About the Collection

William Farrer

by Brian A. Warburton

See Diary

William Farrer was born 26 January 1821 in Brigsteer, Westmorland, England, to Roger Farrer and Catherine Hadwin. His mother died a few years after his birth in May 1825. Three years later, on 7 October 1828, his father was remarried to a woman named Mary Stubbs. William’s father was a miller and while growing up William learned that trade. During the spring of 1841 the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) preached at the Farrer home and the following summer William was baptized a member of the church. In 1842 William and his family all immigrated to America on the ship, Emerald, with a company of 250 saints under the direction of Parley P. Pratt. They arrived in New Orleans in January 1843, and took a steamer ship to St. Louis, where they spent the winter. In May 1843 they continued to Nauvoo, Illinois. After arriving in Nauvoo William helped to quarry stone and make bricks for the temple and he also witnessed the last speech made by Joseph Smith to the saints, before he was martyred. When the temple was finished William was able to enter and receive the ordinances that were given therein.

The Mormons were driven from their homes in Nauvoo in 1846 and William joined in the move westward. He was asked to drive John Taylor’s team and travel with Taylor’s family in the Edward Hunter, Joseph Horne Company which left 17 July 1847. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 29 September 1847 and soon after his arrival William helped to dig the first well in Salt Lake. When William heard the news of the discovery of gold in California he gathered the supplies needed and traveled there to mine for gold and was working at the Sacramento River in 1850 when a call came to him and nine other miners to go on a mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). They left San Francisco 22 November 1850 and arrived in Hawaii 12 December 1850. The next day the missionaries climbed to the top of a mountain and dedicated the land to missionary work. “The day after our landing there, we went onto a mountain outside of the city, and there asked the Lord to open the way for the preaching of the gospel on those Islands, etc.”1 The missionaries then divided up and went to work on the various islands.

At first they focused on preaching to the white people, but after several weeks of discouragement the Elders began thinking about preaching to the natives. “We now devoted our time to the study of the native language in which we made tolerable good progress.”2 Several of the missionaries became so discouraged that they decided to go home and five of them (half of the original group) sailed for California in February 1851. The rest of the group continued to study the native language. “Still continue studying the language it appears a up hill job. And I appear to make slow progress in speaking it;” but by October 1851 William and his companions began preaching to the native peoples in their own language.3 The missionaries saw a great amount of success among the native people, and with new missionaries arriving from Salt Lake the work progressed at a quick pace. On 14 June 1852 William “commenced to translate Bro. O. Pratts pamphlet on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon into the native language at which I spent most of the day.”4 The pamphlet was finished 6 August 1852. In 1853 smallpox came to the Hawaiian Islands and thousands of the native people died and the missionaries spent much of their time administering to the people. Many of the doctors and those opposed to the LDS church did not like the missionaries administering to the sick and threatened to mob the missionaries. In his mission report William said “while Pres. Lewis and myself were in the act of administering to one of the sisters who was taken with the smallpox, we were fell on and beaten by a man professing to be acting under the direction of the Marshall”.5 Later that same year William was asked to help revise a translation of the Book of Mormon that Elder George Q. Cannon had been working on.

A General conference of the islands was held on 24 July 1854 and William was released to go home. With apparent satisfaction William reported that there had been “upwards of 4,000 persons baptized on the islands during our stay”6 William sailed from Hawaii on 29 July 1854 and arrived in San Francisco on 12 August 1854, where he stayed for a time trying to secure the necessary funds to travel back to Utah. After gaining the funds he began the trip in April 1855 and arrived back in Provo 17 July 1855. Soon after arriving in Provo William met Elizabeth Ann Kerry and they were married 2 January 1856 in Provo, Utah. The couple had eight children together.

Shortly after his marriage William was called to serve once again in the Hawaiian Islands, but his mission was cut short when the Utah War crisis escalated in 1857-58. President Buchanan sent troops and a new governor to Utah to quell what was perceived to be a Mormon rebellion and Brigham Young called many of the missionaries back to Utah to protect the saints from persecution. William was still in San Francisco when he heard the news and he immediately returned to Utah. By the time he got to Utah the main crisis was over and he went home to Provo and became a farmer. There were many problems with the Indians through the years and his daughter Emma later recorded that “Father related that he had often taken his gun in one hand and his shovel in the other during his labors and while earning a living for his family.”7 William Farrer died 17 February 1906 in Provo, Utah, at the age of 85, leaving his wife Elizabeth.


1 William Farrer. Biographical sketch, Hawaiian Mission Report, andDiary of William Farrer. (Provo: Brigham Young University), 1946, 1959. 7

2 Ibid., 8

3 William Farrer. “Diaries and letters, 1849-1860” MSS 1521, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. 19 February 1851.

4 Ibid., 14 June 1852.

5 Farrer, Biographical sketch. 9.

6 Ibid., 10.

7 Farrer, Biographical Sketch. 4.


Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986.

Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966.

Farrer, William. Biographical Sketch, Hawaiian Mission Report, and Diary of William Farrer. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1946, 1959.

“Diaries and letters, 1849-1860”, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Harvey, Richard C. “The Development of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii.” M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974.