John Darling and Son

John Darling and Son

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A John Darling & Son flour mill, Albion, Victoria.

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 (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, Jr., as sole proprietor. He died of sudden heart failure at the family home "Thurloo" on Kent Tce, Kent Town. Under John Darling, Jr., 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 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

Harold Gordon Darling (9 June 1885 – 26 January 1950) was the eldest son of John Darling, Jr. 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[6] 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.[6]
  • 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,[7] 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.[8] Their home was "Warrawee" at Kooyong Road, Toorak, Victoria. He left a personal fortune of around £280,000.


Modern times

In 1962 John Darling and Son (Aust) Ltd. was acquired by Allied Mills, which was taken over by Fielder Gillespie Davis Limited in 1986.[10]


In 1884 the company had Murdoch and Murray, of Port Glasgow build the coastal steamer Jessie Darling[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

In 1890 the Jessie Darling took part in a profitable salvage operation – from the wreck of the Glenrosa.[16] As the Coorabie with an oil engine, it was still doing useful work in 1940.[17]

Other ships owned by the company were the Palmerston and the Emu.[18] and the Avoca.[19]

See also

Other flour millers of South Australia of the period were:


  1. ^ "Death of Mr. John Darling, Sr". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 11 April 1905. p. 4. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "John Darling Forms Company". The Sydney Morning Herald. 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: National Library of Australia. 27 May 1903. p. 5. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Darling, John (1831-1905)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 1972. Retrieved 2018-04-23. 
  5. ^ "SHIPPING NEWS". The South Australian Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 4 May 1865. p. 2. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Darling, Harold Gordon (1885-1950)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 1981. Retrieved 2018-04-23. 
  7. ^ "GIFT OF £10,000 TO THE UNIVERSITY". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 5 June 1929. p. 8. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "ACTIVE CAREER ENDS WITH DEATH OF B.H.P. CHIEF." The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 27 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  9. ^[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Guide to Australian Business Records "Allied Mills Ltd (1949–1986)"
  11. ^ "The Advertiser Friday, November 14, 1884". The South Australian Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 14 November 1884. p. 4. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "SHIPPING DISASTERS". The Register. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 22 April 1907. p. 5. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  13. ^ "MISLAID MALLET SENT BARQUE to her DOOM". The Mail. Adelaide: 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
  14. ^ "SPECIAL TELEGRAMS". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 1 May 1893. p. 6. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "WRECK OF THE CLAN RANALD". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia. 2 February 1909. p. 4. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "FIFTY YEARS AGO". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 18 March 1940. p. 19. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  17. ^ "AUSTRALIA CALLING!". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 16 February 1940. p. 6. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  18. ^ "Mr William Butterworth". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 26 October 1945. p. 7. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "Much Used Steamer". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 23 May 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 

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