Clinton Coleridge Farr (know to his family as Cole) was a New Zealand geophysicist, electrical engineer and university professor.
He was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on 22 May 1866, the son of George Henry Farr and his wife, Julia Warren Ord. His father, an ordained Anglican priest, was headmaster of St Peter’s College and a long-serving council member of the University of Adelaide. His mother was active in social work; an orphanage for girls and a home for incurables were named in her honour. Coleridge’s sister was Eleanora Elizabeth Farr who married Edward Gordon Blackmore. Another sister, Julia Coleridge Farr was a missionary at Norfolk Island.
Coleridge Farr was educated at St Peter’s College and at the University of Adelaide. He studied mathematics and physics under William Bragg, graduating BSc with second-class honours in 1888. On winning an Angas Engineering Scholarship he went to England, where he worked as a railway engineer and studied civil engineering at University College, London. However, in less than a year ill health forced his return to Australia in 1890.
His health recovered and he continued his scholarship at the University of Sydney in 1891-93, studying electrical engineering under Sir Richard Threfall. Farr was appointed clerk-of-works for the distribution of electricity through Redfern.
From 1891 to 1894 Coleridge was a tutor in mathematics and physics at the University of Sydney and in 1894 he went back to the University of Adelaide as lecturer in electrical engineering. In 1895-96 he renewed his tutorship at St Paul’s, in the vain hope of finding employment with Sir Richard Threfall. While at Sydney he carried out field work in the distribution of electrical energy and developed a consuming interest in magnetism. Late in 1896 Farr was appointed lecturer in mathematics and physics at Lincoln Agricultural College, Christchurch. He then put forward a proposal for a survey of the magnetic fields of New Zealand. With the backing of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Farr persuaded the New Zealand government to fund a comprehensive survey of the islands and a magnetic observatory at Christchurch, with Farr as director, a position he occupied in 1899-1903. In 1902 he was awarded the University of Adelaide’s first doctorate of science for his thesis on the early New Zealand magnetic survey. He published a comprehensive report on the project in 1916. A preliminary report helped gain Farr a DSc, the first awarded by the University of Adelaide.
In 1901 Farr established the magnetic observatory in Hagley Park, Christchurch, for the Department of Lands and Survey. He was magnetic observer until 1904 when he was appointed a part-time lecturer in electricity and surveying at Canterbury College. When the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury initiated a study of the problems associated with Christchurch’s artesian water supply, Farr and his colleague, David Florance, measured the amount of the radioactive gas radon present in wells in Christchurch. In one study they concluded that the radon content in the well at the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society’s trout hatchery was responsible for the heavy mortality of trout fry being raised near the well. However, as the deaths could also have been caused by a deficiency of oxygen in the water, Farr and Florance’s findings were not regarded as conclusive.
Farr was married at St Paul’s Church, Papanui in Christchurch on 22 April 1903 to Maud Ellen Haydon and they had one son. From 1911 until his retirement in 1936 he served as inaugural professor of physics at Canterbury College, Christchurch. His teaching was effective and stimulating, his manner idiosyncratic and absent-minded, his support for original research strong. He had a colourful personality, a keen sense of humour and wide human interests and was popular with his students and colleagues. Over the years he became well known for actively supporting student sporting events, and for being badly shaven. He had a great interest in motoring and trout fishing.
Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition
In 1907 the Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition was organised by the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury. The main aim of the expedition was to extend the magnetic survey of New Zealand by investigating Campbell Island and the Auckland Islands, but botanical, biological and zoological surveys were also conducted.
NZGSS Hinemoa departed from Bluff on 14 November 1907, and the expedition arrived at Port Pegasus on Stewart Island in the early afternoon. Some disembarked for an episode of botanical collecting. The voyage continued at 21:00 that evening with an overnight steam to the Snares Islands, which were reached at 06:00. All of 15 November was spent at The Snares exploring the islands and collecting soil, rock and botanical specimens.
By 16 November, the expedition arrived at Auckland Islands and discovered the castaways of the wreck of the Dundonald. After ensuring that the castaways were supplied with provisions and taking on board one of the castaways to act as a cook for the Campbell Island expedition group, the Auckland Islands expedition party was dropped off at Camp Cove.
Campbell Island was reached on 18 November, and the remainder of the expedition was dropped off. Hinemoa returned and picked up the Campbell Island group on 25 November. While Hinemoa was away, the Auckland Islands group, who had also been supplied with a whaleboat and crew, were rowed to various locations around Auckland Islands during their ten-day stay. With the return of the Hinemoa on 26 November, the Auckland Islands group packed up and boarded the vessel.
On 27 November, the ship steamed to Enderby Island for further exploration and specimen hunting, before moving on to Disappointment Island on 28 November. A number of expedition members collected specimens and samples while Captain Bollons organised the exhumation of the Dundonald‘s chief mate, Jabez Peters, for reburial at Hardwicke cemetery. The funeral was held that evening. Hinemoa arrived back in Bluff on 30 November.
It was during WW1 and whilst his older sister, Norfolk Island missionary, Julia Coleridge Farr was keeping house for him in Christchurch that , their nephew, Lewis Gordon Blackmore was killed in action at Pozieres in July 1916. Lewis’ brother John “Jack” Coleridge Blackmore was running the family farm at “Landsdowne”, near Cowra and he was was trying to enlist but was refused due to his occupation. In 1917 Uncle Cole and Aunt Ju had offered a home for Jack’s wife Edith and their newborn Lewis Kinleside Blackmore (1917-1995).
In the early 1920s the case of Coles wife’s confinement for many years to mental institutions in Sydney and New Zealand came to the attention of the Lunacy Reform League and in part led to a wide-ranging royal commission on the lunacy laws in New South Wales. The league’s claim that Mrs Farr was wrongfully confined was completely rejected by the commission.
Lake Coleridge, New Zealand
The first Europeans arrived at Lake Coleridge in the mid 1800s. They were surveyors investigating routes to West Coast gold fields. They named the area after Edward Coleridge and William Coleridge, who were first cousins and members of the Canterbury Association (responsible for mapping Canterbury for European settlement), both Edward and William were nephews of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Run-holders settled soon after, taking up vast tracts of land for farming, which is still the area’s main industry.
Lake Coleridge was ideal for the New Zealand Government’s first hydroelectric power station because of its geography and its location near the growing city of Christchurch.
Lake Coleridge is 170 metres above the Rakaia River, so only gravity is needed to bring water from the lake through the power station, emptying into the Rakaia River below.
Construction workers arrived in 1911 to a wild and bleak landscape. Initially they were housed in tents and sheds. The winters were harsh which prompted the building of some permanent housing. Building the power station was a massive and dangerous undertaking. It took three years to complete, becoming operational on 25th November 1914.
At the time it was a significant engineering feat because the station was built on glacial moraine (shingle) which had never been achieved before.
Coleridge Farr’s most economically important research was a 1919 study into the causes of failure in the porcelain insulators used in the transmission lines from the Lake Coleridge power scheme. By immersing samples of failed insulators in red dye at very high pressures for several days, Farr showed that the problem was caused by porosity in the porcelain. Manufacturers around the world were subsequently able to improve their techniques for producing insulators. Together with Henry Philpott, the testing engineer for the power scheme, Farr also developed tests for insulators prior to their installation. The chief engineer of the English Electric Company described this work as epoch-making. It reputedly saved more money than the government had spent in five years on all scientific and industrial research.
It is coincidental that Lake Coleridge and Clinton Coleridge Farr shared the same name, however there may have been some ancestral family connection.
Farr’s most scientifically advanced research was the result he and C. J. Banwell obtained, showing that a magnetic field has no measurable effect on the speed of light. This was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series A in 1932 and 1940. Farr was elected a fellow of the New Zealand Institute in 1919. He served as president in 1929–30 and was awarded the institute’s Hector Memorial Medal and Prize in 1922. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1928, during Ernest Rutherford’s presidency.
Cole retired in 1936, however, in the early years of the Second World War Farr did some emergency teaching at his old school, St Peter’s College, where his pupils called him ‘Mr Chips’.
Coleridge Farr died on 27 January 1943 at Christchurch, survived by his wife and their son Hayden Farr, who held a commission in the Royal Navy.