William Farr: campaigning statistician
by Stephen Halliday
Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, UK
Journal of Medical Biography 8, 220-227, 2000.
© Royal Society of Medicine Press, London, UK.
"Compiler of abstracts"
In 1838, the Office of the Registrar-General was established with the task of registering births, marriages and deaths. The first Registrar-General was a soon-forgotten popular novelist called Thomas Lister, but the dominant figure in the new service was William Farr (1807-1883) (Figure 1), who was appointed as the first "compiler of abstracts" (chief statistician) to the new office. Farr remained in the post until his retirement in 1880, and used his position to become one of the leading figures in the sanitary movement, which campaigned for better sanitary conditions, especially in urban areas. For this work he earned an international reputation.
Continue to William Farr's early life