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William Farrer diaries and letters

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 1521

Scope and Contents

Contains seven handwritten volumes, plus typescripts which focus on Farrer's Hawaiian Mission, 1850-1854. Volume one contains accounts of his work in the California gold fields prior to his mission call. Volume seven is entirely in the Hawaiian language. Also included are photocopies of typescripts of 71 letters written to and by Farrer when he served in the Hawaiian Islands.


  • 1849-1860


Language of Materials

Materials in English and Hawaiian.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from Diaries and letters must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

William Farrer (1821-1906) was a Mormon convert and missionary.

William Farrer, son of Roger and Catherine Hadwin, was born on January 26, 1821, in Brigsteer, Westmoreland County, England. His mother died in May 1825, leaving William, his brother James and his father to survive her. In a short time his father remarried. His father was a miller, and William helped his father in the mill and on the farm. When eleven years of age, the family moved to a farm in North Lancashire where they remained four years and then removed to Brigsteer where he procured work on the farm of neighbors. In the spring of 1841, he returned to his father's home where he heard Mormon Elders, John Parkinson and William Speakman, preach for the first time. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the following summer. In 1842 he and his father's family emigrated to America, crossing the Atlantic in the ship "Emerald," under the leadership of Apostle Parley P. Pratt, who was presiding over the company of Saints. They landed in New Orleans in December of that same year and immediately took a steamer up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, but the river being frozen caused them to remain all winter. In May 1843, they landed in Nauvoo, Illinois, their destination.

Upon their arrival at Nauvoo, they were privileged to see the Prophet Joseph Smith, as General, reviewing the Nauvoo Legion. The Temple was under construction and William engaged himself at brickmaking and helped to quarry stone out of which the oxen for the Temple Baptismal Font were constructed. He helped to complete the building of the Temple.

In February 1846, William joined the with the Saints moving west. He was called to go with the Mormon Battalion, but instead, at the request of Joseph Horne, drove the team of President John Taylor across the plains, bringing with him President Taylor's family. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

When gold was discovered in California, Joseph Horne fitted William with supplies and provisions and William went to California, and in return for the supplies, William was to pay Joseph Horne one-half of what he earned at the mines. While panning for gold on the Sacramento River in 1850 William was called by Apostle Charles C. Rich to serve a mission in the Sandwich Islands. He left San Francisco for Hawaii on November 22, 1850. He arrived in Hawaii on December 12, 1850.

Elder Farrer's first mission companion was Elder John Dixon. They took their message to the white people who rejected it. They then turned to the natives who were much more receptive to their preaching. While there, William helped George Q. Cannon translate the Book of Mormon into the Hawaiian language.

On July 28, 1854, after completing his mission, William sailed from Honolulu. Nine years had elapsed since he last saw his father and his family in Nauvoo. Soon after his return to Salt Lake City he moved to Provo, Utah, and established a home. Here he met his wife, Elizabeth Ann Kerry, and they married on January 2, 1856. They had eight children.

Three months after his marriage, he was again called to serve a mission to the Islands and had proceeded as far as San Francisco, when he was called back on account of the approach of Johnston's Army during the "Mormon War."

He was called to enlist in the Utah militia to help quell the Indian disturbances in and around Provo and surrounding towns. But, as before, was relieved of this duty when someone else (Robert Boardman) was substituted in his place.

William Farrer died in Provo on February 17, 1906 at the age of 85.


2 boxes (1 linear ft.)

Other Finding Aids

Folder-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

In 1946, BYU made typescripts from the original Farrer diaries loaned for that purpose. The Brigham Young University Library also made typescripts of a number of original letters. In 1989, the original diaries were donated to the repository by Denece Kelshaw in behalf of Elizabeth Coffman, Kelshaw's mother. Coffman had obtained the diaries from Ramona Farrer Cottom, who had originally loaned them in 1946.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Elizabeth Coffman and Kenece Kelshaw; 1989.


19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.

Register of William Farrer diaries and letters
Garrett Schroath
2011 March 11
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States