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Farr, George Henry (1819–1904)

by J. S. Dunkerley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

George Henry Farr (1819-1904), by unknown photographer, 1881

George Henry Farr (1819-1904), by unknown photographer, 1881

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 25668

George Henry Farr (1819-1904), Anglican clergyman and schoolmaster, was born on 2 July 1819 at Tottenham, Middlesex, England, son of George Farr (d.1826), linen merchant and descendant of a notable legal family, and his wife Eleanora, née Goodall. Sponsored by his guardian and friend, (Sir) John Patteson (1790-1861), he entered Christ's Hospital where he won the gold medal for mathematics and became senior Grecian. At 19 after severe illness he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A., 1843; M.A., 1854). In 1843 he enrolled at the Middle Temple but left after his mother died. He was made deacon at Ely for Exeter and priest in 1845. He served at St Wenn in 1844-46, Treleigh in 1846-48, St Buryan in 1848-53, Stapleton in 1853-54 and as inspector of schools for Exeter in 1844-54. In 1846 at Woolwich he had married Julia Warren, daughter of Major Robert Hutchinson Ord and his wife Elizabeth, née Blagrave.

Dissatisfied by the state of the Church of England he had written in August 1845 to Julia about 'the principles of the Anglo-Catholic Church … We have laws but no one to enforce them. And it is this consideration which has made me hesitate to consider England as my home'. Perhaps for this reason and his wife's health Farr applied for the headmastership of the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide. Chosen from twenty-eight candidates, he sailed for South Australia with his wife, daughter and stepsister in the Daylesford and arrived in July 1854.

The first headmaster of St Peter's, Rev. Theodore Percival Wilson (1819-1881), also of Cambridge (M.A., 1847), was addicted to writing pious books for boys and had given the school no definitive character before he returned to England. In contrast Farr's qualifications were athletic as well as academic: at Cambridge he had stroked a college eight and earned pocket money by reporting prize fights for the press. His legal training tempered his religious thinking; he judged character 'not only by the scrapes boys get into but by the way they get out of them', and reputedly overlooked 'almost any fault in a boy except untruthfulness'. He was generally popular with his staff and pupils, blending firmness, sympathy and humour in just proportions and encouraged support for the new Melanesian mission under the son of Sir John Patteson. When in 1864 he talked of resigning over matters of discipline, a deputation of old boys persuaded him to change his mind. With his intellect, convictions and unpretentious manner he was an effective collaborator in Bishop Augustus Short's plans for the school and among the colonists. He gave evidence at committees of inquiry into educational issues in 1861, 1868-69 and 1882, and specially opposed state interference in private schools. His wife proved a devoted and tactful helper, first in supervising the school's dairy and poultry and from 1872 the boarding house. In 1860 she helped to found a home for orphan girls, later known as Farr House. When Farr retired in 1879 the school was said to be the pre-eminent educational institution in South Australia and worthy of comparison with any school in England.

Farr served as priest at Semaphore in 1879-83; Mitcham in 1883-84 and St Luke's, Adelaide, in 1884-96. As archdeacon he made many visitations to the vast western and south-eastern regions of the colony. In 1857-96 he was a canon of St Peter's Cathedral. In the University of Adelaide he was warden of the senate in 1880-82 and vice-chancellor in 1887-93. He was also chairman of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery in 1869-86. In 1883 he had visited England and his thesis on the development of the law of real property won him a doctorate of laws at Cambridge. He died in Adelaide on 7 February 1904 and was buried in North Road cemetery. His wife died aged 88 on 21 April 1914. Of their three sons and four daughters, Eleonora Elizabeth married Edwin Blackmore, Mary married Rev. William Sharp and Clinton Coleridge (1866-1943) was a distinguished physicist.

Select Bibliography

  • M. E. P. Sharp et al, Early Days at St. Peter's College, Adelaide, 1854-1878 (Adel, 1936)
  • G. H. Jose, The Church of England in South Australia, vols 1-2 (Adel, 1937, 1954)
  • A. G. Price, The Collegiate School of St. Peter, 1847-1947 (Adel, 1947), Vestry minutes (St Andrew's Church, Walkerville, South Australia)
  • Farr papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Watson papers (Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney).

Citation details

J. S. Dunkerley, 'Farr, George Henry (1819–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/farr-george-henry-3500/text5377, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

George Henry Farr (1819-1904), by unknown photographer, 1881

George Henry Farr (1819-1904), by unknown photographer, 1881

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 25668