June 9, 2010

The Davies Boys

"Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories."

Arthur Llewelyn Davies, son of Rev. John Llewelyn Davies and WHO, was born 20 Feb 1863 in Marylebone, England. He married Sylvia J. du Maurier, daughter of illustrator/writer George L. P. B. du Maurier and Emma Buisson, in 1892. Sylvia was born abt. 1866 in Bloomsbury, England.

In 1897, their pre-school sons George and Jack became friends with J. M. Barrie, whom they met during outings in Kensington Gardens with their nurse and infant brother Peter. Arthur and Sylvia met Barrie and his wife Mary at a New Year's Eve dinner party that year, and Sylvia took up a close friendship with the writer as well.

Although Arthur did not encourage the ongoing friendship of his wife and sons with Barrie, and did not share their fondness for him, he did little to stand in the way of it. He permitted Barrie to spend considerable time at the Davies home, and for his family to visit with the Barries – who were childless – at their country cottage. During one of the holidays the families spent together, Barrie took a series of photographs of the boys' adventures, which he compiled into a photo book titled The Boy Castaways; Barrie gave one of the two copies printed to Arthur, who misplaced his copy on a train.

Barrie became an adopted "uncle" to the Davies children. When he spent time with the children he experienced "the finest dream in the world. That I am a boy again ..." He began to tell the boys stories featuring them in adventures. Peter, the youngest, became the focus of some stories, although to say he was Peter Pan would be unfair. There were elements of George in the character as well: It was George who once said, "To die must be an awfully big adventure," words that Barrie carefully noted in his pocket book. Barrie claimed all five boys were his inspiration.

In 1906, Arthur discovered a growth in his cheek which turned out to be a malignant sarcoma. He had two operations, which removed much of his upper jaw, palate and cheekbone, and the tear duct on that side. This left him disfigured and unable to talk, even with an artificial jaw insert. The surgery failed to remove all of the cancer and left him in considerable pain. Barrie, who had become rather wealthy from his books and plays, paid for Arthur’s medical care, and became a regular companion at his bedside, especially in his final months. During this time, Davies described Barrie in a letter to his son Peter as "a very good friend to all of us".

Arthur Llewelyn Davies died on 19 Apr 1907, and 'Uncle Jim' became even more involved with the Davies family, providing financial support to them. (His income from Peter Pan and other works was easily adequate to provide for their living expenses and education.) Following Sylvia's death in 1910, Barrie claimed that they had been engaged to be married. Her will indicated nothing to that effect, but specified her wish for 'J. M. B.' to be trustee and guardian to the boys, along with her mother Emma, her brother Guy Du Maurier and Arthur's brother Compton. It expressed her confidence in Barrie as the boys' caretaker and her wish for 'the boys to treat him (and their uncles) with absolute confidence and straightforwardness and to talk to him about everything.' When copying the will informally for Sylvia's family a few months later, Barrie inserted himself elsewhere: ‘Sylvia had written that she would like Mary Hodgson, the boys' nurse, to continue taking care of them, and for 'Jenny' (referring to Hodgson's sister) to come and help her.’ Barrie instead wrote 'Jimmy' (Sylvia's nickname for him). Barrie and Hodgson did not get along well, but they served as surrogate parents until the boys went to university and Jack was married.

Children of Arthur and Sylvia Davies:

George Llewelyn Davies was born 20 Jul 1893 in Paddington, England. The character of George Darling was named after him.

George and his brother John were the audience for the fantastic stories in which Barrie conceived of the character of Peter Pan and took part in play adventures with Barrie which provided much of the inspiration for the play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Shortly before writing the play, Barrie made a photo book titled The Boy Castaways, featuring the three oldest brothers pretending to be shipwrecked on an island and fighting pirates, themes that later appeared in the Peter Pan story.

He attended Eton College, where he excelled at sports and was elected to the elite social club Pop while still an underclassman. He later attended Trinity College where he joined the Amateur Dramatic Club, following in the footsteps of both his uncle, actor Gerald du Maurier, and his dramatist guardian.

Following the UK's entry into WWI, George and his brother Peter volunteered for service. George received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and served in the trenches in Flanders, France where he died of a gunshot wound to the head 1915. As yet unmarried, George left no children.

John Llewelyn “Jack” Davies was born 11 Sep 1894 in Paddington, England. He died 17 Sep 1959, several months before his brother Peter committed suicide. The character of John Darling, the older of Wendy's brothers, was named after him.

In 1906 Davies was recommended by Barrie to Admiral Robert F. Scott for a position at Osborne Naval College. Following the death of his father, he reportedly harbored some resentment of Barrie, at times believing the writer was trying to take his father's place. He was not as close to the writer as were his brothers, especially George and Michael.

Just prior to his mother's death, he joined the Royal Navy and served in the North Atlantic during WWI.

He married Geraldine "Gerrie" Gibb in 1917, without first asking permission of Barrie, who only grudgingly approved of the relationship. Nonetheless, Barrie gave the couple charge of the Davies family house, where Michael and Nicholas still lived during school holidays. John and Geraldine had two children: Timothy (b. 1921), and Sylvia Jocelyn “Jane” (b. 1924).

Peter Llewelyn Davies was born 25 Feb 1897 in Paddington, England and named after the fictional character, Peter Ibbetson, the hero of George Du Maurier’s popular novel of 1891.

He was an infant when Barrie befriended his older brothers George and John during outings in Kensington Gardens. Barrie’s original description of Peter Pan in The Little White Bird (1902) was as a newborn who had escaped to Kensington Gardens. Barrie publicly identified Peter as the source of the name for the title character in his famous play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

In 1917, while still in the military, Peter began to court Hungarian-born Vera Willoughby (a watercolor painter and illustrator) who was married and 27 years his senior. The affair continued through the end of his military career in 1919. In 1926 he founded a publishing house, Peter Davies Ltd, which in 1951 released his cousin Daphne du Maurier’s work about their grandfather, George Du Maurier.

On 10 Mar 1932, he married Margaret Leslie Hore-Ruthven, the daughter of Walter Patrick Hore-Ruthven and Jean Leslie Lampson. She was born abt. 1902 and died 20 Apr 1970. Their children: Ruthven Davies (b. 1933), George Davies (b. 1935) and Peter Davies (b. 1940).

Peter grew to dislike having his name associated with what he called “that terrible masterpiece”. This public identification as “the original Peter Pan” plagued him throughout his life, which ended in suicide on 5 Apr 1960: After lingering at the bar of the Royal Court Hotel, he walked to nearby Sloane Square and threw himself under a train as it was pulling into the station. At the time of his suicide, he had been editing family papers and letters, assembling them into a collection he called the Morgue. He had more or less reached the documents having to do with the suicide of his brother Michael. Other factors may have been ill health (he was suffering from emphysema) as well as the knowledge that his wife and all three sons had inherited the usually fatal Huntington’s disease.

Michael Llewelyn Davies was born 16 Jun 1900 in Paddington, England. He is widely reported as the individual who most influenced the portrayal of Peter Pan in the 1911 novel based on the play. Later in life, his only surviving brother Nicholas described him as 'the cleverest of us, the most original, the potential genius.’

Shortly before his 21st birthday he and his best friend, Rupert Buxton, drowned together in Sandford Pool, a body of water on the River Thames. The following obituary appeared for the pair: 'Two House men whose loss would have been more widely and more deeply mourned, it would be impossible to find. They were intimate friends, and in their death they were not divided. It is we who must learn to live without them.’

The closeness of Davies and Buxton, combined with the uncertain circumstances of their death, led to speculation that the pair had died in a suicide pact. The Sandford Pool was well known as a drowning hazard (there were warning signs, and a conspicuous memorial for previous victims) and the pair had gone swimming there before. The water was 20-30 feet deep, but calm. Buxton was a good swimmer, but Davies had a fear of water and could not swim effectively. A witness at the coroner's inquest reported that one man was swimming to join the other, who was sitting on a stone on the weir, but he experienced 'difficulties' and the other dived in to reach him. However, the witness also reported that when he saw their heads together in the water they did not appear to be struggling. Their bodies were recovered 'clasped' together the next day. The coroner's conclusion was that Davies had drowned accidentally, and that Buxton had drowned trying to save him. Some later accounts report that their hands were tied to each other's. However surviving contemporary accounts do not report this.

Brothers Peter and Nicolas each later acknowledged suicide as a likely explanation, as did Barrie. A year later, Peter wrote that Michael’s death 'was in a way the end of me.'

Nicholas Llewelyn “Nico” Davies was born 24 Nov 1903 in Paddington, England. He was only a year old when Peter Pan hit the stage in 1904, and as such was not a primary inspiration for the characters of Peter and the Lost Boys. He was eight years old when the novel adaptation, Peter and Wendy was published, and in later editions of the play, the character Michael Darling’s middle name was changed to "Nicholas".

In 1926 he married Mary James, daughter of WHO and WHO. Their daughter Laura was born in 1928. In 1935 he joined his brother's publishing firm, Peter Davies Ltd. As the last surviving subject of the 1978 BBC mini-series, The Lost Boys, he was a consultant to its writer. Nicholas died in 1980 in WHERE.


Barrie introduced the character Wendy Darling in Peter Pan in 1904. It is well-known that J.M. Barrie's work was often inspired by the antics of children. Many important characters in his books are modeled after children of his friends and associates.

One such child was a little girl named Margaret Henley who adored Barrie and always called him "my friendy". However, because she couldn't pronounce her r's, the words came out "my fwendy". One variation of the tale says Margaret called Barrie "friendy-wendy" or in her pronunciation, "fwendy-wendy".

Little Margaret died at the age of six (abt. 1895). But Barrie used Margaret's invented name "Wendy" for a character who symbolizes mothering, caring, loyalty and undying friendship.

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