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Sir Frederick Matthew Darley (1830–1910)

from Sydney Morning Herald

The death is announced of Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, P.C., G.C.M.G., Chief Justice of New South Wales, aged 79 years.

Sir Frederick Darley, Chief Justice of New South Wales, died in London on Tuesday afternoon. Yesterday morning the Acting Premier (Mr. Lee) received a cable from Lady Darley announcing Sir Frederick's death. The late Chief Justice had been ill for some weeks.

Although Sir Frederick Matthew Darley had passed almost a decade beyond the allotted span of human life, no one who saw him standing on board the R.M.S. Morea on January 30 last could have had any premonition that he was destined to pass away within a twelvemonth. When in October of 1908 he replied to the cordial congratulations of the Bar on the seventy eighth anniversary of his birthday, there was, considering his age, little sign of waning physical power, and those who had the privilege of conversing with him on the eve of his departure for England considered that Sir Frederick's optimistic remark that he was good for some years yet was justified. The wish, which was father to the thought, has, however, unfortunately, not been fulfilled, and the citizens of New South Wales have now only to find consolation in the reflection that the Chief Justice died as full of honours as of years, and that his judicial, political, and social services have made an indelible impression upon the history and progress of the State for which he worked so strenuously and unselfishly. Towards the close of his career on the Bench it was well known that Sir Frederick Darley's ambition was to place on record the fact that he had served the public for a period of 40 years, and this he accomplished before he left the State on his last 12 months' leave of absence.

The deceased gentleman was born in Ireland on September 18, 1830, and was the son of the late Henry Darley, of county Wicklow, who was a member of the Irish Bar. Young Darley was educated at Dungannon College, county Tyrone, where his uncle, the Rev. John Darley (afterwards Bishop of Kilmore), was headmaster. Among his fellow students was Higinbotham, a boy who in later life made his mark as Chief Justice of Victoria, an eminent jurist, and, previous to his elevation to the Bench, a distinguished member of the Bar of the sister State, and in his day no less renowned in political life. Frederick Darley entered Trinity College, Dublin, in July, 1847, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1851. He was called to the Irish Bar in January, 1853, becoming at the same time a member of the Inner Temple. A somewhat irksome provision in those days compelled a member of the Irish Bar who wished also to join the English Bar to eat a certain number of dinners in England, and this formality the young barrister duly observed. While a student of law he was for two years a pupil in the chambers of Richard Holmes Coote, known as the editor of Coote on Mortgages. After his admission he went to the Munster circuit, and it is interesting to note that here he met Sir Alfred Stephen, then Chief Justice of New South Wales, who had gone home on a holiday. Whether this meeting had any influence in deciding young Darley's future course is not definitely known, but, making up his mind to try his fortune at the Antipodes, he left Plymouth for Australia in January, 1862, and, after a brief visit to Melbourne, he came on to Sydney. In June of the same year he was admitted to the Bar of New South Wales, and for a considerable time had the privilege of practising before the Chief Justice, from whom, no doubt, he had previously received many useful hints and cogent advice.

His advancement thenceforward was rapid, and having established a lucrative practice he turned his attention to politics as a fresh avenue of usefulness. He had apparently little taste for the strenuous exertion that party warfare frequently entails, and in October, 1868, he took his seat as a member of the Legislative Council, which he was associated at various times during 18 years' service with W. B. Dalley, Q.C., H. C. Dangar, Edmund Barton, Q.C. (now Mr. Justice Barton), G. B. Simpson (now Sir George B. Simpson, Acting Chief Justice), Sir John Lackey, Sir William Macarthur, Sir W. Macleay, W. R. Piddington, Robert Owen, J. Hubert Plunkett, Sir Arthur Renwick, Sir John Robertson, Sir John Hay, W. H. Pigott, and others. He resigned in December, 1886. In 1878 Sir Frederick Darley was appointed a Queen's Counsel. From November, 1881, to January, 1883, he was Vice-President of the Executive Council, and represented the Parkes Government in the Upper House. Among the measures he was instrumental in introducing and carrying into law were the Equity Act, the Divorce Act, and the Act legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister. He also brought in the Companies Act, but gave up the conduct of that measure, which another legislator carried through. In 1882 he visited England, and was appointed Executive Commissioner for New South Wales at the Bordeaux Exhibition. In 1883 he returned to New South Wales, but made another trip in the following year. In 1884 he was a member of the Royal Commission constituted to inquire into the state of the military defences of the then colony. On the death of Sir James Martin, in November, 1886, he was offered the position of Chief Justice, but then declined the honour. The late Sir Julian Salomons was appointed, but less than a fortnight later that gentleman resigned, and being pressed, not only by the existing Government, but by his friends, to accept the vacancy, Sir Frederick complied, though it was well known at the time that in doing so he made a serious pecuniary sacrifice. He was sworn in as Chief Justice on December 7, 1886, by Mr. Justice Faucett. In 1903 Sir Frederick almost succumbed to illness, but, after a period of anxiety to his friends, his strong constitution pulled him through, and a visit to England completed the process of recuperation. While at home on that occasion he had the honour to be appointed a member of the South African Commission, having as one of his colleagues Earl Roberts. In the course of his visit to England he was also privileged to sit as a member of the Privy Council with his Majesty the King. Sir Frederick Darley officiated as Lieutenant-Governor on many occasions from 1893 until two or three years ago, and the many social functions carried out by him in that capacity were invariably popular.

From the above somewhat dry record of facts and figures it is pleasant to turn to the personal character and qualifications of a man of whom it is not too much to say that his example and conscientious sense of duty made a lasting impression upon those who came within the sphere of his influence. Although he could not fairly be classed as a brilliant lawyer, his career at the Bar of New South Wales and later as Chief Justice, was a notable one, and he was sufficiently well endowed both mentally and physically to uphold the dignity of the judiciary over which he presided, and as a member of which he presented such a commanding and striking figure. The character of Sir Frederick Darley has been acknowledged by friends and foes alike as of the highest. Of foes, indeed, he made few, except such as arose inevitably in the administration of justice or the defence of public interests and welfare. The general esteem in which he was held was due to his personal attractiveness. Uniformly courteous and considerate to all those who approached him, he was as attentive to the youngest junior as to the leaders of the Bar; and the tone of the court over which he presided maintained a high standard. He afforded another gratifying illustration of an eminent position under the British Crown being attained and held with distinction by a talented Irish gentleman. The traditions of his honourable office in this State have seldom been placed in better hands. The exalted position he held imposed upon him the gravest responsibility, both in dispensing justice and as the representative of Royalty. Not only had he to interpret and administer the law free from prejudice and without fear or favour, but he had to set the standard of personal integrity to all by a blameless career, the influence of which could not but be a potent factor for good. As a member of the Legislature his high probity and clearness of perception marked him as one whose opinion on any subject was deserving of the closest respect. He has now gone to his rest with honours thick upon him, and the community mourns the loss of a conspicuous champion of social purity and even-handed justice.

The late Chief Justice was married at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, England, on December 13, 1860, to Miss Lucy Forest Browne, daughter of Mr. Sylvester Browne, of Heidelberg (Melbourne), and his family consists of Messrs. H. S. Darley, Bertram Darley, Mrs. Whitehead, Miss Corie Darley, Miss Katherine Darley, and Mrs. Hanbury Tracey, wife of Major the Hon. Algernon Hanbury Tracey.

It is interesting to note that two members of the Supreme Court Bench and old colleagues of the late Chief Justice who retired some time ago are still alive. Sir Henry Stephen, who is now in his 81st year, is comparatively hale and hearty, and Sir William Owen is also physically and mentally active, though of advanced age. Both are enjoying the evening of their lives in their country homes.

The late Chief Justice in April, 1887, was created a K.C.M.G., and upon the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia he was elevated to the higher dignity of G.C.M.G.

A touching episode in Sir Frederick Darley's career on the Bench was the presentation made to him a little under 12 months ago, and a day or two prior to his departure for England. It was an address from his colleagues and members of both branches of the legal profession. In acknowledging the compliment Sir Frederick eloquently remarked. "Depend upon it, a strong and able Bar is an asset which is of great value to any country. It speaks for freedom and good government. The Bar has always been in the van when questions of freedom were involved. Therefore, a strong and independent Bar, from which the Judges of the land must spring, is, as I have said, an asset of which any country may well be proud. I also owe much to the loyalty, learning, and affection of my brother Judges. I cannot say good-bye to them without the pang one feels in losing forever one's dearest friends, for that is what they have been to me."

Referring to his 24 years' practice at the Bar he also said:—"It was strenuous work, but it was very happy work, for I do not think that I can call to mind during the whole of that 24 years, even in the hardest fought action, there ever passed a disagreeable word between me and any one of my brother barristers of the time. Most of them are now gone. Still, a few remain who can call to mind that time when I had the privilege of being one of their comrades. Since I came on the Bench, as I have already expressed, my life there has been a very happy one. I can only say now that I have taken my seat to-day for the last time. I shall never again preside over or sit in a Court of Justice. My life has been a very happy one here. That portion of my life has ended. All I can say now is farewell, and, as I said before, I shall watch your careers, even to the youngest of you, with deepest interest."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Darley, Sir Frederick Matthew (1830–1910)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Frederick Darley, Phil May, 1889

Frederick Darley, Phil May, 1889

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an6054420-1

Life Summary [details]


18 September, 1830
Bray, Wicklow, Ireland


4 January, 1910 (aged 79)
London, Middlesex, England

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