Dr. Arthur Farre, F.R.S.

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Dr. Arthur Farre, F.R.S.

Birthplace: Charterhouse Square, London, UK
Death: Died in London, Greater London, UK
Immediate Family:

Son of John Richard Farre and Ann Elizabeth Farre
Husband of Janet "Jesse" Bethune Farre
Brother of Henry William Richard Farre; Elizabeth Mary Johanna Farre; Frederic John Farre; Edmund Farre; Alfred Farre and 2 others
Half brother of Martha Frances Hornidge; Richard John Farre; Albert Johannes Clarke Farre; Joanna Farre and John Pinder Farre

Managed by: John Sparkman
Last Updated:

About Dr. Arthur Farre, F.R.S.


Compiled and researched by:- Edna Clare Sparkman, East London, South Africa. 18 May 1985

ARTHUR FARRE was born at 11.30 in the forenoon of the 6th March, 1811 at Charterhouse Square, London and was christened by the Reverend Doctor Shackleford at Saint Sepulchre's Church during June of the same year. .

Like his brother, Frederic John Farre, he was educated at Charterhouse School and chose the medical profession after he had completed his schooling. He studied medicine at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, London and at Cambridge University - Caius College - where he graduated Bachelor of Medicine in 1833, having passed first in the Medical Tripos. During his time at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital he was appointed Prosecutor under the celebrated Mr. Abernethy, for whose Lectures on Physiology he prepared the subjects during the last year of that gentleman's lectures there.

The District Archivist of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital advised on the 19th January, 1981 that he was appointed lecturer on Comparative Anatomy in 1835 in succession to the celebrated Sir Richard (then Professor) Owen, holding the post until 1839, and Lecturer on Forensic Medicine in 1838, which post he held for three years.

He became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1838 and was elected a Fellow in 1843. During this period of his life he graduated Doctor of Medicine at Cambridge University in 1841. At this time he succeeded Dr. Robert Fergusson as Professor of Obstetric Medicine at King's College and also became Physician-Accoucheur of King's College Hospital until 1862 before being appointed Consulting Physician to that Hospital in 1863.

In the Royal College of Physicians he held the offices of Censor in 1861, 1862 and 1865; Examiner in 1861, 1863 and 1864; a Councillor in 1851, 1858 and 1859 and was Harverian Orator for the year of 1872. He was also Senior Examiner in Midwifery in the Royal College of Surgeonsfrom 1852 to 1878. With his colleagues, Doctors Priestley and Barnes, he resigned from the latter Institution when it sought to throw the College Examinations in Midwifery open to persons not otherwise qualified in medicine or surgery. This step was decisive against the scheme; for no suitable successors were willing to take office.

On the 8th May, 1844 he married Janet (commonly called Jessie) Bethune Macdonald who was born on the 20th November, 1811 in Nairne, the elder daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert and Catherine Macdonald C.B., Knight of the Order of Saint Anne of Russia. Her father, who was a member of the Royal Scots Regiment of Foot, saw much service in the Peninsular War, where, leading a storming party at the assault on San Sebastian, the position was captured. He was severely wounded at the close of the day on the battlefield at Waterloo, His wife was the only daughter of Alexander Straith, M.D. of the 91st Regiment, who was later appointed to the Staff of the Duke of Kent at Gibraltar. Mrs. Macdonald (nee Straith) died at Florence on Good Friday 1874. In addition to Janet Bethune Macdonald, she had a daughter Catherine Anne Straith Macdonald, who was born in Glasgow on the 24th October, 1822.

By virtue of a microscopical paper entitled "On the Minute Structure of some of the Higher Forms of Polypi" published in the Royal Society Transactions in 1837, he secured his election in 1839 as a Fellow of the Society, which was founded in 1660 to encourage scientific research. Subsequently he was elected to the Council for two years, being appointed Referee for papers sent in for publication the Transactions.

In 1851 and 1852 he held the office of President of the Royal MIicroscopical Society, in honour of his having assisted in its foundation. He became the first Honorary Secretary and served on the Council on several occasions. Ultimately, through influence with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) he procured for the Society, its Royal Charter.

At a subsequent period in his career he was elected Honary President of the Obstetrical Society of London and in 1873 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Medical Society. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. For his distinguished scientific service he was elected a member of the Athenaeum Club and also of the Soiciety Club and the Philosophical Club.

Arthur Farre was also a Deputy-Lieutenant for Merionethshire and was a Dorector of the Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society. He was specially qualified to be a successful fashionable obstetrician, and, in this capacity, he attended members of the Royal Family.

His first appearance at Court was his presentation on the 12th May, 1855, from which date he was a punctual attendant at (usually) the first Levee yearly. His first employment at Court was at the instance of Dr. Jenner, a Physician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria, when he brought Farre to attend Princess Alice of England (Princess Ernest of Hesse) on the 5th April, 1862 for the birth of her first child in 1863. After the birth of the baby, Queen Victoria wrote as follows in her Journal:-

"Dr. Farre, who I like very much, he is so calm and clever, remained with Alice".

In July 1863 he attended the Princess of Leiningen at Osborne, Isle of Wight. On the 13th January, 1864 Arthur was gazetted Physician-Accoucheur to the Princess of Wales (Princess Alexandra), whom he attended at the birth of each of her six children. On the 3rd March, 1864 the Prince of Wales, (Prince Albert Edward, later King Edward VII) requested Dr. Farre to consult with the Princess at Marlborough House.

In 1873 he was invited to a garden party given at Chiswick (one of the finest of the smaller aristocratic mansions in London, built in 1729 by the third Earl of Burlington, patron of architects) by the Prince of Wales in honour of the Shah of Persia, who was visiting England at that time. Similar invitations were renewed in subsequent years - in some instances to meet the Queen.

On the 26th April, 1873, his wife, Janet Bethune Farre (nee Macdonald) died and this was a most severe dislocation of domestic ties and evoked general sympathy for Dr. Arthur Farre; about one thousand friends and patients calling at his residence on this occasion.

The following letters will show how great was the esteem in which he was held by members of the Royal Family:-

_____________________________________________________________________________ Frogmore,


April 29/73.

Dear Dr. Farre,

I have only to day heard of the great loss you have sustained and I feel I cannot do otherwise than write these few lines to assure you how deeply both the Prince and I feel for you, and how sincere is our sympathy. You have always been so kind to me, alike in joys and sorrows, that I feel all the more for you the bitter sorrow that has fallen on you.

Begging you will excuse my having disturbed you with these lines at such a moment and with renewed expressions of sympathy.

Believe me,

Yours truly, Helena,

Princess Christian.



King' s Lynn,

May 2,1873.

My dear Dr. Farre,

I know well how painful all letters of condolence must necessarily be, but I cannot refrain from sending a few words to express my warmest and most heartfelt sympathy with you in the terrible loss which you have recently sustained. I feel that all the brightness o f your life must indeed have been taken out of it, for I know well what a happy one it has been hitherto.

May God support you in your great sorrow! If the Prince had been here now, I am sure he would have joined with me in every kind expression of sympathy, and believe me, dear Dr. Farre.

Yours sincerely,



Frogmore, May 5/73.

Dear Dr. Farre,

It is today in the Queen's name that I send you these few lines to express her deep and sincere sympathy in your terrible loss. She heard of it with the truest sorrow. You know how she ever feels with those who, like herself, have lost what is dearest to them on earth.

It was so kind of you to write to me. Indeed most earnestly do I pray God to support and comfort you in this hour of bitter sorrow.

Most truly your,


Princess Christian


On the 16th October, 1874 Queen Victoria commented in her journal that "Dr. Farre had been most indefatigable and very clever". This remark relates to his attendance at the birth in Buckingham Palace of the eldest son of Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales who married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Dr. Farre had earlier been appointed as her Physician Accoucheur.

On the 7th December, 1874 Mr. Bambridge (probably Private Secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh) forwarded the following letter to Dr. Farre, together with the Medallion referred to therein:-

____________________________________________________________________________ Clarence House,

St. James's, S.W.,

Dec. 7, 1874.

Mr. Bambridge respectfully forwards by the Duke of Edinburgh' s command the accompanying Medallion of Their Royal & Imperial Highnesses, of which his Highness desires Dr. A. Farre's acceptance. Farre, M.D., F.R.S.


In August 1875 Arthur Farre was appointed a Physician Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in addition to his appointment as Physician Accoucheur to the Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Edinburgh (Grand Duchess Marie of Russia), the Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (Princess Helena of Great Britain), and Princess of Leiningen, and attended at Windsor Castle, in 1863, in her first confinement, the Princess Alice (of England), and Princess Louise of Hesse Darmstadt. Also Her Royal and Imperial Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh (Grand Duchess Marie of Russia), in her first confinement, on the 15th October, 1874, in Buckingham Palace, and on the 29th October, 1875, at Eastwell Park, near Ashford, Kent. He also attended the Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (Princess Helena of Great Britain and Ireland), in her first confinement on the 14th April, 1867 at Windsor Castle, and in her second confinement on the 26th February, 1869 at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Park. Also the Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge (Duchess of Teck) in all her confinements at Kensington Palace on the 26th May, 1867, the 13th August, 1868, the 9th January, 1870 and the 14th April, 1874. Also the Princess of Leiningen in her first confinement in July, 1863 at Osborne, Isle of Wight and was presented by the Queen with a set of four silver fruit dishes for his services on that (which proved a very anxious) occasion.

At the time of writing the fruit dishes are now in the possession of Richard Frederic Farre - presently of Newcastle, Natal, South Africa - a great, great, great nephew of Dr. Arthur Farre.

On the death of Sir C. Locock in 1875 Dr. Arthur Farre was elected Honorary President of the Obstetrical Society of London and gave a valuable collection of pelves and gynaecological casts to the Society.

In June 1876 Dr. Farre, while leaning out of a window in an upstairs room of his house to locate the source of a street noise which had disturbed him, had the misfortune to fall into the area below. He sustained a compound dislocation of the right ankle, which permanently disabled him and he was obliged to retire from practice. After he had recovered from his accident he was invited to the Queen's Ball in 1876 and in 1882 again attended parties.

The Deputy Registrar of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle wrote as follows on the 6th April 1983,:-

_____________________________________________________________________________ ROYAL ARCHIVES,



6th April, 1983

Thank you for your letter of 20th April which has been forwarded by the Private Secretary's Office at Buckingham Palace.

Dr. Arthur Farre who was a prominent London accoucheur, was brought by Dr. Jenner, a Physician in Ordinary to the Queen, to attend the Queen's second daughter, Princess Alice (Princess Ernest of Hesse) at the birth of her first child in 1863. The Queen wrote in her journal, after the birth of the baby, "Dr Farre whom I like very much, he is so calm and clever, remained with Alice”. He was subsequently appointed Physician Accoucheur to the Princess of Wales and attended her for the birth of all her children.

In the case of the eldest, Prince Albert Victor, born at Frogmore Dr Farre did not arrive until after the birth as the child was premature and the doctor was held up in coming to Windsor by train by an accident on the line. He saw the Queen later, who wrote that she “had some conversation with Dr. Farre, whom I like extremely”.

He also attended the Queen's third daughter, Princess Helena (Princess Christian) for the birth of her first child, Prince Christian Victor. When the Queen's second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Dr. Farre was appointed her Physician Accoucheur and was in attendance at the birth of her first child at Buckingham Palace. On this occasion the Queen commented in her journal on 16th October 1874 “Dr. Farre had been most indefatigable and very clever”.

In June 1876, Sir James Paget wrote to inform the Prince of, Wales of a serious accident to Dr. Farre, who on leaning out of an upstairs room at his house to locate a noise which had disturbed him, fell out into the area below. Among other injuries he broke an ankle and was very ill for sometime after.

The letter of which you enclose an extract must have been written after the Prince and Princess had returned to their London home, following the birth of Prince Albert Victor on 8th January 1864.

It may be that the Royal College of Physicians, 11 St. Andrews Place, London, N.W.1., and possibly the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 27 Sussex Place, London, N.W.1., have records relating to your great-great uncle.

Yours very truly,

(Signed) Elizabeth H Cuthbert Deputy Registrar

Mrs. Edna Clare Sparkman, 21 Surrey Road, East London 5201, Republic of South Africa.


In his seventy-seventh year he was confined to his bed for ten weeks by lameness and he died on the 17th December,1887 without issue, after two days illness at his residence at No. 18 Albert Mansions in Victoria Street, Westminster. He was buried at Kensal Green, London on the 22nd December 1887.

Arthur Farre possessed the family capacity for music in considerable degree, having a fine bass voice, and being proficient on the flute, bassoon and violoncello. On the 18th April, 1856 he gave a performance of Handel's "Israel in Egypt" at his own house, with a chorus of forty voices; but a still more interesting circumstance was the fact that in 1853 Dr. Spohr resided six weeks in his house, No. 12 Hertford Street, Mayfair, London, having come to England to superintend the production of his opera "Jessonda". On the 11th July, 1853 a concert was given by Dr. Farre in which Spohr led his own Quartette in E Minor, the other performers being Herren Ries, Witt and Hausmann.

According to the Librarian of the Royal College of Physicians Arthur Farre donated his library, mainly gynaecological works, to the Society. His coat-of-arms forms portion of a stained glass window on a stairway landing in the Society's premises.


Royal College of Physicians,

53 Albany Street,

London, N.W.1.

24th April 1964

Mrs. Clare Sparkman

21 Surrey Road,

East London, South Africa

Dear Mrs. Sparkman,

I am able to enclose black and white prints of the engraving and portrait respectively of John Richard and Arthur Farre.

When you visited the College I think I drew attention to the original catalogue of Arthur Farre' s library, chiefly of gynaecological works which he bequeathed to the College. Of Arthur Farre’s works I think I need only mention the Harveian Oration, 1872 and an introductory lecture at King’s College London (1849) on “Some of the which have retarded the progress of Medicine” With R. D. Grainger he made a report on Metropolitan Worknouses to -the General Board of Health (1850).

Yours sincerely,

L.M. Payne



Dr. Arthur Farre’s principal contributions to medical literature will be found in the following biography taken from the National Dictionary of Biography:-

FARRE ARTHUR (1811-1887), obstetric physician, younger son of Dr. John Richardl Farre [q. v] of Charterhouse Square, London, was born in London on 6 March 1811. He was educated at Charterhouse School and at Caius College, Cambridge. After studying medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, he graduated MB. at Cambridge 1833 and MD in 1841, and he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1843. In 1836-7 he lectured on comparative anatomy at St. Bartholomew's, and from 1838 to 1840 on forensic medicine. In 1841 he succeeded Dr. Robert Fergusson as professor of obstetric medicine at King's College, and physician-accoucheur to King's College Hospital, which offices he held till 18(62. At the College of Physicians he was in succession censor, examiner, and councillor, and was Harveian orator in 1872. For twenty-four years (1852¬1875) he was examiner in midwifery to the Royal College of Surgeons, resigning with his colleagues Drs. Priestley and Barnes when it was sought to throw the college examination in Midwifery open to persons not otherwise qualified in medicine or surgery. This step was decisive against the scheme, for no suitable successors were willing to take the.office. Farre was specially qualified to be a successful fashionable obstetrician, and in this capacity he attended the Princess of Wales and other members of the royal family, and -was made physician extraordinary to the queen. His principal contribution to medical literature was his very valuable article on “The Uterus and its appendages”, constituting parts 49 and 50 of Todd's “Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology”, issued in 1858. He contributed numerous papers on microscopy to the “Royal Microscopical Society's Journal and Transactions”, and was president of the society in 1851-2. An early microscopical paper of his, “On the Minute Structure of some of the Higher Forms of Polypi” (- Phil. Trans. 1837), secured his election into the Royal Society in 1839. On the death of Sir C. Lococh in 1875, Farre was elected honorary president of the Obstetrical Society of London, to which he gave a valuable collection of pelves and gynaecological casts. Farre died in London on 17 Dec. 1887, and was buried at Kensal Green on 22 Dec. He left no children, and his wife died before him.

[Brit. _Med. Journ. 24 Dec. 1887; Times, 20 Dec. 1887.] G. T. B.

The Editor of the British Medical Journal remarks on the 24th December, 1887, in an obituary article on Arthur Farre, that:-

"His great literary production was the article “Uterus and its Appendages” in Todd and Bowman's Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology. This article displayed a high degree of literary, anatomical and scientific, excellance. The illustrations have been freelv borrowed and still adorn several current works, We believe that the article encouraged a true scientific study of midwifery and the diseases of women.

"Dr. Robert Barnes favours us, at our request, with the following notes on this distinguished physician:-

"The foundation of Arthur Farre's reputation and of his success in practice was laid in scientific work of the most sterling merit. His article on the "Uterus and its Appendages" in the Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology, published in 1858, whilst he was still a young man, is the fruit of immense labour and original research, digested and set forth with consummate judgment. To this day it stands, if not unrivalled, yet unsurpassed. The student even now may refer to it with certainty of finding trustworthy knowledge. t is rich in illustrations from his original drawings and just in acknowledging what is borrowed. It may be doubted whether any similar work has stood the trying test of time so well. Others may have added -to it; few have made corrections that have held their ,ground.

“But It to this eminent scientific and literary capacity Arthur Farre united a singular charm of manner; he was emphatically a gentleman; fair and honourable in his professional relations and able teacher, earnest in his work. It is not, therefore, surprising that, starting as he did, under favouring social and academic auspices, he rapidly advanced to the leading position as an obstetric physician. It was owing hardly less to his scientific and practical excellence than to his professsional qualities, that his eminence in the medical world was universally and cheerfully accepted, He was the favourite consultant in his department of practice."

In addition to this treatise, forming two complete numbers of the Cyclopaedia, Dr. Farre wrote many papers in the Transactions of the Royal and Microscopical Societies; and in a paper, published in 1835, in the London Medical Gazette,was the first to point out the true anatomy of Trichina Spiralis,which was not then understood.

Dr. ArthurFarre died intestate, leaving an estate of 62,000 pounds, gross.

The Principal Registry of the Probate Division of the Court granted authority to his half-brother, John Pinder Farre and "one of the next of kin" to act as Administrators.

Compiled and researched by:-

Edna Clare Sparkman, East London, South Africa. 18 May 1985


Medical Old Carthusians

Their Lives & Times


Dr Eric Webb MB BChir

An Edutainement for the Annual Meeting of the Old Carthusian Medical Society on Saturday 2nd May 1998

ARTHUR FARRE 1811 ~ 1887 & FREDERICK FARRE 1804 ~ 1886

A doctor in a very different mould was Arthur Farre, born in 1811, son of Dr. John Richard Farre of Charterhouse Square and younger brother of Frederick John Farre, also a Carthusian, in his time head boy of the school, and also a doctor. Dr. John Farre is described as a West Indian and whether that implies that he was a gentleman of colour I do not know. Preoccupation with such matters seems peculiar to the present century and to the post-war generation. It did not exist in earlier times and thankfully it now seems to be fading. Both brothers went up to Cambridge, Arthur to Caius College, Frederick to St. John's. After graduating both returned to Saint Bartholomew's where they held various posts. Frederick remained a Barts. man although later he also held an appointment to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital. In due course he became medical officer to the School. In 1841 after gaining his MD Arthur moved on to King's College where he was appointed professor of obstetric medicine and physician-accoucheur. He became a successful, fashionable obstetrician, attended the Princess of Wales and other members of the Royal Family and was made physician extraordinary to the Queen.

In her biography of her grandfather, Sir James Reid, Queen Victoria's court physician, Michaela Reid describes the ranking of the Queen's medical establishment. Physicians and Surgeons Extraordinary like Arthur Farre were on probation. If they were lucky, in due course they might be appointed to one of the senior posts of Physician or Surgeon in Ordinary; there were usually about 3 of each. These were all consultants, specialists. Below them came the apothecaries to the person and to the household who were effectively GP's.

The 19th century did not begin well for royal obstetrics and certainly royal obstetricians had the fate of Europe in their hands on more than one occasion. George IV's beloved daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta, died in childbirth, probably of a post-partum haemorrhage, in 1817. The child, a boy, was stillborn. Had he lived, and outlived his father, he would have succeeded to the throne in due course. Had the Princess survived the stillbirth she might have born more children. Either way we might never have had Queen Victoria, nor any of her successors. The Princess's death triggered widespread national mourning; reading the contemporary descriptions this sounds very much like the upset which followed the death of Diana Princess of Wales last year. Her obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft, who seems to have done all that could reasonably be expected of him, shot himself 3 months later, by his side a copy of Love's Labour Lost, open at the page on which appears the line 'God save you! Where's the Princess?'. The episode was later described as a triple obstetric tragedy.

Things went much better at the birth of the Duke of Kent's daughter Victoria on 24th May 1819. Dr. Wilson, her father's personal physician, was considered to have managed the pregnancy to perfection, probably because he did little to interfere with the midwife, Madame Siebold. She was clearly a capable lady and much in demand because she then hurried back to Germany to deliver Victoria's cousin and future husband Prince Albert on 26th August of the same year.

Sadly there was no-one to keep Dr. Wilson in check when the Duke of Kent caught what seems initially to have been nothing worse than a heavy cold whilst spending the winter in Sidmouth in 1820. He was cupped and bled and leeches were applied until he was covered in blisters and probably dangerously anaemic. It is calculated from Dr. Wilson's records that he was let some 6 pints of blood in the space of a week. Then Dr. Manton, one of the royal physician's arrived from London and bled him some more. He died within a fortnight.

Later in the century there was another royal obstetric excitement when Queen Victoria herself permitted Dr. John Snow to give her Chloroform for the birth of her 8th child, Prince Leopold, in 1853. This was the same John Snow who a few years earlier surmised the fæcal-oral transmission of cholera and put an end to the Broad Street epidemic by having the handle taken off the pump. The Vibrio was not discovered until the 1880's, by Koch, but the Reverend Sydney Smith had the gist of it when he wrote, about the time of the epidemic, 'He who drinks a tumbler of London water has literally in his stomach more animated beings than there are men, women and children on the face of the globe!'.

Chloroform anæsthesia was a hazardous undertaking as we now recognise. Chloroform can trigger fatal cardiac arrhythmias and cause delayed fatalities through necrosis and fatty degeneration of the liver. Many other organic solvents have similar properties, something which glue sniffers occasionally discover to their cost. As its dangers came to be realised later in the century it was largely superseded by Ether. Ignorance is bliss and Victoria was delighted by the effects, so delighted that she had it again for the birth of her 9th and last child, Princess Beatrice in 1857. How different history might have been again had things gone wrong. Snow was fortunate to go down as one of the century's heroes, not with poor Richard Croft as one of its arch-villains.

The obstetrician in attendance at the birth of all Victoria's children was Sir Charles Locock. Arthur Farre succeeded him as President of the Obstetric Society of London in 1875. He died in 1887.

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Dr. Arthur Farre, F.R.S.'s Timeline

March 6, 1811
London, UK
June 1811
London, UK
December 17, 1887
Age 76
London, Greater London, UK