Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Darling, Ralph

DARLING, Sir RALPH (1775–1858), general, governor of New South Wales 1825–1831, was son of Christopher Darling, who was promoted from sergeant-major to the adjutancy of the 45th foot in 1778, and was afterwards quartermaster of that regiment. Ralph, who was born in 1775, is said to have been at one time employed in the customhouse in the island of Grenada. He was appointed ensign in the 45th foot on 15 May 1793, and joined the regiment in August. He was employed with it in suppressing the insurrection in Grenada, when the negroes, led by the brigand chief Fédor, murdered Governor Home and forty of the chief whites. He became lieutenant 2 Sept. 1795, and in January following was transferred to the 15th foot at Martinique as adjutant, and in August 1796 was appointed by Sir Ralph Abercromby military secretary. He remained in that capacity with General Graham, commanding in the island; obtained a company (27th Inniskillings) in September 1796; and in 1797 volunteered with the expedition against Trinidad. After serving as military secretary to General Morshead and General Cuyler, commanding in the West Indies, Darling returned home with the latter officer, and was appointed his aide-de-camp when in command at Brighton. In January 1799 Darling went back to the West Indies as military secretary to Lieutenant-general Sir Thomas Trigge, which appointment he retained until he returned home in 1802, having in the meantime taken part in the capture of Surinam in 1799, and of the Danish and Swedish West India islands in 1801. On 2 Feb. 1800 he had obtained a majority in General Oliver Nicholls's late regiment (the old 4th West India), and on 17 July 1801 became lieutenant-colonel in the 69th foot. In July 1803 he was made assistant quartermaster-general in the home district. In 1805 he accompanied the 69th to India, but returned the year after, and was transferred to the 51st foot, and was appointed principal assistant adjutant-general at the Horse Guards. He vacated his staff appointment in 1808, when the 51st was ordered to Spain, and commanded the regiment when it joined Sir John Moore's army at Lugo, and in the retreat to and battle of Corunna (gold medal). He was a deputy adjutant-general in the Walcheren expedition; after which he resumed his post at the Horse Guards, which he held up to 1814, when he was made deputy adjutant-general. He became brevet-colonel in 1810, and major-general in 1813. In 1815, when still on the Horse Guards staff, he appears to have written to the Duke of Wellington, asking for a command in the army in Belgium—an extraordinary proceeding, which drew a highly characteristic reply from the duke (see Gurwood, Wellington Despatches, viii. 53–4). He commanded the troops in Mauritius from 1818 to 1823, during eighteen months of which period he administered the government there, and appears to have been unpopular, by reason of his alleged arbitrary character, and also his instructions to enforce the suppression of the slave traffic with the African east coast, as the island had become a British possession. In May 1825 he became a lieutenant-general, and in August was appointed governor of New South Wales, and general commanding the troops in that colony and Van Diemen's Land, in succession to Sir Thomas Brisbane [q. v.] He arrived at Sydney on 18 Dec. 1825. His instructions on appointment will be found in ‘Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers,’ 1831, xxxvi. 339. He was very coldly received. He is described as having been a rigid disciplinarian, painfully precise and methodical in business, with the sort of diligence that is exacting in trifles and prone to overlook wider issues, and practising a stern, exclusive reserve, which brought sycophants about him, of whose misdeeds he received the blame. Before he had been quite two years in the colony a pointed insult offered to him at a Turf Club dinner had caused him to withdraw his patronage from that popular institution, and from the beginning he was involved in an undignified contest with the local press, which all through his tenure of government he sought to silence by repressive measures, without much success. The difficulties of government in a dependency so remote as New South Wales then was, just emerging from its original status of a penal settlement, and split into factions between the emancipated population and the immigrants whom wool-growing was attracting to its shores, were many; but Darling's acts, or the acts of those by whom he was surrounded, provoked criticism. The notorious ‘Sudds and Thompson’ episode was an instance in point. In 1826 Sudds and Thompson, two privates in the 57th foot, then stationed in New South Wales preparatory to going to India, openly committed a larceny in Sydney, to get themselves ‘transported,’ and so obtain their discharges. In view of the prevalence of this form of crime among the troops, Darling issued a general order (see Parl. Papers, Accounts and Papers, 1828, xxi. 691), transmuting the seven years' transportation awarded them to seven years' hard labour on the roads, after which the culprits were to rejoin their corps. The order was to be read, and the men ironed and handed over to one of the road-gangs on a general parade of the troops. The irons consisted of an iron collar or yoke, with wrist and leg manacles attached, and it is said there was precedent for their use. Five days after the parade Sudds died of fever. A belief at once spread that the punishment had been enormously severe, and the immediate cause of death. An outcry arose against the governor, led by Wentworth, the ‘Australian patriot,’ one of the editors of the ‘Australian,’ who in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Impeachment’ declared his intention of sending Darling to the gallows in the steps of Governor Wall. The noisy attempt to hold Darling directly answerable for the man's death fell through; but the ill-advised if not illegal character of the punishment appears to have been ultimately lost sight of amid the manifold accusations of harshness towards individuals and favouritism in the disposal of crown lands with which Darling was assailed. In 1828 the case of Sudds and Thompson was brought before the House of Commons by Joseph Hume, and further inquiries were promised by Sir George Murray, then secretary of state for the colonies, the results of which were published in ‘Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers,’ 1828, xxi. 691, 1830, xxix. 339, 1831–2, xxxiii. 439. Another case which attracted much attention from the press at home was that of Captain Robert Robison, New South Wales Veteran Companies. This officer, who belonged to a military family and had himself done good service in the Peninsula and India, incurred Darling's displeasure in connection with the previous case, and was tried by court-martial and sentenced to be dismissed the army. The stories of the packing of the court and the bias of the members may be taken at their worth; but the records remain to show that this luckless officer, whatever may have been the just measure of his offending, was subjected to something very like official persecution. A married man depending on his profession, he was kept in arrest and without pay at Sydney for two years after conviction, while his sentence was referred to the Horse Guards. Despite this punishment, and the fact that he was sentenced to be dismissed, not cashiered, his repeated applications to be allowed to receive some of the money he had invested in his commissions, or the grant of land which was a condition of service in the veteran companies, were persistently refused; and some years after he had thus been beggared he was imprisoned in the king's bench for alleged libels in certain London papers which had taken up his case (see Parl. Papers, Reps. of Committees, 1835, vi., the appendix to which contains the judgment of Chief-justice Denman, 15 June 1835). After a troubled rule of six years Darling was relieved by Sir Richard Bourke [q. v.] He embarked for home on 21 Oct. 1831. No demonstrations, either of regret or joy, attended his departure. A general illumination was proposed, but save from a solitary newspaper office met with no response. A fairly written review of his government is given in Braim's ‘History of New South Wales,’ i. 53–74, in which its chief merit is stated to have been the order and despatch introduced into the various government departments. It was a stage in the commercial growth of New South Wales, and, thanks to Sturt (at one time Darling's military secretary) and other explorers, a period of geographical discovery, owing to which Darling's name is repeated in Australian topography beyond that of any other governor. The success of Sir Richard Bourke is perhaps the most significant commentary on Darling's failure. A grossly personal attack on Darling, under the signature ‘Miles,’ appeared in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ on 14 Dec. 1831, and letters in the ‘Times’ and other papers preceded and followed, which manifest some confusion of ideas respecting Darling's antecedents. The continued representations of his misgovernment made in the House of Commons by Messrs. Maurice O'Connell and Joseph Hume at length resulted in the appointment of a select committee of the House of Commons ‘to inquire into the conduct of General Darling whilst governor of New South Wales, particularly with regard to grants of crown lands, his treatment of the public press, the case of Captain Robison, New South Wales Veteran Companies, and the alleged instances of cruelty to the soldiers Sudds and Thompson.’ The committee, which included among others Lord Stanley, Sir Henry Hardinge, H. Bulwer Lytton, Horace Twiss, Maurice and John O'Connell, Joseph Hume, Wakley, W. E. Gladstone, Perronet Thompson, and Dr. Bowring, sat in July 1835, and, ‘without entering into any details of the evidence or of the grounds on which they arrived at their conclusions,’ reported that ‘the conduct of General Darling with respect to the punishment inflicted on Sudds and Thompson, under the peculiar circumstances of the colony, especially at that period, and of repeated instances of misconduct on the part of the soldiery similar to that for which the individuals in question were punished, was entirely free from blame, and that there appears to have been nothing in his subsequent conduct in relation to the two soldiers, or in the reports thereof he forwarded home, inconsistent with his character as an officer and a gentleman.’ The committee went on to report further that the petition of Mr. Robert Dawson could not with advantage be investigated by the committee, and that no evidence was forthcoming on the remaining charges in the order of reference (Parl. Papers, Rep. Committees, 1835, vi.) On 2 Sept. following Darling was knighted by William IV, in recognition of the undiminished confidence reposed in him. He was not employed again. He became general on 23 Nov. 1841, and held in succession the colonelcies of the 90th, 41st, and 69th foot. He married a daughter of Colonel Dumaresq and sister of a Royal Staff Corps officer of that name who was with Darling in New South Wales. Darling died at his residence, Brunswick Square, Brighton, on 2 April 1858, at the age of eighty-two. Two of his brothers also rose to general's rank: Major-general Henry Charles Darling, successively of the 45th foot, old 99th foot, and Nova Scotia Fencibles, who was appointed lieutenant-governor of Tobago in 1831 (and who is confused in ‘Gent. Mag.’ for 1835 with another officer of like name and standing, Major-general Henry Darling, quartermaster-general's department, who died in that year); and Major-general William Lindsay Darling, a Peninsula and Waterloo officer of the 51st foot.

[War Office Records, 45th foot; Phillipart's Roy. Mil. Calendar, 1820; Hart's Army Lists; Braim's Hist. of New South Wales (London, 1846), vol. i.; Acts and Ordinances passed during the Administration of Governor Darling, see Parl. Papers, Accounts and Papers, 1828, 1830–31, ix. 279, 1829–30, 1831–2, xxxii. 439, 385; Heaton's Australian Biog. Dict., under ‘Darling’ and ‘Wentworth;’ pamphlet entitled A Reply to Major-general H. C. Darling's Statement, by John Stephen, Commissioner of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (1833, 8vo); also the Parl. Papers cited above, together with Parl. Reps. Committees, 1835, vi., and the appendix thereto, and the various newspaper articles enumerated in the same appendix as containing the libels on Governor Darling.]

H. M. C.