Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of New South Wales, an eminent barrister, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, is born in Bray, County Wicklow, on September 18, 1830.
Darley is educated at Dungannon College in County Tyrone. His uncle, the Reverend John Darley, is headmaster of the college. In July 1847 he commences studying at Trinity College, Dublin, and he graduates in July 1851 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA). He is called to the English bar at the King’s Inn in January 1853 but returns to Ireland and practises there for about nine years on the Munster circuit. He meets Sir Alfred Stephen when Stephen is on a visit to Europe, and is told that there are good prospects for him in Australia.
Darley marries Lucy Forest Browne at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, on December 13, 1860. Lucy is the sister of novelist Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Alexander Browne) who is best known for the book Robbery Under Arms. They have two sons and four daughters.
Darley decides to emigrate to Australia and arrives in Sydney in 1862. He is admitted to the NSW Bar on June 2, 1862 and is later appointed a Queens Counsel (QC) in 1878. In September 1868 he is nominated to the New South Wales Legislative Council. In November 1881 he becomes vice-president of the executive council in the third Henry Parkes ministry. In November 1886 Darley is offered the position of Chief Justice of New South Wales in succession to Sir James Martin. He does not desire the office and to accept it would mean a considerable monetary sacrifice. As a barrister, he is likely earning more than twice the amount of the salary offered. He declines the position and it is accepted by Julian Salomons who subsequently resigns a few days later.
Darley is again approached and this time he accepts the position. He is sworn in on December 7, 1886. He carries out his duties with great distinction, although he is not an exceptional jurist. On the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen in November 1891, Darley is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and he administers the government seven times in that capacity. When the position of Governor of New South Wales becomes vacant in 1901, there are many suggestions that Darley should be given the post, but it is given to Sir Harry Rawson.
Darley’s longest period administering the government is from November 1, 1900 to May 27, 1902, a significant period in Australia’s political history with the lead up to and the aftermath of federation of the then Australian colonies. But his anxiety for New South Wales’s supremacy possibly contributes to the “Hopetoun Blunder.” Darley’s private assessment in 1902 is that “Australian Federation is so far a pronounced failure.”
Darley is knighted in 1887, created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in 1897, and receives the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) on May 15, 1901, in preparation of the forthcoming royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary).
Darley visits England in 1902 and is appointed a member of the royal commission on the South African war. He is also appointed a member of the privy council in 1905. He dies in London on January 4, 1910.