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  • Writer's pictureSaanich Pioneer Society

"The Man Who Came Back": The Incredible Story of Frederic Perceival Farrar

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Portrait of First World War soldier
Frederic Perceival Farrar (Saanich Pioneer Society Archives F703Ph #1)

Frederic Perceival Farrar was born in 1871 in Wiltshire, England and was one of eight children. His father was the famous Canon Frederic William Farrar, Archdeacon and Canon of Westminster and Chaplain to Queen Alexandra of England, and known for his scholarly work Life of Christ. Eventually, Frederic Jr. went to live with his father’s great friend George W. Childs, a publisher and philanthropist in Philadelphia, and became part of his family. In 1916, the Nashville Tennessean, giving background information on F.P. Farrar’s life, printed that when Canon Farrar had been travelling in the United States in 1892, the ironically childless Mr. Childs had asked him for one of his sons. “You can easily spare one son to a man who has none.”

Mr. Childs hired Frederic as a reporter at his newspaper, the Public Ledger, and it was through this employment that Frederic would meet his future wife. Nora Davis (born 1872) was also of high social position: her parents were L. Clarke Davis, the newspaper’s editor – Frederic had become his private secretary while working there – and author Rebecca Harding Davis. Richard Harding Davis, later an author in his own right and a war correspondent, was her brother. Frederic frequently visited the Davis home and became close friends with Nora, but before the relationship could fully develop, Canon Farrar called his son back to England to study for the Priesthood.

F.P. Farrar graduated from Cambridge University in 1897 and would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming Rector of Sandringham in 1907. As the Chaplain to the Royal Family, who were said to have been very fond of him, he was on track to be made a Bishop; his position also gave him a high standing in British society. After the deaths of his father, Mr. Childs, and L. Clarke Davis, he rekindled his relationship with Nora. Their wedding took place at St. Andrew’s, Westminster, London in July 1911 and was said to be one of the big social events of that season.

In November of that same year, however, Farrar lost his position following shocking accusations made against him to King George’s Private Secretary. But although the story was splashed across a variety of papers, the offence was deemed to be so grievous as to be unprintable. Some journalists made it sound as if Farrar had cheated on his new wife with another woman or had been previously involved with a woman of ill repute; other writers hinted that the other party was a man. Regardless, Farrar’s disgrace and public humiliation likely sold many copies of the publications in which they were aired. The King demanded Frederic’s resignation and dismissed him when he refused to do so. With a warrant out for his arrest, the threat of a public trial and possibly prison, Farrar chose to flee England and travel across the world to – of all places – the rural Saanich Peninsula, where he would remain in obscurity (but still under his own name) for several years.

He moved to what was then Saanich (now Central Saanich) and into 959 Mount Newton Cross Road, built for him ca. 1913, (now demolished). According to the Central Saanich Heritage Register produced in the 1980s, the Farrar home was filled “with a remarkable collection of antiques.” The name of the house, Llwyn-Y-Mor, means “a grove of trees overlooking the sea”, and likely refers to its prominent position and visibility across the fields from West Saanich Road.

Despite his reasons for coming to Saanichton and his short time here, Farrar made a favourable impression on at least one local resident. Mr. Percy Wilkinson recalled in a note to Hilda Butterfield that “Mr. Farrar taught us the Wilkinson boys (Percy and Don) to swim and dive in Henderson Bay in the summer of 1913”. According to Mr. Wilkinson, F.P. Farrar and “Mrs. Farrar” came to Mount Newton in about 1911 or 1912 and left just before the war. “The Hedley’s bought their farm and later it was owned by Rev. Montague Bruce. Mr. Farrar joined the French foreign Legion but, as a picture shows, he must have transferred to the British Army early in World War One.” (According to a newspaper account, Nora was unconvinced of the accusations against her husband at first and remained loyal, staying with him in exile for a time before her brother convinced her to go home to America. However, the December 1, 1911 edition of the Gettysburg Times stated that previous reports that Nora “had accompanied her husband in this flight, are not true” and that she would soon be returning to the United States.)

It was Farrar’s First World War service that would redeem him in the eyes of the press (some more than others) and save his tarnished reputation. Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic reported on the re-emergence of the disgraced Rector. The December 3, 1916 edition of the Nashville Tennessean and The Nashville American headline read simply “The Man Who Came Back”. The subheadline, however, matched the sensational coverage that Frederic’s story had been given when the scandal had first broken: “How the Disgraced, Unfrocked Rector Farrar, Once Chaplain to Dowager Queen Alexandra of England, Has Proved Apparently, That There is No Sin Which War’s Baptism of Fire Cannot Wash Away.”

No matter how the papers felt about him, after five years Farrar had reappeared, “decorated for valor in the field and acclaimed for conspicuous gallantry” in the French Foreign Legion. No one had known what had become of Farrar after he had vanished from England, so news of his return shocked those who had followed his fall from grace. He had gone from being a disgrace to a hero. Of the scandal, the Daily Colonist quoted on November 12, 1916, “It is now reported on excellent authority that the scandal with which his name was associated has been stricken off.”

Unfortunately, no records relating to F.P. Farrar have been located after 1916 and we know nothing about his life after the war. An entry on two different genealogy websites gives the death date and place for a Frederic “Frederick” Percival Farrar: February 11, 1946 (age 74) in Lima, Peru. Although these entries have been linked with the correct parents and spouse and the birth date and place match, an examination of the digitized original death registration certificate lists different parents. If it is indeed the same F.P. Farrar, we can only guess as to how he came to be in Peru. Perhaps despite his redemption, he felt the need to go back into exile. Whatever his end, he took the answers with him.

As for his wife Nora, she died in 1958 in her mid 80s at Tonbridge, Kent, England; the date and circumstances of her return to England from the United States are unknown.

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