William Farr


William is the ninth British empiricist and the third demographer discussed by Richard Stone in his Raffaele Matteoli Foundation Lectures, though the National Portrait Gallery describes him as a statistician and epidemiologist. A couple of years after civil registration began in Britain (1837), he was appointed to the General Register Office and worked there on vital statistics until shortly before his death in 1883. He took charge of the 1851, 1861 and 1871 population censuses, wrote ‘an immense number of reports’, and in his inaugural address as president of the Statistical Society (in 1871) spoke at length about his friend Charles Babbage, designer of the Analytical Engine, perhaps the world’s first mechanical computer. When one considers William’s start in life…

He was born in a small Shropshire village to parents who were too poor to raise him. Fortune smiled when he was adopted at the age of two by Joseph PRYCE, ‘the benevolent and well-to-do squire of Dorrington’. It appears that William was largely self-taught and one has to wonder what spark kindled his interest in medicine. At the age of nineteen a chance meeting with Dr. WEBSTER a Shrewsbury physician, determined the future course of his life.

On the FamilySearch Shared Tree, William springs from nowhere, without parents, though his adoption by Joseph Pryce is noted. His second marriage is given but Richard Stone says he first married a Shropshire farmer’s daughter in 1833. ‘Miss Langford’ died four years later. FamilySearch has a source for the wedding in 1833 of William Farr and Mary LANGFORD in Westbury, a village ten miles from Dorrington,. The GRO has the death registration of 27-year-old Mary Farr in St Pancras in 1838.

The births of eight children to William and Mary Elizabeth WHITTALL are registered between 1842 and 1860. There is an extra child on the Shared Tree. ‘N. C. Farr’ appears in a census transcription and has been mistaken for firstborn Mary Catherine.

William was survived by five children but the Shared Tree dosen’t offer many descendants. The total absence of William’s forebears is more than made up by Mary Elizabeth’s pedigree. Within a few generations, the names of elite families begin to appear and the promise of a long journey into the past is fulfilled. I almost reached the beginning of the Common Era on my  first run. You may be able to go beyond the time of Christ.

I wonder if the poor Shropshire Lad was fully aware of his second wife’s distinguished heritage.

Beach 108 · Dog & Ball

Filey Sands in the rain

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