Saturday 2 January 2021

Governor Darling's Fingerprints


Beep, Beep! Do you see a Gino (a.k.a. Fiat 500) parked in the lane
Beside this sun-bleached Darlinghurst cafe?
Or Darlo, in the common vernacular ...

Shall we start 2021 with A Lesson? Hurrah!, I hear you you cry, l should love nothing better! Or not? ... You get a choice today of words or pictures: The words are for putting a face to the name of the man whose fingerprints are all over our maps, while the pictures are a Tour of a couple of Darling Point's sister suburbs. So duck and weave at your pleasure, Dear Reader ...

Remember Darling Point? 
I did neglect last time to add this pic of the ferry Charlotte
At the Darling Point Wharf

Who was this man with the endearment for a name? Ralph Darling was the Colony of New South Wales 7th Governor. He was a career soldier who cut his teeth in the Napoleonic Wars and then a governorship posting to Mauritius, but not what one would call a People-Person. And depending on your source, his legacy was a reputation for either Tyranny or Competency, but more of that later.

Portrait of Our Man
John Linnell, 1825

He came to our shores for his posting in 1824 to exert a bit of Tough Love. Luckily he brought with him his own darling to ameliorate his rather martinet ways, his beloved wife Eliza, a Huguenot descendent who lends her name to Darlinghurst and Darling Point. And is remembered fondly by her contemporaries and liked for her general Good Works during her time as Governor's Wife.

Eliza Darling & two of her [ten] children
John Linnell, 1825

Back in England, things were getting a bit out of hand, re the Convict Situation. While Jane Austen's Regency maids and eligible gentlemen were parading about the Grand Pump Room in Bath or reclining luxuriously at Boodles' Club on St. James's Street &c., a perfect storm had brewed for the masses in the slums betwixt the genteel classes and the Authorities. 

According to Mr. Wiki, the highest proportion of Generations X and Y
Live in densely populated Darlingurst's terrace houses and flats ...

Large-scale unemployment resulting from post-Napoleonic war conditions and the effects of the industrial and agrarian revolutions, coupled with the introduction of Peel's police force to combat rising crime rates and the liberalisation of criminal law around the 1820s where forgery and some thefts &c. were now transportable, not capital, offences, thus saw the period between 1811 and 1840 overseeing ballooning numbers of convicts, like never before or again, departing from their notorious slum conditions, with fetching addresses like "Devil's Acre" and Pillory Lane, to, what was increasingly being reported as, a Luxury Holiday in the Antipodes. 

... So we see rather a lot of this on the skyline.
Darlinghurst's Victorian terrace houses were our own slum at one point

A report was commissioned to determine whether Transportation was thus an effective deterrent to Crime and Judge John Bigge was appointed to sail to Australia to have a look around and see how the great unwashed were getting on and how His Majesty's Colonial Administration was dealing with them. 

And as the 43-storey Horizon is the tallest apartment block in the 'hood
We also see rather a lot of that on the skyline, as it does rather stick out

Bigge took one leery eye at things and determined that Convicts mixing with Free Settlers and, worse, Emancipists-on-the-Make, were not terrified enough about their exile and his Report recommended absolute power be taken away from any soft-hearted Governor, chain gangs be introduced, punishments harshened and the prison-within-a-prison of hard-labour colonies be re-instituted for the incorrigibles and recidivists, and other such delights to remind the Convict of their Plight and Reflect upon their Life's Choices.

View into the old Darlinghurst Gaol
Built by convicts for convicts from 1822  and a work-in-progess during Darling's time,
But not occupied until 1841 and thence operating as The National Art School since 1922

So Ralph Darling took the Bigge Report to heart and applied his military disciplinarianism to maintaining and enforcing punitive conditions toward the convicts, while reforming laxities in the fledgling banking and civil administrative systems. It wasn't long before his was seen in some quarters as a Reign of Terror, as he dismissed both wastrels and freed men from public office, locked the coffers and set to toughening up the slackers. Some government employees apparently took their own lives in response to his moralistic sweeping through the colony's books, proof perhaps of undoubted corruption he uncovered.

See what I mean about the Horizon apartments sticking out in the centre of this pic?
The view towards Darlinghurst from Brother's 27th floor apartment
Across Central Railway Station

For the free settlers, his fingerprints over their lives also proved tiresome, and even books have been written about his taking a dim view of the Theatre and how he tirelessly stamped out fledgling theatre companies. There were to be no Bread-And-Circuses on his watch!

A sign of the times. The decades-old designer clothing consignment store,
Blue Spinach, closed and now only online

As put about in my Woolloomooloo post, Darling encouraged the wealthy settlers to build flashy estates on the Heights (which he renamed Darlinghurst after dear Eliza) as both encouragement and rebuke to the convicts washing about the increasingly urbanised landscape. While the tough nuts were sent to places like Port Macquarie and Norfolk Island, those most likely for Reform were sent out of Sydney-town to work out their sentence on the land grants of the new settlers, for they were hungry for labour.

Victorian Regency Villa, Stoneleigh
Undergoing restoration as befits this once-again smart suburb

And into the far reaches of the Colony Darling did also send explorers, while convict chain-gangs were set to work on road building, and so the Darling's on our maps were sprinkled about the place like confetti.

One of the gates to Stoneleigh's next-door neighbour, the Victorian Italianate Villa, Iona,
Saved from C20th demolition by its former rôle as a hospital
And restored by recent owners, impresario Baz Luhrmann & Catherine Martin

But his industriousness and military single-mindedness drew the ire of some and he quickly found his otherwise general competence subjected to noisy, minority, vocal opposition. From the bushranger scourge that was plaguing the place - these convicts on the run he had chased hither & thither behaved less like Robin Hoods and more like gangsters - to a more literate class who (rightly) charged him with nepotism, for he essentially mistrusted anyone apart from close family members which he kept in high positions about him, these were some of the annoyed who became mightily tired of this martinet of a Governor.

Some bonus Jacaranda with the 1920s Art Deco apartments, Ballina

Darling found his most irksome foes, however, in the judiciary and the press. Chief among the thorns in his side were his main legal advisor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the two newly-founded independent newspapers, The Sydney Monitor and The Australian (no relation to the present-day paper), which were devoted to criticising the authorities and championing the rights of the poor and emancipated. 

Rear view of the Alexandra Flats, a chic repurposing of the
1911 Federation Free Style Marist Brothers High School

Scornful of both, for The Monitor's ex-missionary editor's evangelical zeal and The Australian's political agenda in the hands of its two barrister publishers, Darling's initial tolerance for press freedom soured when they continued an open campaign of hostility toward him. There is, of course, plenty to this backstory and that's perhaps a bridge too far for a jolly blogpost, but suffice to say, things got rather ugly.

The pedestrian Pyrmont Bridge into Darling Harbour
Another of Darling's landmarks

Darling, who viewed negative press reportage through the prism of seditious libel, attempted to muzzle the new independent press. His Chief Justice refused to certify legislative bills to effect this, and more of this kind of general administrative friction led to terms like insubordination and whatnot being bandied about. Libel suits followed, The Monitor's editor was imprisoned and general shaking of fists from either side of the fence ensued, including The Australian's publisher, Wentworth, unsuccessfully petitioning the Crown to have Darling impeached.

Pyrmont Bridge swinging into action before the Sydney Aquarium
As seen from the Chicken-Farmer's Darling Harbour balcony 

Ultimately, with the fall of the Wellington-Peel Government, the new King William IV and his ministerial advisers in the Reformist Earl Grey's Government blamed Darling for letting things get out of hand and anyways took a dim view of his attempts to limit free speech, so when his six-year term was up, his appointment was not renewed. Darling packed up his bags and his family and sailed back home in 1831, sailing out of Sydney Harbour with a ring-side view of the fête champêtre Wentworth was hosting in the grounds of his home, Vaucluse, for those that were celebrating his departure*.

There have always been journalists sharks in these waters.
A grim view from within Darling Harbour's Aquarium

Various other aggrieved parties who he'd crossed swords with finally managed in 1835 to institute a parliamentary enquiry into his conduct whilst Governor, with charges of cronyism, ineptitude and corruption and a suite of complaints and while the Select Committee reported back quickly, clearing his name, he was given no further official post and retired from the scene.

But let us end on a sunny note:
A Yellow Tang for your delection

However, as history is written by the victors, or in this case by a jubilant press sitting 10,000 miles away from the person in question, you're rather hard pressed to find a good report card about our 7th Governor today. But I'm sure to his dear Eliza, Ralph Darling was at least one person's darling.

* Fear not! This tantalising nugget of Local Lore will be getting its own post, anon.

Image credits: 3: Wikimedia Commons; 4: National Library of Australia; all others: Flying With Hands


  1. Are you sure Darlinghurst was really a slum?

    The gates to Stoneleigh's next-door neighbour, the Victorian Italianate Villa, and the gardens, are totally gorgeous. And the street filled with terrace houses, flats and stunning green trees is just how we would want to live.

  2. Hels: Slum? Well, parts became notorious for the crime and poverty and the "razor gangs" in the early C20th, and adjacent Woolloomooloo had rows of its terraces demolished as they were hotbeds of disease. It's had a real riches to rags to riches history. And despite some pretty aesthetically dubious flats going up in the last quarter of the C20th, it's a very pretty neighbourhood for all it's dense population.

  3. Absolutely fascinating. I love this vicarious travel, not only to a new and to me exotic place but also through time.
    How lucky you are to have jacarandas. They are so gorgeous.
    I wouldn't complain about the Horizon if I had one of those balconies with views of the city. I've certainly seen worse....

  4. ToF: Thank you, and I guess armchair travel is going to be the flavour for quite a while yet. Who can resist a bit of time travel, too! ... We've not visited anyone living in the Horizon but the balconies are mostly for show as they're terribly windy and furniture gets blown off, apparently. I've heard tell that no-one lets their dog on the balcony. And the building perceptibly sways!! But of course the views to the horizon are basically uninterrupted in all directions!

  5. I do now recall coming across several 'Darling' names mentioned in S. Africa - streets, buildings, and a town. As a result of your post, I have now discovered that the Darling family certainly put themselves around. The use of the Darling name in South Africa was after Sir Charles Darling, who appears to have been the nephew of your Ralph.
    Generally, I have the impression that Ralph's legacy is probably far better than his reputation!
    I enjoyed seeing the photos of your neighbourhood, especially the feeling of warmth, greenery and flowers, which I am really missing here - roll on Springtime.

  6. Rosemary: I do think his reputation was coloured principally by the noisy media, and he did get a nice knighthood when he was exonerated of the complaints against him. I dare say, if he was a total villain, there'd have been a rebranding of all the place names from the maps. And nice to know that the endearing name gets well used elsewhere - it is very charming ... Your springtime will come with a riot, soon enough!

  7. It seems that in architectural legacy of the Darling era has left much to be appreciated. I would especially enjoy exploring the old Darlinghurst Gaol. At least from the outside, the design is uplifting. I wonder what the round building was used for?

  8. Jim: Hello, and welcome to these pages! I'm not sure about the roundhouse - there was supposed to be a chapel within the gaol, so perhaps it was this building. There's usually an annual student exhibition at the now art school, so I could imagine a good opportunity to poke about. There is a tale that there's also a subterranean passage to a row of adjacent terrace houses, once lodgings for warders, to enable them to slip in and out, but that sounds like a foolish design for a prison, to me.


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