Eliza Darling-3rd September


Female School of Industry, 1834 / F. Walker-image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Eliza Darling, pioneer and Social reformer in NSW died 1868

painter, designer and amateur architect, was born, probably on 10 November 1798, in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England, fourth of the six children of Ann, née Jones, and Lieutenant-Colonel John Dumaresq. She was descended from a distinguished Jersey family of ancient lineage but owing to her father’s premature death on 5 March 1804 grew up in straitened circumstances, from which she was rescued by her marriage to Major-General (later Sir) Ralph Darling on 13 October 1817. She accompanied him first to Mauritius, where he was acting governor and commander of the troops from February 1819 to July 1823, then to New South Wales where Ralph served as governor from December 1825 until October 1831.

After returning to England the family, which comprised four girls and three boys, lived in retirement – first at Cheltenham, where Eliza Darling had spent much of her childhood, later at Brighton. Following her husband’s death on 2 April 1858, Lady Darling moved to a small cottage at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, then to a farm in Pembury, Kent, and finally to a country residence, The Ridge, Colman’s Hatch, East Sussex, which she shared with her eldest son, Rev. Frederick, and two of her daughters. She endowed one of the buildings on the property as a school for the children of nearby cottagers.

This last step was the culmination of a life marked by a high degree of involvement in philanthropic activities. A devout Anglican of evangelical leanings, Eliza Darling had long shown a practical interest in the wellbeing of less fortunate elements in society. This was particularly evident while she was at New South Wales. Here she used her position as First Lady to establish the Female School of Industry, to assist the women convicts in the Female Factory and to improve the morality of the convicts in general. She patronised the Benevolent Society and the Sydney Dispensary and actively supported the Sunday School movement. In addition, she was a devoted wife and mother whose warm, firm ways helped maintain close family relationships.

Despite recurrent ill-health, frequent pregnancies and a busy domestic and public life, Eliza Darling found time to engage in literary and artistic pursuits. As a child she had been too poor to have a governess or be sent to school and was educated at home by her mother and the older children, but she had an active, enquiring mind and developed life-long interests in writing, music and art. In her youth she wrote poetry, as well as a moralistic story, ‘Lascelles’. Her brother, Henry Dumaresq , a pupil of the eminent watercolourist John Varley in the family’s more affluent days, taught her to draw. The first surviving example of Eliza’s artistic work dates from the period after her marriage. It took the form of a picture of her daughter Cornelia, aged four, lying on the floor of the governor’s residence in Mauritius (ALMFA).

Other drawings, whose subjects are unknown, were sent home to Cheltenham and were so much admired by friends that she regretted not having attempted ‘a great deal more’. Towards the end of her residence in New.


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