to better their condition, which they regarded as worse than that of convicts. Darling subjected them to rigorous military punishment, and Sudds died in confinement whilst cruelly fettered. These circumstances produced immense excitement. Wentworth, the leader of the popular party, drew up an impeachment, which he caused to be formally delivered at Government House, and openly threatened never to lose sight of so great a criminal until he had brought him to justice. The case was repeatedly brought before the House of Commons; but it was not until 1835, four years after Darling's return to England, that a Committee of Inquiry was granted. When at length it was obtained (Mr. Gladstone being one of the members), the evidence for the prosecution fell through, and Darling was honourably acquitted. He was knighted soon afterwards, and in England public sympathy was entirely with him, though he was never again officially employed. After a prolonged struggle with Darling's military despotism, the colonists succeeded, in 1829, in securing the boon of trial by jury. Previously, military juries were the only tribunals before which all penal offences were tried. The Executive Council of New South Wales was enlarged, under Darling's rule, into a Legislative Council of fifteen members, but with secret proceedings. This body it was that granted trial by jury. A period of extreme depression, and almost universal bankruptcy, was succeeded by a period of prosperity, and during the last three or four year of Darling's rule the colony made rapid progress. The differences between the Governor and the principal colonists became so acrimonious, that in Dec 1827 he resigned his patronage of the Turf Club in consequence of some speeches which were made at a dinner given by the Club. In these, severe remarks were uttered in reference to the Governor's administration; and to crown the insult, when the Governor's health was drunk the musicians played the air, "Over the hills and far away." Darling was recalled from his administration of the colony, and embarked for England on Oct 21st, 1831, no demonstration, either of regret or joy, being made at his departure. Darling did not re-enter the Colonial service, but continued his military career, and became successively Colonel of the 90th, 41st, and 49th Regiments of Foot. He died at Brighton, England, on April 2nd, 1858. Sir Ralph Darling married Elizabeth, second daughter of Colonel John Dumaresque, and sister of Lieut.-Colonel Henry Dumaresque, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company in New South Wales.