Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

George Elde Darby

Surveyor and Headmaster

George Elde Darby was born in 1807, son of Emily Langford and George Elde Darby.

He trained at Sandhurst Royal Military College and joined the 45th (or Nottinghamshire Regiment) in 1831. The 45th served in India and shortly after their return took part in the Battle of Bossenden Wood on 31 May 1838.

George Darby transferred to the 17th regiment and was appointed Lieutenant in 1839.[1]

His address when he married Sarah Charlotte Wilson at St Gregory By St Paul's City of London, England in October 1835 was Chatham, Kent.[2]

Arrival in the Colony

George and Sarah departed London on 15th April 1839 on the Abberton with their two children, Mary Emily (b. 1836) and Francis Wilson (b. 1837). A brother of George, William Darby and their mother also came on the Abberton. A third child, Sarah Seagrave Darby was born on board during the voyage. Sarah Charlotte Darby died after giving birth to her daughter and George now had the burden of raising their three children alone. The Abberton arrived in Australia on 20th August 1839. [3]


George Darby resided at premises belonging to James Reid at Newcastle in the late 1840's. The Newcastle Grammar School was conducted in this building prior to being established elsewhere in 1859.

George Eld Darby[4]

His activities in the town included delivering lectures at the Newcastle Mechanics Institute and attending dinners such as that at the Victoria Hotel in honour of the visit of Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy in February 1847. [5]

Many town meetings and activities must have been attended by both George Darby and James Reid and their relationship was probably cordial in the beginning, however in 1852 circumstances deteriorated when George Darby failed to vacate the premises as requested by James Reid. Reports of the ensuing court case mentioned prominent Newcastle townsfolk of the day who had became embroiled in the dispute between George Darby and James Reid.

Court Case

Maitland Circuit Court. Saturday, March 6, 1852. (Before his Honor the Chief Justice and a special jury of four.) Darby v. Reid

This was an action for slander. The declaration stated that on the 1st January, 1851, the defendant maliciously uttered slanderous words respecting the plaintiff, as follows :

' That fellow Darby is a liar and a scoundrel, he has broken his promise ; I took him for a gentleman, as his father was, but I find I am mistaken ; he is a liar and a scoundrel ; he cannot get on without me, and I'll ruin his school.' The declaration contained three other counts, charging words of similar character as being uttered on three other occasions ; by reason of which defamation many scholars left the plaintiff's school. To these counts the defendant pleaded generally not guilty, and on this issue was joined. Counsel for the plaintiff, Mr. Darvall and Mr. Meymott ; counsel for the defendant, the Solicitor General and Mr. Purefoy.

Mr. Meymott opened the pleading. Mr. Darvall stated the case to the jury. This was a new trial of a cause tried at the last Maitland Circuit Court, and by the ruling of the full court certain evidence improperly rejected on the first trial would now be allowed to be given, the evidence being of other words spoken on other occasions than those named in the declaration, to show the animus of the defendant. The learned counsel entered into the case at great length, but as the general circumstances disclosed at the first trial will be fresh in the minds of the readers of the Mercury, a brief report of the principal points and new facts will be sufficient. The learned counsel contended that the words spoken were not only in themselves malicious and slanderous, but that he should prove such a continued series of malicious remarks and annoying acts against the plaintiff on the part of the defendant, that he was satisfied the jury would not only give a verdict for the plaintiff, but such damages as they thought the case merited. The witnesses called for the plaintiff were the Rev. C. P. N. Wilton, Mr. Simon Kemp, Mr. Alexander Flood, Captain Alexander Livingstone, Mr. George Tully, Richard Brownlow, Clarence Hannell, and Mary Cooper.

Mr. George Darby, a schoolmaster, residing at Newcastle, occupied a house belonging to Mr. Reid, and under the same roof and verandah with an adjoining house occupied by Mr. Reid. Mr. Reid told several of plaintiffs witnesses that he, wanting to let his own house, had arranged with Mr. Darby that the latter should move, by obtaining one of the vacant government buildings in the town, and that thus Mr. Reid could move with his family into the house then occupied by Mr. Darby ; no direct proof was given that Mr. Darby ever admitted that he had made such an arrangement, or made any promise to quit the house, but Mr. Reid, acting under the belief that he had done so, let his own house to Mr. Gaunson ; Mr. Darby appears to have failed in obtaining any government building, (assuming that he made the attempt, under the arrangement spoken of by Mr. Reid) and he refused to quit Mr. Reid's house ; Mr. Reid tried to induce or compel him to do so, but failing, he (Mr. Reid) quitted his own house to allow Mr. Gaunson to take possession, and removed with his family from Newcastle to Rosebrook, some 25 or 28 miles from Newcastle. Mr. Reid appears to have been very anxious not to be compelled to take this step, as one of his daughters was very ill, and the long and hot journey was likely to be very injurious to her. On the 30th December,1850, Mr. Reid employed Mr. Flood to serve a notice to quit on Mr. Darby, and went to the house with Mr. Flood ; Mr. Darby did not appear to be in but to his housekeeper, who took the notice, Mr. Reid, who was in an angry and excited state, said that 'Darby was a d-d liar and a scoundrel' and that he would injure his prospects for life.

Early in January, 1851, on a day he could not fix, the Rev. Mr. Wilton was at Mr. Darby's house, and was told by him of something Mr. Reid had said ; on leaving Mr.Darby's house, Mr. Wilton saw Mr. Reid at his window, and believing Mr. Reid beckoned to him Mr. Wilton went to the door, which was opened by Mr. Reid, and they went together into Mr. Reid's parlour, where two or three of the ladies of the family then were ; Mr. Reid appeared very angry about his dispute with Mr. Darby and said 'That fellow Darby is a liar and a scoundrel ; He promised to leave his house, .but he has 'broken his promise : I had taken him for a gentleman, as his father was, whom I knew, but I find that I am mistaken ; he is a liar and a scoundrel.' Mr. Wilton said it was a pity to use such expressions, as perhaps he might have mis understood the nature of Mr. Darby's promise. Mr. Reid then used similar words, adding ' He can't get on without me, and I'll ruin his school; he won't have any pupils; if he doesn't quit the house by Tuesday next, and so prevent my leaving Newcastle and going up to Rosebrook, I'll have him up to the police office, and ask in open court whether a liar and a scoundrel be a fit person to have the care and instruction of youth.' Mr. Reid also told Mr. Wilton about his having let his own house to Mr. Gaunson, who might bring an action against him if he did not fulfil his promise, and also about his daughter's being very ill, and that she would suffer great harm if he was compelled to go to Rosebrook ; that Darby had promised to leave the house for him, and he ought to keep his pro- mise. Mr. Wilton that same day went to Mr. Darby's, and repeated to him what had passed, and enquired if some arrangement could not be made by which he could quit the house, and let Mr. Reid come in.

On an early day in January Mr. Kemp was going into a public room at Messrs. Mitchell and Tully's stores, used as a kind of exchange room by the captains of ships in harbour, when Mr. Reid followed him, laid his hand on his shoulder, and said ' Your friend Darby is a d- d lying scoundrel ; I mistook him for a gentleman ; I am sorry I did.' Mr. Kemp told him he did not like to hear such words used of a man whom Mr. Reid styled his 'friend.' Mr. Reid then repeated the words, and stating the circumstances above related respecting the houses and his having to leave Newcastle himself to make room for Mr. Gaunson, Mr. Reid added, ' I've risen Darby's rent from 50 to 80 pounds, and I'll put an execution in every quarter for 20, and sell him off till l've ruined him.' Mr. Kemp told Mr. Reid he had himself (Mr. Reid) ; been the means of preventing Mr. Darby from .getting the government building, as he well knew. There were six or eight captains in the room at this time, writing, reading, and sipping grog, and this language, uttered by Mr. Reid in an angry and excited manner, drew the attention of these parties. On another occasion Mr. Reid told Mr. Tully of the circumstances about the houses, and said that ' Darby had disappointed him, that Darby was a liar, and had told him a lie on the occasion. It was also stated generally by different witnesses that Mr. Reid, when he met with them uttered similar expressions respecting Mr. Darby in reference to this transaction, appearing always full of it. Masters Brownlow and Hannell, who were formerly scholars in Mr. Darby's school, described noises that for about a week, soon after the return of Mr. Reid and his family from Rosebrook, use to almost stop the school business, and on one day obliged Mr. Darby to break up the school ; the school-room, situate at the back of Mr. Darby's house, was only divided from a room or outhouse on Mr. Reid's premise by a wooden partition, and on Mr. Reid's side of this petition a couple of bells were kept ringing with brief intervals, varied by the clashing of tin dishes, the throwing down of boards, and by singing performed by Mr. Reid to these musical accompaniments. Mr. Darby's servant girl, now Mrs. Cooper, one fine morning saw Mr. Reid sitting on his back doorstep, composedly pulling away at a ring fastened to the two bells, then giving forth sweet sounds. It was proved by Mr. Wilton that up to the time of the quarrel Mr. Reid had been always a warm friend of Mr. Darby's, assisting him in every way. Mr. Darby, it appeared, retained possession of the house until December, 1851, when he gave it up, and also gave up the school, getting an appointment as surveyor under the A. A. Company.

Mr. Kemp and Mr. Tully had boys at the school till it closed, and would still have them there if it were open, and neither of them were aware that any boys left the school in consequence of Mr. Reid's language. Mr. Wilton and Captain Livingstone endeavoured to prevail on Mr. Darby to accept a written apology from Mr. Reid, if they could obtain one, but Mr. Darby refused to take anything less than an apology to be inserted in the Sydney Morning Herald, which both Mr. Wilton and Captain Livingstone thought was not requisite, and refused to ask Mr. Reid to consent to. Captain Livingstone did, after the action had been commenced by Mr. Darby, obtain Mr. Reid's consent to offer to Mr. Darby a written apology, and each to pay his own costs ; 'but Mr. Darby declined. The Solicitor General addressed the jury for the defence, at considerable length etc.......The jury retired at four o'clock, and at seven o'clock returned with a verdict for the plaintiff; damages one farthing. Attorney for the plaintiff, Mr. Burton Bradley ; attorney for the defendant, Mr. Turner.[6]

Australian Agricultural Company

George Eld Darby was occasionally employed as a surveyor by the Australian Agricultural Company in the years 1840 to 1852.

In June 1852 he was formerly appointed as Surveyor to the A. A. Company. He produced a Plan of Stroud, County of Gloucester, New South Wales, property of the Australian Agricultural Company dated 1853 and of Tahlee House and surrounding estate at Port Stephens in 1853. [7]

He was also appointed to lay out town allotments on the Company’s Newcastle Estate in the area that became known as Cook's Hill. Land along the east side of Dawson Street which ran to the west of and parallel to Darby Street was sub-divided. Many of the streets in Cooks Hill are named for A. A. Company officers.

Later Darby Street was named in recognition of the work of George Darby in laying out the streets. The Company’s initial Newcastle land sales were held in April 1853 and included 32 quarter acre lots in Darby Street. Most were priced at £30, and many were bought by miners working in the area [8]

George Darby continued in the service of the A.A. Company until 1857 when he resigned.


George Darby never re-married. He died 22nd February 1867 and was buried at Christ Church, Newcastle NSW Australia.[9]

St. Ronan's - Bingle Street Newcastle

There is an interesting account of George Darby's house at Newcastle in the Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Journal (1947) - The original buildings of St. Ronan's were erected by the A. A. Co., to house the engines and boilers used in connection with the Company's first coal pit, which then opened up into the gardens of the residence; these included storeroom and mine manager's quarters built above. We read of the interesting method the Company used at the time in transporting coal from this pit, down hill to waiting colliers, which entailed an endless chain extending from the mine to the wharf, to which the full waggons at the top and the emply waggons at the bottom were attached. The force of the descending heavy trucks was sufficient to haul the light trucks up hill for refilling.

After the old pit was worked out, the A. A. Co., sold the property to George Darby, who added to the building for a residence, making gardens and planting trees. Later the property passed into the hands of the Ranclaud family who added four gabled rooms to the house and erected a windmill over the old pit.

The story goes that the residens of the Hill were wont to draw water from this pit as it was called, thus it became known as the Well of St. Ronan's. Subsequently Mr. O. W. Gillam purchased the residence and it served as a boarding house
. [10]

Notes and Links

1. George Elde Darby family papers, ca. 1848-1862 - State Library of NSW
a. Account book of William Campbell Darby, ca. 1848-ca. 1860
b. Notebook of George Elde Darby, 1851
c. Survey book of Francis William Darby, 186- mainly relating to work in Liverpool Plains
d. Diaries of George Elde Darby, 1855-1857, 1862

2. Francis Darby was also employed by the A.A. Company. He later worked the family cattle station Cattle Creek near Quirindi.

3. Some of the people living in Newcastle were included in a County Electors List in 1855


[1] Sydney Gazette 11 May 1839

[2] London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Church of England Parish Registers. London Metropolitan Archives, London

[3] The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 - 1842) Wed 21 Aug 1839

[4] Maitland Mercury 6 January 1847

[5] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) Tue 9 Feb 1847.

[6] Maitland Mercury 10 March 1852

[7] Australian Agricultural Company Records -Australian National University

[8] Pemberton, P.A., Pure Merinos and Others: The Shipping Lists of the Australian Agricultural Company, ANU Archives of Business and Labor, Canberra, 1986, pp. 95-96.

[9] Grave Stone of George Elde Darby - Newcastle City Council

[10] Williams A. B., The Passing of St. Ronan's, Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society Journal, 1947, p. 43