Papers and correspondence of Henry George Farmer, 1882-1965, musician and orientalist

Scope and Content

The manuscript collection includes diaries, drafts of books and articles, and correspondence with contemporary composers and music critics such as Learmont Drysdale, Hamish MacCunn and Ernest Newman. The subjects covered include military and oriental (especially Arabic) music and musical instruments, Scottish music, concerts and variety theatre in Glasgow, socialism and trade unions, and the Paris Commune. Farmer's considerable personal library was donated to the University along with his papers. Consisting largely of modern books - including those which Farmer wrote himself - this collection includes volumes of Oriental works, music, and works on the Royal Artillery, as well as general literature.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry George Farmer was born in 1882  in Birr Barracks, Crinkle, Ireland, when his father was serving with the Leinster regiment. His musical abilities showed early in his life when lessons on the piano, violin and clarinet lead to performances in local concerts with his sister. In 1895  he visited London with his father, attending a concert by the Royal Artillery Band at the Royal Albert Hall. The band boasted a full symphony orchestra and, fired with enthusiasm, the following year Farmer became 'Boy Farmer' as a clarinettist and violinist.

His formal education ended at the turn of the century with the death of his tutor and his father but he was destined for a lifetime of study. He had published his first monograph based on the Royal Artillery Band by 1904 . He was soon regarded as an authority on military music and bands. Frustrated with playing second violin in the Artillery orchestra, he took horn lessons privately and by 1902  was principal horn. He played with other local orchestras and began his career as a conductor.

He also developed many other interests, setting up the Woolwich Branch, London, of the National Secular Society in 1906 . Farmer had a strong religious faith and had originally intended to enter the clergy. He was victimised within the Band for his religious beliefs, making it impossible to fulfil concert engagement for the National Sunday League. He left the Artillery Band in 1911  due to a inguinal hernia, but it was possibly this victimisation that was the real driving force.

Soon after leaving the Army, Farmer became musical director at one of Moss' Empire theatres, the Broadway, New Cross, London. Whilst here, his interest in oriental music developed, manifesting itself in incidental music that he wrote for pantomimes and plays. He began to study oriental and Arabic music. He enrolled at the University of Glasgow as an external student where he studied Arabic for several sessions, but in 1921  he matriculated as an Arts student and graduated with his first degree in 1924 . He published articles on Arabic and Scottish music.

He became involved with the Musicians' Union in 1917  as a committee member and then president of the Glasgow Branch, making the executive committee in 1928 . In 1918  he founded the Scottish Musicians' Home and Orphanage Fund and although it did not prove possible to raise sufficient funds to establish the planned home, the charity itself continued with its support to players requiring financial assistance after illness or other difficulties.

In 1919 , he set up the Glasgow Symphony Orchestra whose main function was to provide Sunday concerts in the Glasgow parks. The orchestra remained in existence until 1943 playing many modern works of composers Farmer vigorously supported. Oriental music and Scottish music also appeared in the orchestra's programmes and he was a prime mover in the foundation of the Scottish Music Society in 1936 that aimed to encourage awareness of the works of a number of early Scottish composers.

In 1929 he took up editorship of the Musician's Union's quarterly Musicians' Journal, and during his time in this post which he held until 1933 he penned many of the contributions himself under various pseudonyms: Gerald Barry, Abe Beeseer, Stan Brunton, Padraig Krinkill, Montague E'Strange, Haydn O'Donnell and Evan Williams.

He continued to work in Moss' Empire theatre at the same time as undertaking his own research and travelling. He lectured to learned societies and worked on his great work A History of Arabian Musical Instruments. He visited the Congress of Arabian Music in Egypt in 1932  as the only British representative, compiling two scrapbooks relating to the event. He continued to publish articles concerning Arabian and Scottish music, and returned to writing about military music in the late 1940s. The 1950s saw him contribute over 200 articles to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and over 60 to the Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart and also wrote for the Encyclopaedia of Islam in the 1930s.

He was awarded a DLitt from Glasgow University in 1941 and an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University in 1949. He was also appointed a governor or the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in 1950, a position he held until 1962. He was involved in the cataloguing of Scottish music at the Glasgow University Library, in particular the Euing Collection/ He was appointed Music Librarian in 1951, retiring in September 1965, his death occurring only a few months later in December 1965 .

Source: Carl Cowl and Shelia M Craik, Henry George farmer: a bibliography (Glasgow, 1999)


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

private records deposited by the owners


Acquisition Information

Gift : Henry George Farmer : April 1967 : ACCN 4638

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished typescript catalogue available in the searchroom

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at

For details of printed books from this collection see Glasgow University Library Catalogue

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Compiled by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 6 March 2002

No alterations made to date

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Head of Special Collections

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History

Held by Henry George Farmer


None expected

Related Material

No related material


Sheila M. Craik, 'Tunic-tinsel-toga: an exhibition to mark the centenary of Henry George Farmer, 1882-1965', College Courant (Glasgow), no. 70 (March 1983), pp 24-27

Geographical Names