One of my husband’s 3rd great-grandfathers was a compositor and printer named John Narroway Darby.

John Darby was born in 1823 in Exeter, Devon, son of a joiner and carpenter named Joseph Darby (abt 1780 – 1865) and his wife Sarah Darby née Narroway [sometimes spelled Narraway]. Joseph and Sarah were married in 1807. They had at least six children of whom John, baptised on 3 March 1823 at Saint Mary Major, Exeter, was the third.

At the time of the English census of 1841, John, then a printer’s apprentice, was living in Exeter with his parents and three siblings.

In July 1842 following the publication of banns, John married Matilda Priscilla Moggridge (1825 – 1868) at St Mary Arches, Exeter. The consent of Matilda’s parents had been given.

Five months later Matilda and John emigrated on the Westminster to New Zealand. The Westminster was the first planned emigrant ship from England to Auckland. It sailed from Plymouth on 4 December 1842 and arrived 31 March 1843.

On a February 1844 list of all men within the District and Town of Auckland in the Colony of New Zealand and liable to serve on juries, there is a John N. Derby, compositor, living in Queen Street, Auckland.

Auckland Queen St 1843

Queen Street Auckland in 1843 from page 53 of The Project Gutenberg EBook of The City of Auckland, by John Barr, first published 1922 and retrieved from

In April 1844 John Darby wrote to the editor of the Auckland Chronicle with his views on the future of the Government Printing Office.

Darby John 1844 letter

Auckland Chronicle and New Zealand Colonist, Volume 2, Issue 37, 18 April 1844, Page 2

In December 1844 John Narroway Darby was in court over a forged promissory note, and in March 1845 he was indicted for issuing a shilling forged debenture. He was acquitted by the jury.

On 12 April 1845 Darby, with his wife and two children, left Auckland on the Sir John Franklin for Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania]. The Hobart Courier described the voyage as “a tedious passage of twenty five days.” The schooner carried 33 passengers, including 26 children, with a cargo of 12,000 feet of New Zealand timber and 12 parcels of printing apparatus. The ship brought news of the Maori Wars. The Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review stated that the schooner was “laden with families flying from the Maories”

Matilda Frances Darby, the younger child of John Narroway Darby and Matilda Darby, was baptised in Hobart on 30 November 1845. She had been born on 14 March 1845.

Darby baptism 1845 RGD32-1-3-P588

from Tasmanian Lincs database Name: Darby, Matilda Frances Record Type: Births Gender: Female Father: Darby, John Harroway Mother: Matilda, Elizabeth Date of birth: 14 Mar 1845 Registered: Hobart Registration year: 1845 Record ID: NAME_INDEXES:1089444 Resource: RGD32/1/3/ no 2603

Apart from a mention on the shipping record, I have found very little about the other child of John and Matilda Darby. He, or she, appears to have been born in New Zealand about 1844 and seems to have died in Australia before 1855.

Sometime before 1850 John and Matilda Darby separated. In 1850 Matilda had a child, Margaret Hughes, born at Ashby near Geelong, Victoria. The father’s name was David Hughes. Margaret died in 1858. Ten years later, on 4 May 1868, Matilda Darby, claiming to be a spinster, married David Hughes. She died one month later, on 5 June.

It seems to me likely that Matilda Darby, knowing a formal union with David Hughes would be bigamous, refused to marry him until she had news that her first husband John Darby was dead. It is also possible that Matilda Darby, very ill, with not long to live, sought to regularise her relationship with Hughes as best she could. They had lived together for nineteen years; a form of marriage was possibly a kind of consolation
for them both.

John Darby appears to have been less concerned than his wife Matilda about committing the crime of bigamy. When on 21 July 1855 in Portland, Victoria, he went through the form of marriage with a woman called Catherine Murphy he claimed he was a widower, the father of two children, one living and one dead.

Darby Murphy Portland marriage

Name John Darby Spouse Name Catherine Murphy Registration Place Victoria Registration Year 1855 Registration Number 2765

In August 1855 John Darby of the Portland Guardian advertised for a printer’s apprentice.

In 1856 John Darby was listed on the electoral roll in Portland, living at Gawler Street, printer, entitled to vote as receiving a salary of £100 from T.E. Richardson.

I have found no further mentions of John Darby or  Catherine in Australian birth, death or marriage indexes, nor in other records.

In the Tumut and Adelong Times of 22 October 1866 a John Darby is recorded as having successfully sued the printer of the Braidwood News for £6 3s. wages. It is possible that this is our John Darby but I have found no further records of John or Catherine Darby in New South Wales.

DNA evidence links Greg and his cousins to Matilda Frances Sullivan née Darby but as yet no further back on the Darby line.

Related posts


  • FindMyPast  
    • Record set Devon Baptisms  First name(s) John Narroway  Last name Derby Birth year 1823  Baptism year 1823 Denomination Anglican  County Devon Baptism place Exeter, St Mary Major  Mother’s first name(s) Sarah Father’s first name(s) Joseph
    • Matilda  Last name Mogridge  Banns year 1842 Banns date 03 Jul 1842  Parish Exeter, St Mary Arches Spouse’s first name John  Spouse’s last name Darby Residence Exeter St Mary Steps Spouse’s residence Exeter St Mary Steps  Denomination Anglican County Devon Country England Archive reference 332A/PR/1/13 Archive South West Heritage Trust  Record set Devon Banns Category Life Events (BDMs)
    • English 1841 census Class: HO107; Piece: 267; Book: 4; Civil Parish: St Mary Major; County: Devon; Enumeration District: 14; Folio: 25; Page: 45; Line: 23; GSU roll: 241331
    • Jury Lists: Auckland 1842-1853
    • Tasmania, Australia, Passenger Arrivals, 1829-1957 Reports of ships arrivals with lists of passengers; Film Number: SLTX/AO/MB/3; Series Number: MB2/39/1/8
    • 1856 electoral roll for Portland, Victoria, Australia
  • Whyte, Carol. “Passenger List of Westminster, Cork, 4 December 1842 to Auckland.” New ZealandGenWeb Project, Carol Whyte, 2014,
  • PapersPast – an online collection of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals
  • Trove – online Australian digital reproductions of newspapers, journals, books, maps, personal papers, as well as archived websites and other born-digital content compiled by the National Library of Australia
  • from Tasmanian Lincs database   Name:  Darby, Matilda Frances  Record Type: Births Gender:  Female Father: Darby, John Harroway  Mother: Matilda, Elizabeth Date of birth:  14 Mar 1845 Registered: Hobart Registration year:  1845 Record ID: NAME_INDEXES:1089444 Resource: RGD32/1/3/ no 2603
  • Victorian births, deaths and marriages
      • Name Margaret Hughes Birth Date Abt 1850 Birth Place Ashby, Victoria Registration Year 1850 Registration Place Victoria, Australia Father David Hughes Mother Matilda Registration Number 22395
      • Name Matilda Priscilla Craddock Spouse Name David Hughes Marriage Place Victoria Registration Place Victoria Registration Year 1868 Registration Number 1485
      • Name Matilda Hughes Birth Year abt 1825 Age 43 Death Place Victoria Father’s Name Mogridge John Registration Year 1868 Registration Place Victoria Registration Number 3957
      • Name John Darby Spouse Name Catherine Murphy Marriage Place Victoria Registration Place Victoria Registration Year 1855 Registration Number 2765