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Ralph Darling
General Ralph Darling.jpg
7th Governor of New South Wales
In office
19 December 1825 – 21 October 1831
Monarch George IV
William IV
Preceded by Thomas Brisbane
Succeeded by Richard Bourke
Personal details
Born 1772
Died 2 April 1858(1858-04-02) (aged 85-86)
Brighton, England
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Rank General
Commands British troops on Mauritius
51st (2nd Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot
Battles/wars Napoleonic Wars
Awards Knight Bachelor
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order

General Sir Ralph Darling, GCH (1772 – 2 April 1858) was a British Army officer who served as Governor of New South Wales from 1825 to 1831. He is popularly described as a tyrant, accused of torturing prisoners and banning theatrical entertainment. Local geographical features named after him include the Darling River and Darling Harbour in Sydney.

Early career

Darling seems to have been unique in the British Army of this period, as he progressed from an enlisted man to become a general officer with a knighthood. Born in Ireland, he was the son of a sergeant in the 45th Regiment of Foot who subsequently gained the unusual reward of promotion to officer rank as a lieutenant. Like most of the small number of former non-commissioned officers in this position, Lieutenant Darling performed only regimental administrative duties. He struggled to support his large family on a subaltern's pay.

Ralph Darling enlisted at the age of fourteen as a private in his father's regiment, and served in the ranks for at least two years on garrison duty in the West Indies. Eventually, as an "act of charity" to the family, young Ralph was granted an officer's commission as an ensign on 15 May 1793, without having to make the usual payment. The new officer soon found opportunities to show his ability, alternating front-line activity and high-level administrative duties, and in August 1796 he was appointed as military secretary to Sir Ralph Abercromby, the British commander-in-chief in the West Indies. By the time he returned to Great Britain in 1802, still aged only twenty-nine, the sergeant's son and one-time private soldier was a highly respected lieutenant-colonel.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Colonel Darling alternated between periods of regimental command and important administrative appointments, leading the 51st Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Corunna and serving as assistant adjutant general during the Walcheren Expedition, before returning to the headquarters at Royal Horse Guards in London, where he served for almost a decade as head of British Army recruiting. In this role, Darling was subsequently promoted to brevet colonel on 25 July 1810, major general on 4 June 1813, and deputy adjutant general in 1814. General Darling was also able to further the careers of his younger brothers Henry and William, and subsequently his nephew Charles; the three brothers all became generals, and Charles also earned a knighthood.

Darling married in 1817. Between February 1819 and February 1824, General Darling commanded the British troops on Mauritius, before serving as acting governor of the colony for the last three years of his stay. In this role, Darling again exhibited his administrative ability, but he also became very unpopular in Mauritius: he was accused of allowing a British frigate to breach quarantine and start an epidemic of cholera, and he then suspended the island's Conseil de Commune when it protested his actions; in reality, however, there was no evidence that the frigate had been carrying cholera, and the opposition to General Darling appears to have been motivated in large part by his vigorous actions against the slave trade, and the fact that British rule in Mauritius was still little more than military occupation of a proud French colony. Notwithstanding the criticism from some quarters, it was largely on account of his service in Mauritius that Darling was appointed the seventh Governor of New South Wales in 1824.

Governor of New South Wales

Darling initiated the construction, from 1826, of the convict-built Great North Road, linking the Hawkesbury settlements around Sydney with those in the Hunter Valley. In 1826 he also defined the Nineteen Counties in accordance with a government order from Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State in the British parliament; these were the limits of location in the colony of New South Wales. Settlers were only permitted to take up land within these counties. From 1831 the granting of free land ceased and the only land that was to be made available for sale was within the Nineteen Counties.

When Darling was commissioned as governor, the Colony's western boundary – set in 1788 at 135 degrees east longitude – was extended by 6 degrees west to the 129 degrees east longitude. This line of longitude subsequently became the border dividing Western Australia and South Australia. To the south, everything beyond Wilsons Promontory, the southeastern 'corner' of the Australian continent, ceased to be under the control of New South Wales and was placed under the authority of the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land. He proclaimed Van Diemen's Land as a separate colony on 3 December in 1825.

Later life

Ralph Darling left Australia in 1831, returning to England in 1832. Continuing pressure from political opponents led to the formation of a select committee to examine his actions in Australia, but the inquiry exonerated him, and the day after it concluded, he was knighted by the king in a dramatic display of official favour. The controversy in Australia may have contributed to the fact that he was not given any significant new military or political assignments, but further promotion and various honorific appointments did follow, and he was happy to devote much of his time to raising his young children.

He was given the colonelcy of the 90th Regiment of Foot in 1823, transferring as Colonel to the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot in 1837 and to the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot in 1848, a post he held until his death.

Darling died in Brighton on 2 April 1858 at the age of eighty-six, survived by his widow, three sons and four daughters.


Eliza Darling
Eliza Darling, 1825 portrait by John Linnell

On 13 October 1817, Darling married the 19-year-old Elizabeth Dumaresq, known as Eliza (1798–1868). She was the daughter of Colonel John Dumaresq, a landowner in Shropshire. The marriage was a happy one. Of ten children, four daughters and three sons survived to adulthood.

Eliza's widowed mother Ann Dumaresq was a devout philanthropist, and lived in Cheltenham. Eliza was influenced by Hannah More and Sarah Trimmer. In Australia, she consulted the penal reformer Elizabeth Fry, with reference in particular to female convicts. She was also involved in the establishment of the Female School of Industry at Parramatta.

After Darling's position in New South Wales ended, the family returned to England. They lived at Cheltenham, then Brighton where Darling died in 1858.

Named after Ralph Darling

The following features are named after Ralph Darling or members of his immediate family:

The Logan River in South-East Queensland was named the Darling River in 1826 by Captain Patrick Logan, in honour of the then-Governor Darling. However, Darling decided to, "[return] the compliment by renaming the river the Logan, to recognise Logan's enthusiasm and efficiency."

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ralph Darling para niños

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