Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Farquhar, John

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FARQUHAR, JOHN (1751–1826), millionaire, was born in 1751 of humble parents at Bilbo, parish of Crimond, Aberdeenshire. In early life he went to India as cadet in the Bombay establishment, but soon after his arrival received a dangerous wound in the hip, which seriously affected his health, and also occasioned a lameness incapacitating him for military service. He moved for the sake of his health to Bengal, and became there a free merchant. In his leisure he amused himself with chemical experiments, and the practical knowledge of chemistry thus acquired accidentally led to the acquisition of a fortune. The gunpowder manufactured at Pultah in the interior having been found unsatisfactory, Farquhar was selected by General (afterwards Marquis) Cornwallis, then governor-general of Bengal, to inquire into the matter and render his assistance. This proved so valuable that he was made superintendent of the factory, and ultimately became sole contractor to the government. His energy and ability soon acquired for him both wealth and influence, and he won the special confidence and favour of Warren Hastings.

When, after reaching middle life, Farquhar returned to England, he possessed a fortune of about half a million, invested by his banker, Mr. Hoare, in the funds. On landing at Gravesend he is said to have walked to London in order to save coach hire, and arrived at his banker's so covered with dust and so poorly clad that the clerks allowed him to wait in the cash office till Hoare accidentally passed through, and was with some difficulty persuaded to recognise him. Farquhar took up his residence in Upper Baker Street, Portman Square. His sole attendant was an old woman, and the house soon became conspicuous for its neglected appearance. His own apartment is said to have been kept sacred even from her intrusion; but the tradition that neither brush nor broom was ever applied to it is probably an exaggeration. He was often taken for a beggar in the street. At the same time he was princely in charitable contributions. He became a partner in the great agency house of Basset, Farquhar, & Co. in the city, and purchased a share in the famous brewery of Whitbread. His wealth, as it accumulated, was devoted partly to the purchase of estates, but the greater proportion was invested in the funds and allowed to increase. In 1822 he purchased Fonthill Abbey from William Beckford (1749–1844) [q. v.] for 330,000l., and he occasionally resided there until the fall of the tower in December 1825, shortly after which he sold the estate. Though penurious in his personal habits he was fond of attending sales, and was a keen bidder for any object that struck his fancy. Notwithstanding his idiosyncrasies his manners were affable and pleasant. Besides having a special knowledge of chemistry he was an accomplished classical scholar, and also excelled in mathematics and mechanics. His religious beliefs were modified by his strong admiration of the moral system of the Brahmins. He wished to expend 100,000l. for the foundation of a college in Aberdeen, with a reservation in regard to religion; but on account of a difficulty about parliamentary sanction the scheme was not carried out. He died suddenly of apoplexy on 6 July 1826. His wealth amounted to about a million and a half, and as he had left no will it was divided among his seven nephews and nieces.

[Gent. Mag. xcii. pt. ii. 291; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, ed. Thomson, ii. 4–5; Anderson's Scottish Nation.]

T. F. H.