J M Bennett’s Sir Frederick Darley, the new biography in his acclaimed Lives of the Australian Chief Justices series, describes in fascinating detail one of the most extraordinary episodes in Australian judicial history. In November 1886, the circumstances being unprecedented, New South Wales had three successive Chief Justices.
On 4 November Sir James Martin died in office. Attorney-General Want, pressing a false claim to the vacancy, nevertheless declined it. The salary was too low. The great orator W B Dalley, QC, also rejected the position. His health was failing. F M Darley, QC, was immediately approached, but having a large family to support, he also declined. The government turned to Julian Salomons, QC, who accepted and was gazetted. Almost immediately, without taking his seat, he resigned for the extraordinary reasons disclosed in Dr Bennett’s fascinating chapter on the “Phantom Chief Justice”. A perplexed government urged Darley’s reconsideration. He did so reluctantly, serving from 29 November at great financial sacrifice. As the Hon Keith Mason, AC, QC, notes in his insightful foreword, Darley’s reluctance to serve was ultimately “matched only by his reluctance to relinquish the role over 20 years later”.
Richly detailed chapters trace Darley’s progression from birth and education in Ireland to Bar practice there at a time when too many lawyers competed for too little work. Darley migrated to Sydney, succeeding beyond his wildest hopes to build a preeminent practice, command a fortune and become a Legislative Councillor.
Always regarding Australia as his “adopted country”, he retained his “Irishness” to the end. With characteristic care and precision, the author reviews Darley’s judicial career, his distinguished presidency over the Supreme Court in difficult years, and his work administering the colony on many occasions as Lieutenant-Governor.
Darley might well have retired in 1902 when he accepted a place on the English Royal Commission inquiring into the poor military performance in the Boer War. But despite illness, and resistance to social and industrial change, he persevered on the bench until his death in 1910.
The product of meticulous research, Sir Frederick Darley paints an illuminating portrait of the life and times of this important man, whose judicial accomplishments and dedication to duty and service won great acclaim and respect.
“As with his earlier lives of Chief Justices, John Bennett has provided us with insights into life and customs as well as fascinating snippets of Darley the husband and paterfamilias. A proud Irishman, he is said to have ‘embodied the Victorian era and its values’.”
The Hon Keith Mason, AC, QC (from the foreword)
Foreword by the Honourable Keith Mason, AC, QC
List of Illustrations
1. An “Erratic and Wandering Race”
2. “The Largest Business of Any Man at the Bar”
3. “Active Politics Always Bored Him”
4. Some Lawyers’ Laws and Law Reforms
5. Defence – “The Dawn of Australia as a Nation”
6. Taking Silk: Taking Leave: and Taking Stock
7. (Sir) Julian Salomons: the Phantom Chief Justice
8. “A Great Public Duty”
9. “I Never Aspired to the Bench”
10. Industrial Law – or Politics?
11. Crown Land Legislation – “an unitelligible chaos”
12. Diametrical Opposites
13. Representing the Queen
14. “The Return of the Native”
Table of Cases
Schedule of Parliamentary Bills
Table of Statutes
The book consists of 14 chapters. The first two deal with his early life and career at the Bar. The third deals with Darley as an appointed member of the NSW Legislative Council. The bulk of the book then deals with the Chief Justice’s work in the Court. However, Ch 7 is a brief biography of Sir Julian Salomons who was appointed Chief Justice in 1886, but resigned before being sworn in and the final two chapters deal with aspects of Darley’s life after his appointment outside the Court’s work. … as one would expect from this author, the work is well researched and well written and the book is a valuable addition to the series. Read full review…
Hon Peter W Young AO QC, Australian Law Journal, Oct 2017, 91
Sir Frederick Darley was a prominent barrister, influential Legislative Councillor, Chief Justice of New South Wales, and Lieutenant-Governor. Darley’s career has largely been overlooked and underestimated until this exceptional work by the esteemed author and legal historian Dr Bennett.
As a member of the Legislative Council, Darley held to high standards in the administration of public affairs. In Chapter 4 of the book, Dr Bennett examines Darley’s significant parliamentary contributions and involvement in the field of law reform, including in relation to the rationalisation of the common law/equity ‘divide’, land laws, trade union laws, and the ‘Courts and Judges’.
Notably, concerning the latter, “So pressing was the business of the Supreme Court that the lists were jammed and hearings excessively delayed.” As such, a “Bill for the Supreme Court Temporary Judge Act Continuation Act” was introduced. The underlying notion of the Bill was that, “If well qualified leaders of the Bar could be induced to act as temporary judges, to clear the backlog and then return to their practices, the court would be disembarrassed and litigants would achieve speedier justice.” Darley vigorously opposed the Bill as an affront to the independence of the Court, and dangerous to the due administration of justice. Dr Bennett comments that (Sir) George Innes, himself on the eve of being appointed a Supreme Court Judge, resisted Darley’s resort to principle – “Theoretically the Bill might be regarded as evil, but it would not be so great an evil as that suffered by litigants for want of sufficient judges.”
In this book, Dr Bennett gives us a rare insight into the toll and sacrifice of judicial office. Further, in recounting Darley’s work in protecting the authority of the Court itself as an institution, he gives us a unique perspective of the friction and tension that arises between the judicial arm of government and the Executive, as well as between the court and the media.
Dr Bennett’s work is very well researched and the learned author has clearly had regard to, and carefully considered, a diversity of sources in bringing together this finely detailed book.
The legal profession owes Dr Bennett a debt of gratitude for his enormous contribution to judicial biography in Australia.
Basem Seif, Ethos, ACT Law Society, December 2016
Darley became such a successful “economic immigrant” that he was reluctant to sacrifice his large earnings as a barrister for the salary of Chief Justice. (The book contains a cartoon from Bulletin showing Darley about to enter the court, carrying a huge bag labelled “Income 7000 pounds per year”, being met by an attendant who warns him “If you go in there you’ll have to leave at least half of that bundle behind”.) But eventually, after several of his colleagues declined the offer, he was persuaded to accept. He was to prove just
as reluctant to give up the office in the early twentieth century.
This book is a worthy addition to J M Bennett’s extraordinary collection of judicial portraits. It reflects an unusual capacity for detailed research. Read review…
Graham Fricke, InPrint, Law Institute Journal Victoria, August 2016
This work is the fifteenth in the series of biographies by Dr Bennett of the lives of Australian Chief Justices. It is the continuation of a project which commenced over 40 years ago and which has received constant acclaim for its contribution to legal knowledge. The works are erudite and fastidiously researched with the added bonus of being exceptionally readable. This latest work concerning Darley CJ is even the more remarkable given that it covered that extraordinary period in November 1881 when New South Wales had three successive Chief Justices. That period of upheaval was initiated by the death in office of Sir James Martin after which there was the usual unseemly jockeying for position and even the appalling prospect of the State Attorney-General appointing himself to the position on the false claim of an entitlement to the office. Whilst Darley was approached to take up the position he declined it given the large family which he had to support. The position was offered to and accepted by Julian Salomons QC who took up office on 15 November 1881. He occupied the Chief Justice’s chambers on that day, held a meeting of judges and resigned the next day. Chapter 7 of the book deals with this intriguing event in which anti-Semitism played a powerful part. In any event, Darley was, despite his initial reluctance then persuaded to take up the role. As the book reveals he was a superb Chief Justice; being one with all the necessary skills and character. That said, he was reluctant to eventually give up the position. In his Forward the Hon Keith Mason AC QC identifies that Darley’s reluctance to serve was ultimately “matched only by his reluctance to relinquish the role over 20 years later”.
Queensland Law Reporter – 8 July 2016 –  26 QLR