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Farquharson [née Ridley], Marian Sarahfree

  • Gina Douglas

Farquharson [née Ridley], Marian Sarah (1846–1912), naturalist and campaigner for women's interests, was born on 2 July 1846 in West Meon, Hampshire, eldest daughter of the Revd Nicholas James Ridley, of Hollington House, near Newbury, and his wife, Frances Joucriet (d. 1901). She was educated privately at home and in classes in London; a photograph of the 1860s shows her with dark hair drawn back from a central parting on either side of an oval face, with a slender waist. She joined the Epping Forest and Essex Naturalists' Field Club in October 1881, the year in which her book A Pocket Guide to British Ferns was published in London. Her 'Introduction' explains its origins in her own search for information on 'what the decided special features or characters are of each genus and species' and that it is to 'lead the uninitiated to a desire for further study'. In May 1882 she presented the Essex Field Club with an album of thirty-eight sheets of British Filices.

On 6 December 1883, at Paddington, Marian Ridley married Robert Francis Ogilvie Farquharson (1823–1890), a widower, of Haughton, near Alford, Aberdeenshire. After moving to Scotland, she became actively involved (with her husband) in local natural history through the Alford Field Club and the East of Scotland Union of Naturalists' Societies. The couple's support for both organizations and the exhibition of moss specimens by Mrs Farquharson are cited in the Scottish Naturalist, which also published Mrs Farquharson's 'Notes on mosses of the north of Scotland' (Scottish Naturalist, 8, 1885–6, 381) and 'Ferns and mosses of the Alford district' (Scottish Naturalist, 10, 1889–90, 193–8). The couple both collected desmids, Docidium farquharsonii being named in honour of Robert Farquharson by John Roy, who stated that he was 'greatly indebted' to Mr Farquharson and 'his accomplished wife … for collections of Desmid material from all parts of the country' (Roy, 335). On 8 April 1885 Mrs Farquharson was elected the first female fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, although the society still did not permit women to attend meetings or to vote on its business.

Mrs Farquharson's active involvement in gaining full fellowship of learned societies for women began after the death of her husband on 3 May 1890. Founder and president of the ‘Scottish Association for Promotion of Women's Public Work’ she forwarded a paper to the Lady Warwick Agricultural Association for Women which was read at its first annual general meeting on 9 October 1899. This supported its resolution 'in favour of duly qualified women being offered the advantages of full fellowship of scientific and other learned societies' (The Times, 24 Oct 1899) and it was in these terms that she submitted a humbly worded petition to the president and council of the Linnean Society of London on 18 April 1900. Council declined to accept the petition, making the excuse that it could only be communicated though a fellow, which Lord Avebury did on her behalf to the council meeting on 7 June. The matter was deferred for consideration at the next meeting of 28 June, which in turn resolved that it was unable to accede to the proposal because it was doubtful whether the terms of the charter could be held to apply to women.

In April 1901 Mrs Farquharson resumed her attack, this time supported by another member of council, F. DuCane Godman, and the zoological secretary, G. B. Howes. Again her letter was noted but no action taken. The battle continued through Reynolds Green, a council member who took up her petition in both November and December of 1901, succeeding finally in getting agreement that signatures could be obtained of those fellows in favour of the petition. These were duly obtained and in January 1902 council agreed to a committee of officers being set up to consider the matter and propose alterations to the charter. In December 1903 it was agreed to seek a supplementary charter from the king which would incorporate changes making women eligible for fellowship; the first nominations, for fifteen women, were considered on 17 November 1904 and balloted for on 15 December. All were elected to fellowship except Mrs Farquharson. Her nomination was resubmitted on 6 February 1908, recommended by Lord Avebury, J. Reynolds Green, E. M. Holmes, Catherine Crisp, Grace Frankland, and Ellen Wilmott. She was finally elected on 5 March 1908. However, due to ill health she never signed the roll for admission to fellowship, dying in Nice on 20 April 1912. Her body was returned to Scotland and she was buried next to her husband in the graveyard of Alford parish church on 21 May.


  • A. T. Gage and W. T. Stearn, ‘From the centenary to the admission of women’, A bicentenary history of the Linnean Society of London (1988), 89–93
  • B. D. Jackson, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 124th session (1911–12), 45–6
  • Gardeners' Chronicle, 3rd ser., 51 (1912), 358
  • Scottish Naturalist, new ser., 4 (1889–90), 289 [obit. of R. F. O. Farquharson]
  • M. S. Ridley, A pocket guide to British ferns (1881)
  • J. Roy, ‘Fresh-water algae of Enbridge lake and vicinity, Hampshire’, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 28 (1890), 334–8
  • ‘Abstract minutes, East of Scotland Union of Naturalists' Societies’, Scottish Naturalist, new ser., 2 (1885–6), 337–9
  • ‘Minutes of the meeting of the East of Scotland Union of Naturalists' Societies at Alford in 1889’, Scottish Naturalist, new ser., 4 (1889–90), 149–52
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.


  • Linn. Soc., certificates of recommendation for fellowship; letters
  • Essex Field Club, Romford, album of British ferns


  • Elliott & Fry, carte-de-visite, 1860–1869, Linn. Soc.

Wealth at Death

£2648 19s. 8d.: confirmation, 22 Jan 1913, CCI