Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Farrer, Thomas Henry

FARRER, SIR THOMAS HENRY, bart., first Baron Farrer (1819–1899), civil servant, was the eldest son of Thomas Farrer (1788–1833), solicitor, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, by Cecilia, third daughter of Richard Willis of Halsnead, Lancashire. Farrer was born in Bedford Place, Russell Square, on 24 June 1819. He was educated at Eton, where he made a close friendship with Stafford Northcote (afterwards Lord Iddesleigh) (Lang, Life of Lord Iddesleigh, i. 17). He matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on 16 June 1836, and graduated B.A. in 1840. Entering Lincoln's Inn as a student on 6 June 1839, he read as a pupil in the chambers of Roundell Palmer (afterwards Lord Selborne), and was called to the bar on 22 Nov. 1844. In 1848 he ceased to practise and found employment at the board of trade, where Sir Stafford Northcote was assistant secretary, in drafting bills dealing with the mercantile marine. This temporary work led to his permanent employment in the civil service, and he was granted the appointment of assistant secretary to the marine department of the board of trade in 1850. In this branch of the civil service he spent his life; he became assistant secretary in 1854 and was permanent secretary of the board from 1865 until 1886. During his occupation of this office he exercised considerable influence on the development and character of English commercial legislation. In the alteration of the law affecting the mercantile marine he from the first took the greatest interest, and as early as 1854 published in conjunction with (Sir) Henry Thring (afterwards Baron Thring) a memorandum on the Merchant Shipping Law Consolidation Bill, explaining alterations in the law occasioned by the new act; he performed a similar service with regard to the Merchant Shipping Code of 1870. As a permanent official in the department most affected, his advice was sought and followed in the framing of the Bankruptcy Act, 1883, the legislation affecting increased regulation of railways, and the acts of parliament dealing with electric lighting. Indeed, so effectual was the exercise of his unseen and quiet influence that in the period between 1872 and 1886 almost all the reforms of and additions to our system of commercial law were only brought about with the concurrence of the secretary of the board of trade. In 1883 he was created a baronet in recognition of his services.

Though dogmatic in his views, and of a controversial temperament in economic matters, especially distrustful of the extension of state interference, and a free trader of unyielding temper, he yet maintained cordial relations with successive ministers, and as head of a department he was popular and successful because of the confidence with which he treated his subordinates.

On vacating his office he was able without further restraint to employ his energies to the full in combating unorthodox economic theories, and in exposing what he regarded as financial heresy. Bounties under any circumstances, in his view, constituted a vicious economic anachronism, and his straightforward letter in the 'Times' on the sugar convention, reprinted in pamphlet form in 1889, had considerable effect in influencing public opinion. He attacked Mr. Goschen's finance (1887–90) in a series of articles in the 'Contemporary Review,' which were reprinted in 1891. Subsidising local bodies from imperial funds, the reduction of the sinking fund, and the increased expenditure on army and navy were features in this financial policy on which he dwelt with great severity. Effective use of this criticism was made in the general election of 1892. Towards bimetallism he maintained almost as hostile a front as towards fair trade, and took a leading part in founding the Gold Standard Defence Association in 1895. His 'Studies in Currency,' a collection of essays, were published in 1898. In February 1899 he was appointed president of the Cobden Club, of which he had long been an active member.

He was a member of the London County Council from 1889 to 1898, and for several years acted as vice-chairman. While holding this position he did not hesitate to expose the conduct of the council in paying a higher than the market rate for labour, and published in 1892 a memorandum entitled 'The London County Council's Labour Bill, Market Rate or Fancy Rate.'

On 22 June 1893 he was created a peer with the title of Lord Farrer of Abinger. He died at Abinger Hall, near Dorking, on 12 Oct. 1899, and his body was cremated at Brookwood cemetery on 15 Oct. He married first, on 10 Jan. 1854, Frances, daughter of William Erskine of the Indian civil service ; she died 15 May 1870, leaving three sons and one daughter. He married, secondly, on 30 May 1873, Katherine Euphemia, daughter of Hensleigh Wedgwood [q. v.]

There is a portrait of Farrer in oils by Frank Holl, R.A., in the possession of his son, the present Lord Farrer.

Besides the pamphlets mentioned above, Farrer wrote:

  1. 'Free Trade versus Fair Trade' (Cobden Club publication), 1882; 3rd edit. 1886.
  2. 'The State in its Relation to Trade,' 1883.
  3. ' Retaliation and Commercial Federation' (Cobden Club), 1892.
  4. The Preface to 'Reminiscences of Richard Cobden,' 1895.
  5. 'Studies in Currency, 1898, or Inquiries into certain Modern Problems connected with the Standard of Value and the Media of Exchange,' 1898.
  6. 'What is a Bounty?' 1899.

[Times, 13 Oct. 1899 ; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, viii. 210 ; private information.]

W. C.-r.