John Darling and Son

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John Darling and Son was an Australian wheat merchant and flour milling company founded in Adelaide, South Australia, for many years the largest in Australia. It was founded by John Darling Sr. (1831–1905), a businessman of Scottish origin,[1] and Member of Parliament for 25 years. He was succeeded by his eldest son, John Darling Jr. (1852–1914), also a Member of Parliament, then by Harold Gordon Darling. It was registered as a private company in Victoria in 1953 with three directors: Norman Darling, Leonard Darling, and Leonard Gordon Darling.[2]

John Darling[edit]


John Darling (23 February 1831 – 10 April 1905) was born in Edinburgh in 1831, second son of John Darling of Duns, into a family of modest means, and was educated at George Heriot's School. His father died when he was 10, and he was forced to leave school at the age of 11.[3][4]

His first job was as an office boy at the printing shop of Balfour & Jack, but lost that job after 6 or 8 weeks. He next worked at Duncan Sinclair and Sons' type foundry "Whitford House", then at Alexander Wilson & Son, followed by James Marr, Gallie, & Co., where he worked for about 12 years.[3] Several of his friends, including Alexander Dowie and Joseph Ferguson, later an owner of The Register, had emigrated to South Australia in 1851, and realizing the lack of opportunities for advancement in Edinburgh, decided to follow them. He was not a wealthy man, and did not qualify for assisted passage, so it took some time before they emigrated.[3]


Early in 1855 he, his wife and two sons arrived at Semaphore, South Australia in the "Isabella",sailing from Leith. Four days later he was working in the Rundle Street store of Berry & Gall. This job did not last long, but through a friend he soon found employment with baker Robert Birrell of Grenfell street. This job lasted two years before he left to earn a living with a horse and cart, and at the same time helped set up his wife in a store adjacent to the Stag Inn on Rundle Street. This failed to attract much custom so they built a shop "Millbrook Store" on Glen Osmond Road, which slowly became profitable. Meanwhile he had been approached by James Smith, of Giles & Smith, Waymouth street who had a flour mill on West Terrace and in the five years in their employ learned the wheat and flour business. He then resigned from Giles and Smith, and in 1865 was trading independently.[5] In 1867 he took over the sole management of the grain stores in Waymouth Street formerly owned by R. G. Bowen (later to become the factory of D & W. Murray).[3]

In 1872 he made his eldest son John Darling, jun. a partner in the business, thereafter known as J. Darling & Son, millers, grain, and general merchants. For 30 years the business grew steadily, the "Grain King" setting up branches throughout South Australia's wheat belt, buying up flour mills then establishing agencies in Melbourne in 1880[3] and London, his company handling most of Australia's export grain.

He retired from the business in October 1897, leaving John Darling, jun., as sole proprietor.


His political career began in March 1870 when, with Patrick "Paddy" Coglin, he was elected for the House of Assembly seat of West Adelaide. That parliament lasted little more than a year, and he did not stand; rather choosing to travel overseas on business. He was again elected by West Adelaide in 1876 and 1877. In 1878 he was returned for the district of Yatala, but retired in 1880, and did not re-enter Parliament till May 1885, when he won the seat of Stanley. In May, 1887, he was elected as a representative of the Northern District in the Legislative Council. For ten years he remained in the Upper House. In June, 1885, he accepted the portfolio of Commissioner of Public Works in Sir John Downer's Ministry, but he retired from Government in October of the same year.[1]

"He played a useful and an honorable part in the politics of the State, and he was remembered as a prudent, sagacious legislator. He held his opinions strongly, and was not swayed from his convictions by the desire for applause or popularity. ... He knew his mind, and did not waver, doing solid, conscientious work, supporting in particular the interests of the agriculturists, with whose requirements he made himself thoroughly conversant. His sound judgment and the wide knowledge he had gained of South Australia as a leading man of business, earned him the respect and confidence both of his legislative colleagues and the public. It has well been said that though he was not a frequent speaker in Parliament, his utterances' always carried weight. ... On Select Committees and Royal Commissions he did a great deal of quiet and unostentatious work, which has since benefited the country. The Commission on coal contracts and wharfingering, it may be mentioned, were appointed on his initiative."[1]

Social and religious[edit]

He took a leading part in establishing the Adelaide Oval.

He was a bulwark of the Caledonian Society and was their chief from 1892 to 1894.

Darling was a deacon of the Hindmarsh Square Congregational Church before joining the Flinders St Baptist Church in 1865, serving as Sunday school superintendent, and apart from the two years when he lived in Melbourne, or was overseas on business was an active member of the Baptist Church,[6] working as a lay preacher and serving on committees.[4] John helped found the City Mission Hall in Light Square, towards which he gave £500. His last attendance, the day before he died, was for the first service of the new pastor, Rev. James Mursell.[1] He left an estate worth £67,500.


He married Isabella, daughter of James Ferguson, on 31 December 1850. They had seven sons and one daughter:

  • John Darling, jun. (24 January 1852 – 27 March 1914) married Jessie Dowie, eldest daughter of father's friend Alexander Dowie on 14 October 1875. He inherited his father's business. (more below)
  • Robert Darling (died ca. 1933) of Geraldton, Western Australia then Fremantle, Western Australia, accountant and grain dealer. His company was bought out by Frank Green in 1907.[7] He appeared in court in 1911 accused of uttering a worthless cheque to a bookmaker.[8]
  • Charles Alfred Darling, manager of the firm's London house, became manager of the British New Guinea Development Company,[9] then retired to Tumby Bay, South Australia. A son, Fred B. Darling, was awarded the Military Cross in 1916.
  • George Darling (ca.1865 – 24 July 1936) of "Thurloo", Middle Brighton, Victoria
  • James Darling, married Bessie, fifth daughter of his father's friend Alexander Dowie, on 26 October 1882; moved to "Glenarona", Kilmore, Victoria
  • Frank Darling (died before May 1934), of "Oatlands", Moorooduc, Victoria
  • Joseph "Joe" Darling (21 November 1870 – 2 January 1946), the International cricketing captain
  • Isabella, married Henry Ernest Hall, of Williamstown, Victoria.[1]

James Darling (1854 – 1932), a nephew, was J. Darling & Son's agent in Kadina, South Australia.[10]

He died of sudden heart failure at the family home "Thurloo" on Kent Tce, Kent Town, perhaps the residence later known as "Darling House" at 64 Kent Tce. Kent Town (now 64 Kensington Rd, Norwood).[11]

John Darling jun.[edit]

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 24 January 1852, he emigrated at the age of four to Adelaide, South Australia, with his parents and brother. He was educated at the Pulteney Street School (later Pulteney Grammar School) and at the age of 14 started work in his father's business.[12]


In 1872 he was brought into partnership in his father's business, renamed J Darling and Son. His father retired in October 1897, leaving him in sole control. Under his control, the company purchased the Eclipse flour mills, Port Adelaide, and the goodwill of J. Dunn and Co. in ???. He founded a hay-compressing business in Gawler, near the railway station.

He was:

  • director of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. from 1892 and chairman of directors (1907–1914)[4]
  • on the local directorates of several insurance and mining companies with head offices in London
  • a director of the National Mutual Assuranee Society, Victoria
  • a director of Port Adelaide Dock Company
  • an active member of the Chamber of Commerce
  • an active mamber of the Shipowners' Association
  • an active member of the South Australian Employers' Union.[12]

Politics and social[edit]

He was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly representing East Torrens from 1896 to 1902, and Torrens from 1902 to 1905. He was intimately associated with the reconstrauction of the Ministry following iafter the retirement of the Hon. J. G. Jenkins, and when Mr. (later Sir) Richard Butler took office.

He was proud of his Scottish heritage; he was a chief of the Caledlonian Society.


He married Jessie Dowie (1852 – 23 November 1915), cousin of the evangelist John Alexander Dowie and aunt of the sculptor John Dowie (artist). They had six children: (3 boys and 3 girls) and lived at "Lynton", Kent Tce. Norwood.

  • Harold Gordon Darling ( – 26 January 1950) became head of John Darling and Son and chairman of BHP. (see below)
  • Leonard Darling lived in UK from 1911[13] and served in World War I. His son Leonard Gordon Darling (born 4 March 1921 in UK) served in World War II, reaching the rank of Captain, became a director of Broken Hill Proprietary in 1953 and chairman of John Darling Pty Ltd. in 1963.[14] He was a founding patron of the National Portrait Gallery.[15]
  • Norman Darling became director of John Darling Pty Ltd in 1953.
  • Florence, married F. W. Young, M.P. for Stanley, later Agent-General for South Australia
  • Gertie Darling
  • Grace Darling

He died in a Melbourne private hospital on 27 March 1914. He had been in that city a few days to chair a meeting of Broken Hill Proprietary, when he took ill.

Harold Gordon Darling[edit]

Harold Gordon Darling (9 June 1885 – 26 January 1950) was the eldest son of John Darling jun. Educated at Prince Alfred College, he entered the family business of John Darling and Son, grain merchants, in 1903. He is best known for his role as chairman of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd.


Positions he held for much of his working life include:

  • manager John Darling and Son after the death of his father in 1914.
  • board member of B.H.P. from 1914[4] and chairman from 1923 to 1950, during which time the company's issued capital rose from £3,000,000 to over £15,000,000. He collaborated closely with General Manager Essington Lewis, who became a close friend.[4]
  • member of the Australian Wheat Board during the 1914-1918 war
  • chairman of Australian Iron and Steel Ltd.
  • chairman of Stewarts and Lloyds (Australia) Pty. Ltd.
  • chairman of Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty. Ltd. from its foundation of 1936
  • chairman of Rylands Bros. (Australia) Pty. Ltd.
  • chairman of B.H.P. By-Products Pty.
  • chairman of Wellington Alluvials Ltd.
  • director of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd.
  • director of Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand,
  • director of Tubemakers (Aust.) Pty. Ltd.
  • director of B.H.P. Collieries Pty. Ltd.
  • founder of council member of the Institute of Public Affairs

Despite his influence and great business ability, Mr. Darling shunned publicity and rarely spoke in public. In 1929, when he gave £10,000 to found the Waite Soil Research Centre at Urrbrae, Adelaide,[16] he expressed regret that the gift had to be made public. He left a widow, a son John and two married daughters, Elizabeth and Joan.[17] Their home was "Warrawee" at Kooyong Road, Toorak, Victoria. He left a personal fortune of around £280,000.


Modern times[edit]

In 1962 John Darling and Son (Aust) Ltd. was acquired by Allied Mills, which was taken over by Fielder Gillespie Davis Limited in 1986.[18]


In 1884 the company had Murdoch and Murray, of Port Glasgow build the coastal steamer Jessie Darling[19] to carry grain from the ports of South Australia to Adelaide and Melbourne. An image of the ship may be seen here. The Jessie Darling was involved in a number of marine accidents; the most serious being a bizarre sequence of events on the morning of 21 April 1907. Around 2am the four-masted barque Norma, loaded with wheat, was lying at the Semaphore anchorage off Outer Harbor, awaiting a favourable wind, when it was struck by the steamer Ardencraig, inbound with merchandise from London. Both vessels sank, with one crew member drowned. Hours later, in broad daylight, the Jessie Darling, loaded with wheat from Smoky Bay, struck the wreck of the Norma and sank.[20] On 4 May the inbound steamer Port Chalmers ran into the submerged wrecks and suffered some damage. At the inquest, Capt. Thomas of the Ardencraig asserted that a sudden rain squall had obscured the Norma, and the crew backed his statement. The story was not believed, but couldn't be disproved; Thomas never again had such a responsible position. Years later a story emerged that the lights of the Norma actually had been seen but the Ardencraig could not be halted due to the topping maul (a mallet used for quick release of anchor chains etc.) being misplaced, and the anchors could not be dropped in time.[21]

The Jessie Darling was refloated in January 1908 repaired and put back in service in November. Meanwhile the Grace Darling had been purchased as her replacement went into service in March 1908.

The Templemore, a ship he chartered to carry wheat to Britain was wrecked in 1893.[22]

An infamous South Australian wreck was that of the SS Clan Ranald in Investigator Strait west of Troubridge Point in 1909, when 30 men were drowned. She was also carrying John Darling's wheat.[23]

In 1890 the Jessie Darling took part in a profitable salvage operation - from the wreck of the Glenrosa.[24] As the Coorabie with an oil engine, it was still doing useful work in 1940.[25]

Other ships owned by the company were the Palmerston and the Emu.[26] and the Avoca.[27]

See also[edit]

Other flour millers of South Australia of the period were:


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^ "JOHN DARLING FORMS COMPANY.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 10 June 1953. p. 9. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Like a Romance.". The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 27 May 1903. p. 5. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f
  5. ^ "SHIPPING NEWS.". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 4 May 1865. p. 2. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Pulling a Horse.". Geraldton Guardian and Express (WA : 1929 - 1947) (WA: National Library of Australia). 23 February 1932. p. 1. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "The WORLD of SPORT.". Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 13 August 1911. p. 15. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  9. ^ "Advertising.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 21 February 1910. p. 7. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "OBITUARY.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 15 March 1932. p. 10. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  11. ^ Family Notices South Austretalian Register
    The two-storey house was taken over by the Salvation Army in 1929 and was "Kent Town Boys' Home" until 1972. It later became headquarters of the S.A. AIDS Council.
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ "CONCERNING- PEOPLE.". The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 4 November 1912. p. 6. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Barnier, Cheryl Notable Australians Paul Hamlyn Pty, Australia 1978 ISBN 0-86832-012-9
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ "GIFT OF £10,000 TO THE UNIVERSITY.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 5 June 1929. p. 8. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  17. ^ "ACTIVE CAREER ENDS WITH DEATH OF B.H.P. CHIEF.". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 27 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  18. ^ Guide to Australian Business Records "Allied Mills Ltd (1949 - 1986)"
  19. ^ "The Advertiser Friday, November 14, 1884.". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 14 November 1884. p. 4. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  20. ^ "SHIPPING DISASTERS.". The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 22 April 1907. p. 5. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  21. ^ "MISLAID MALLET SENT BARQUE to her DOOM.". The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 12 March 1932. p. 2 Section: Magazine Section. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
    This article has more details, and photographs of the Ardencraig and Jessie Darling
  22. ^ "SPECIAL TELEGRAMS.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 1 May 1893. p. 6. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  23. ^ "WRECK OF THE CLAN RANALD.". Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 - 1954) (Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia). 2 February 1909. p. 4. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  24. ^ "FIFTY YEARS AGO.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 18 March 1940. p. 19. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  25. ^ "AUSTRALIA CALLING!.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 16 February 1940. p. 6. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  26. ^ "Mr William Butterworth". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 26 October 1945. p. 7. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  27. ^ "Much Used Steamer". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 23 May 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 1 December 2011.