John Percy Farrar, 1857-1929

Publication Year: 1929.



Captain John Percy Farrar, D.S.O., died in London on February 18, in his seventy-second year, a well-loved member of the Alpine Club, of which he had been a member for 46 years.

He was born December 25, 1857, the son of Charles Farrar, M.D., of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, and Helen, daughter of John Howard, of Bedford. Educated at Lausanne, he became a South African merchant, and was a member of the firm of Howard and Farrar, later Farrar Brothers. In 1886 he married Mary, daughter of F. Beswick, of Queenstown. From 1895 until 1900 he lived on or near the Lake of Geneva. During the war in South Africa, he served in the Kaffrarian Rifles, and was mentioned in dispatches, receiving the D.S.O. in 1900.

His alpine career began in 1881, in the Eastern Alps, and continued with few intermissions to the last climbs in the St. Gotthard region in the summer of 1928. His ascents have been admirably summarized by Mumm and Spencer, in the Alpine Club Register, and it were easier to recite Ball’s Alpine Guide than to record all of them here. They number more than three hundred and twenty- five expeditions.

Among his great ascents were the Weisshorn (three times), Schreckhorn (four times), Wetterhorn (seven times), Meije (four times), Matterhorn (four times: first descent by Zmutt arête, 1890; Breuil to Zermatt, 12 h. 5 m., 1892; from Italian Hut over “Galerie Carrel” to summit, descent [the 1st] by same route to Col Félicité, and to summit again by ordinary route, descent to Zermatt, 1903), Mont Blanc (five times; Brenva route [5th ascent], 1893).

His magnificent season was 1893, as follows: Balmhorn, Altels, Tour de St. Martin, Oldenhorn, Blümlisalphorn, Aig Rouge d’ Ar- gentière, Tour Noir, Aiguille d’Argentière, Roche du Grand Galibier, Brèche de la Meije, Meije, Barre des Écrins, S. Aig. d’Arves, Meije, Col de la Temple.

Mont Blanc by the Brenva glacier, Aig. du Dru, Petit Dru, Grépon, Charmoz, Dent du Géant, Col du Géant, Aig. Noire de Peteret, Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, Mont Blanc, Col du Midi, Col du Géant, Dents du Midi, Bietschhorn.

During long seasons he had climbed with many members of the Alpine Club, including H. Topham, W. E. Davidson, E. Whymper, H. E. Marsh, T. L. Kesteven, H. V. Reade, G. E. Gask, V. A. Fynn, W. A. Wills, R. W. Lloyd, and J. E. C. Eaton.

Besides climbing in the Alps, Farrar made ascents in South Africa, Japan, and Canada. As long ago as 1899 he ascended the final peak of Mt. Stephen alone, and in 1911 revisited the Rockies with his son, making a pack-train journey over Yellowhead Pass and Moose Pass to Mt. Robson, where minor summits were reached.

His name is recorded by the Pointe Farrar (Aig. Verte), which he attained in 1898.

As recently as 1924 he climbed the Jungfrau by the Guggi route, and in 1925, in his sixty-eighth year, did Cima Tosa, Pres- anella, Adamello, Passo di Marocaro, Ago di Sciora, Passo di Bondo, Piz Badile, Passi di Porcellizzo and di Trubinasca, Col de Géant, Col des Grandes Jorasses (attempt to within 100 m. of crest), and Grépon. The Bregaglia climbs in this astonishing record were made in company with Christian Klucker, an old friend, whose recent death affected him greatly.

In the summer of 1928, in his seventy-first year, he was able to climb Pizzo Rotondo, Basodino, Campo Tencia, Rheinwaldhorn and Bifertenstock.

Captain Farrar was President of the Alpine Club during the period 1917-19, Assistant Editor of the Alpine Journal 1909-19, and Joint Editor (with Yeld) 1920-26. He had a profound knowledge of alpine history and his monographs on the Finsteraarhorn and Monte Rosa are classic. In the graceful fashion that was so characteristic of the man he wrote the obituary notices of many of his old companions who had passed on.

In 1928 he was unanimously elected an Honorary Member of the American Alpine Club, and, at an age when such things are seldom highly regarded, was keenly appreciative of our recognition. We, of course, knew how infinitely more to our own honor it was.

His circle of friends throughout the world was enormous; his personality impressed many who never came in actual contact with him. He was always ready to encourage others, although he seldom spoke of his own great feats. The loss of his only son in the World War was compensated for in part by his adopting all young men as his children; and they idolized him in return.

One of his last letters, written only in January of this year, is full of historical anecdotes and happy recollections of the mountains. He concluded, in his firm angular writing which showed not a trace of age: “My time is getting near, as all my companions are moving off. Never mind—I shall have had a good innings.”

Thus passes “the fleetest foot in all the Alps.” More than any man of his generation he added the consummate art of friendship to the sport of mountaineering. His memory is secure in our hearts, and his legend will increase.

J. M. T.