FARR, William, 1807-1883, Statistician

Scope and Content

This collection consists of letters received by Farr, manuscript and printed works, extracts from Registrar General's reports, biographical and bibliographical material, press cuttings, and some personal material. There is also a microfilm of correspondence and papers relating to the Farr family, including notebook of Farr's handwritten biography, correspondence relating to the service and death of Frederick Farr in the American civil war and a collection of diplomas.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Farr, 1807-1883, was born in Kenley, Shropshire. At the age of two, he was effectively adopted by a local squire, Joseph Pryce, who paid for Farr's education. From 1826 to 1828, Farr worked as a dresser in the infirmary at Shrewsbury and studied medicine with a doctor there. On Pryce's death in 1828, Farr received a legacy that enabled him to pursue his studies in Paris and Switzerland. In 1831, Farr returned to Shrewsbury to work as an unqualified locum before studying at University College London, becoming a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. In 1833, he established an apothecary's practice in Bloomsbury, London, and proceeded to publish a number of articles in The Lancet on such topics as hygiene, quack medicine, life assurance and cholera. Farr had first demonstrated an interest in medical statistics during his studies abroad, and in 1832 he published his "Vital Statistics" in Macculloch's Account of the British Empire , thus starting a new interest in statistics. From 1838 to 1879, he worked in the Registrar General's Office compiling abstracts. In 1855, he served on the Committee for Scientific Enquiry into the cholera epidemic of 1854, and produced statistical evidence that cholera was spread by polluted water, though he and his colleagues continued to adhere to the theory that epidemic disease was spread by miasma. Farr also served as commissioner for the 1871 census. He retired from public service in 1879.


This collection has been bound into 14 volumes:
Volume I - Letters, mainly to William Farr.
Volumes II and III - Manuscript works by William Farr.
Volume IV - Miscellaneous printed works by William Farr.
Volumes V and VI - Extracts from the Registrar General's reports on cholera in England 1849-1866.
Volumes VII and VIII - Printed works by William Farr, mainly government publications.
Volumes XI and X - Biographical and bibliographical material concerning William Farr.
Volume XI - Newscuttings.
Volumes XII and XIV - Miscellaneous.

Access Information


Other Finding Aids

Printed handlist and online catalogue available. The printed handlist also contains an index of names.

Archivist's Note

Output from CAIRS using template 14 and checked by hand on February 1, 2002

Separated Material

British Library, Manuscript Collections, holds correspondence of Farr with Florence Nightingale, 1857-1877 (Ref: Add MSS 43398-400) and with Charles Babbage, 1852-1872 (Ref: Add MSS 37195-9). The Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine holds letters (128) from Florence Nightingale, 1858-1875 (Ref: MS 5474).

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