He was the second son of Mr WFA Delane, a barrister, of an old Irish family, who about 1832 was appointed by Mr Walter financial manager of The Times.
While still a boy he attracted Mr Walter's attention, and it was always intended that he should find work on the paper. He received a good general education at private schools and King's College London, and also at Magdalen Hall, Oxford; after taking his degree in 1840 he at once began work on the paper, though later he read for the bar, being called in 1847.
In 1841 he succeeded Thomas Barnes as editor, a post which he occupied for thirty-six years. He from the first obtained the best introductions into society and the chief political circles, and had a position there such as no journalist had previously enjoyed, using his opportunities with a sure intuition for the way in which events would move.
His staff included some of the most brilliant men of the day, (e.g. Eneas Sweetland Dallas), who worked together with a common ideal. The result to the paper, which in those days had hardly any real competitor in English journalism, was an excellence of information which gave it great power. Delane was a man of many interests and great judgment; capable of long application and concentrated attention, with power to seize always on the main point at issue, and rapidly master the essential facts in the most complicated affair.
His general policy was to keep the paper a national organ of opinion above party, but with a tendency to sympathize with the Liberal movements of the day. He admired Palmerston and respected Lord Aberdeen, and was of considerable use to both; and it was Lord Aberdeen himself who, in 1845, told him of the impending repeal of the Corn Laws, an incident round which many incorrect stories have gathered. The history, however, of the events during the thirteen administrations, between then and 1877, in which The Times, and therefore Delane, played an important part cannot here be recapitulated. In 1877 his health gave way, and he retired from the editorship; and on the 22nd of November 1879 he died at Ascot.
A biography by his nephew, Arthur Irwin Dasent, was published in 1908.