A servant of the people - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Thomas Farrow lived a varied and interesting life, though one that was not without its share of controversy.
He was the son of Martin and Sabina Farrow, an English couple from the county of Lincolnshire in England. The family immigrated to the Port Hope area in 1849 and, unfortunately, Martin’s wife died the following year.
By 1871, much of the Farrow family had moved to the Bluevale area, where John Farrow ran the grist mill.
Among the other family members was Thomas Farrow, born 1833, who was the first school teacher in Bluevale. Previous to that, he had taught school in the Port Hope area.
In 1914, Thomas reminisced about his time in the Bluevale position. “When I began teaching in 1852, I received a salary of $12 a month. There were no holidays and I taught on Saturday afternoons.”
Later, his salary increased to $288 a year and two weeks of summer holidays were included. Attendance records show that Farrow had 28 pupils in 1858, with that number growing steadily to a high of 137 students in 1864.
Next, Farrow was the school inspector for the combined counties of Huron and Bruce. After a short stint as a merchant in Bluevale, starting in 1870, Farrow’s life path turned to politics in 1872, when his name was unanimously put forward by the North Huron Conservative Party. Thomas was elected as the federal Member of Parliament that same year. What an exciting time that must have been in the new nation of Canada, only five years after its inception.
Thomas was a staunch supporter of John A. Macdonald. Many of Thomas’s cohorts would have numbered among the Fathers of Confederation. His political journey was not a smooth one. In 1872, he won the Conservative nomination over Sommerville by 200 votes. In the 1874 election, he defeated Leckie by 167 votes and, by 1878, Dr. Sloan was only 81 votes behind him. Thomas hung on to his seat for another nine years before being ousted from office in 1887.
It must have been an interesting time in the political arena in those years. In 1878, the venue chosen for the nomination meeting was deemed too small for the number of people gathered, so there was a delay until a suitable location could be found. It was the local skating arena, where there was an estimated attendance of between 1,000 and 1,500 people (and this was before women had the vote).
There seemed to be much criticism of Thomas’s performance as a politician, especially from the Huron Signal, which had incorrectly predicted his defeat in the 1883 election. Also among his detractors was Allan McLean of the Huron Expositor, based in Seaforth.
Dr. Peter MacDonald, Thomas Farrow’s opponent in the 1887 election, accused him of having sons, brothers, cousins and nephews “fattened at the public crib.” The verity of this accusation is borne out by the fact that his brother, John, served as a mail clerk for 50 years before retiring, and another brother, Asher, who served as the customs officer in Goderich and each of his four sons also had government appointed offices: R. R. Farrow was the deputy minister of customs in Ottawa; and the other three, John of London, M.Y. of Collingwood as well as H. W. in Windsor, were all in the railway mail service.
In fact, once Thomas Farrow was no longer a sitting member in the House of Commons, he was the deputy-speaker. After a stint as the postmaster in London, he took up that same position in Brussels.
Once out of office, Thomas Farrow’s life still swirled with controversy. It would appear that anyone in a government office, such as being a postmaster, was not allowed to have any political interaction, except to cast a vote. It seems that someone from the local area, probably Thomas’s former rival, Dr. Peter MacDonald, complained about Farrow being at political meetings and giving speeches at such events, for in 1897, the postmaster general of Ontario, accused him of 12 counts of partisanship.
These charges were serious enough that an inquiry, headed by Lieut.-Col. Lazier, was held. Witnesses for the prosecution and the defence spoke over a period of several days. Lazier concluded that Farrow had indeed spoken at various political meetings, but that he did not seem to be endorsing any particular candidate and thus the charges against Farrow were mote.
Thomas Farrow, by then in ill health, resigned from his Brussels postmaster position in 1914 and went to Collingwood to live with his son. Thomas died following a paralytic stroke there in April of 1916 and was buried at the Bluevale Cemetery.
This short chronicle of his life serves to show that it isn’t just the politicians of this era who get themselves into hot water from time to time.