Robert Townsend Farquhar

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For other people named Robert Farquhar, see Robert Farquhar (disambiguation).

Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar, 1st Baronet (14 October 1776 – 16 March 1830) was an influential British merchant of the early nineteenth century who served as a colonial governor and Member of Parliament. During his lengthy service for both the East India Company and the British government, Farquhar gained a reputation as an efficient and ambitious administrator and he notably served as Lieutenant-Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang Island) from January 1804 to 1805 and as governor of Île de Bourbon, now known as Réunion from 1810 to 1811.

He was the 1st Governor of Mauritius from 4 December 1810 to 20 May 1823.[1] During his tenure on Mauritius, Farquhar became well known for his operations against French slave traders, having previously investigated the possibility of replacing slaves with paid Chinese labourers. After returning to Britain Farquhar, who was made a baronet in 1821, sat in Parliament for Newton and later for Hythe.


Farquhar was born in 1776, the second son of Walter Farquhar, an eminent Scottish physician, and his wife Anne Harvie. Farquhar was educated at Westminster School and at age 17 was employed as a writer by the East India Company and stationed in Madras. Farquhar rose rapidly in the company and by the late 1790s was the commercial resident in Amboyna, a former Dutch colony seized during the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1802, at the Peace of Amiens, Farquhar was charged with assessing British claims on the colony as it was returned to the Batavian Republic.[2]

During his time at Amboyna, Farquhar earned the Governor of Madras' displeasure by initiating a successful attack on the Dutch settlement of Ternate after the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. Demoted and sent back to London, Farquhar submitted his resignation together with a strongly worded letter of vindication to the Governor-General, Lord Wellesley. Impressed with Farquhar's initiative and direct approach, Wellesley offered him the governorship of Penang. During his administration at Penang, Farquhar began public works activities to improve roads, water supply and the fortification of the settlement. Farquhar Street in Penang is named after him.[3]

Farquhar became interested in the labour problems that rose from the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and published a scheme to replace African slaves with paid Chinese labourers entitled "Suggestions for counteracting any injurious effects upon the population of the West India colonies from the abolition of the slave trade", although the idea did not gain widespread support.[2] In January 1809, he married Maria Frances Geslip, a Madras heiress. In July 1810, Farquhar was ordered to accompany the fleet under Commodore Josias Rowley that was to invade the French colony of Île Bonaparte, known today as Réunion. The attack was successful and Farquhar remained on the island as Governor, moving to Mauritius in December 1810 after a successful invasion of the island under Admiral Albemarle Bertie During his time as governor of the Indian Ocean islands, Farquhar had extensive maritime charts made of the region and encouraged trade with Madagascar and Mozambique, occasionally with disastrous results for the traders involved. He also made significant military and diplomatic efforts to end the East African slave trade, aggressively deploying naval units against the French ships that carried the slaves and conducting treaties with Madagascar and Muscat.[2] Farquhar remained Governor on Mauritus for 13 years (although he took a leave of absence between 1817 and 1820) and for his service, he was made a baronet in 1821. He resigned from the post in 1823 and returned to Britain, taking the seat for Newton in Parliament in 1825 and the following year moving to Hythe. Adopting the surname Townsend in 1824, Farquhar served on the board of directors of the East India Company and the Alliance Insurance Company and also remained in Parliament until his death in March 1830 at his home in Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London.[2]

Representation in fiction[edit]

He was depicted by Patrick O'Brian in the Mauritius Command as competent political man, working well with the British military (army and navy) as well as with the local people being taken over by Britain.[2]


  1. ^ Mauritius
  2. ^ a b c d e Farquhar, Sir Robert Townsend, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (subscription required), G. B. Smith, Retrieved 20 January 2009
  3. ^ See also Webster, Anthony. British expansion in South East Asia and the role of Robert Farquhar, Lieutenant Governor of Penang, 1804-5. J. Imp. & Common. Hist., 23(1), 1995, 1-25.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
George Leith
Lieutenant Governor of Penang
Succeeded by
Philip Dundas
Preceded by
Chrysostôme de Sainte-Suzanne
(as Governor of Île Bonaparte)
Governor of Bourbon
Succeeded by
Henry Keating
Preceded by
Charles Decaen
(as Governor of Isle de France)
Governor of Mauritius
Succeeded by
Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Claughton
Thomas Legh
Member of Parliament for Newton
With: Thomas Legh
Succeeded by
Thomas Alcock
Thomas Legh
Preceded by
Samuel Jones-Loyd
Stewart Marjoribanks
Member of Parliament for Hythe
With: Stewart Marjoribanks
Succeeded by
John Loch
Stewart Marjoribanks
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Farquhar baronets
Succeeded by
Walter Townsend Farquhar