Arthur Llewellyn Davies (1863 - 1907)
Barrister. Married Sylvia (1866-1910), second daughter of George du Maurier. Their 3 eldest sons met J M Barrie in Hyde Park in 1897, and inspired his Peter Pan (1903). When their parents died tragically young, Barrie became the guardian of all 5 boys. Their story has been told in a biography and dramatised for television as J M Barrie and the Lost Boys and for the cinema as Finding Neverland. Two of the boys also died young – one in Flanders and the other bathing at Oxford. They are all buried near the du Maurier grave (I bay).
- Meeting JM Barrie
- The holiday at Black Lake Cottage
- What became of the boys?
- Literary and Artistic links
- Further resources
- Note for teachers
Although the Llewelyn Davies family is our subject, from the moment that members of the family met J.M. Barrie their lives were inextricably linked. It isn’t possible to tell the story of the Llewelyn Davies boys and their parents without reference to Barrie and ‘Peter Pan’.
The three eldest Lewelyn Davies boys, George (age 5), John (known as Jack) (4) and Peter (1) Llewelyn Davies first met J.M Barrie in 1897 in London’s Kensington Gardens while they were out with their nanny, Mary Hodgson. J M Barrie was taking his daily walk with his St. Bernard dog,, Porthos. The boys’ parents Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies later met Barrie at a party and they also became friends, and Barrie visited their home regularly. Barrie said Sylvia was “the most beautiful creature he had ever seen”. Later two other brothers, Michael and Nicholas (known as Nico), were born (in 1900 and 1903).
To entertain them and to make the boys laugh Barrie would perform magic tricks, wiggle his ears and eyebrows, and dress Porthos in costumes. He also began to tell them stories about magical islands, Indians, pirates and fairies.
Barrie’s play of ‘Peter Pan’ or ‘The Boy who wouldn’t grow up’ was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane in 1904, to the delight of the Llewelyn Davies boys. Following its first successful performance in London it was regularly performed at Christmas.
Arthur Llewelyn Davies, the boys’ father, died tragically in 1907 and their mother Sylvia died in 1910. After Sylvia died, J.M. Barrie became the unofficial guardian of the five Llewelyn Davies boys, then aged from 7 to 17.
Barrie brought a country cottage in Surrey, called Black Lake Cottage. It was down a dusty, windy road. Opposite the cottage behind tall pines was a lake with an island in it.
Barrie invited the boys and their mother to go on a summer holiday to Black Lake, where he and the children acted out pirate adventures. These adventures were recorded in a book called ‘The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island: being a record of the terrible adventures of the brothers Davies’, supposedly written by Peter then aged 4. The book was published by Barrie in 1901.
This book (see http://neverpedia.com/pan/Read:The_Boy_Castaways_of_Black_Lake_Island) is a photo-story recording the boys at play – mainly the three older boys, with small parts for Michael and for Porthos the dog. The story, which seems to have been made up as the boys played, involves them being shipwrecked on an island where they then live in the wild and encounter pirates and exotic wild animals. Barrie prepared the book as if it was written by Peter. This reference contains the table of contents – which outlines the story – backed up by photos. (Note: there are a couple of photos of children playing in the water with nothing on near the beginning of the photo section; it was perfectly normal for boys to swim naked in those days.)
There is also a slide show (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lhktWxen3c). At the beginning are pictures of J M Barrie in his home, followed by photos from the ‘adventures’ on Black Lake Island from ‘The Boy Castaways’, interspersed with the captions from the contents pages. (Note: similar photos of children playing in the water with nothing on appear in this slide show.)
The reference in the last photograph to ‘Wilkinsons’ is a reference to George’s preparatory school.
After studying at Cambridge, George became an Army officer and was killed early in the First World War in Flanders, at the age of 21.
Jack was a naval cadet, became an officer in the Royal Navy and also fought in the First World War. He married, had a family and died at the age of 65.
Peter also served in this war, and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. After the war he founded a publishing house, but was a very sick man and an alcoholic. His wife and three sons suffered from Huntingdon’s disease, so he had much to depress him. He killed himself at the age of 63.
Michael was a student at Oxford and drowned in a swimming accident aged 21, at the same time as his best friend Rupert Buxton.
The youngest boy, Nico, seems to have been a cheerful, level headed man who led a perfectly happy life. After studying at Oxford he married and had a family. Later he joined his brother Peter’s publishing house. He died in 1980, aged 77.
The copyright to all the Peter Pan works (books, films, stage productions, etc) was given by Barrie in 1929 to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. He was a keen supporter of its work.
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, a famous actor/manager who is also buried in the ABG (G Bay) was asked by Barrie to produce ‘Peter Pan’. He turned the play down and said Barrie “must be mad”. Even Barrie was convinced it wouldn’t be a success but he wanted it to be produced. As we know the play was a great success and has been performed around the world.
Sylvia’s brother and the boys’ uncle, Gerald Du Maurier (buried in I Bay), was in the first production and played both Captain Hook and Mr Darling.
Andrew Birkin (1979). ‘J.M. Barrie and The Lost Boys’. London: Yale University Press.
Andrew Birkin wrote the script for the BBC trilogy ‘The Lost Boys’. He did extensive research with the help and support of Nico Llewelyn Davies, who gave him access to the Llewelyn Davies family archive.
http://www.jmbarrie.co.uk/ This website was put together by Andrew Birkin and includes all his research material and lots of photographs of Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter Pan and Wendy, Penguin Classics [Paperback] – J. M. Barrie (Author), Jack Zipes (Editor)
Photo (right) of Sylvia taken by JM Barrie in 1898.
Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys was complex. Some writers have tried to suggest it may have been improper. However Nico Llewelyn Davies, who provided a lot of material and personal input into the BBC trilogy and Andrew Birkin’s book, is adamant that it was not. He told Andrew Birkin “I don’t believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call a stirring in the undergrowth for anyone – man, woman, adult or child…….He was an innocent…. which is why he could write Peter Pan” as a mixture of fantasy and reality.
Apart from Nico the lives of the Llewelyn Davies boys either ended prematurely (George and Michael) or they were unhappy. Jack and Peter resented Barrie’s influence on their lives and the association with ‘Peter Pan’ which followed them. This may ultimately have led to Peter’s suicide – he called ‘Peter Pan’ “that terrible masterpiece”. Even when he died at the age of 63 the newspaper headlines read ‘Peter Pan commits suicide’ and ’Peter Pan’s death leap’.
For the above reasons we have chosen to focus on the childhood of the Llewelyn Davies boys and ‘Peter Pan’ and not on their later lives.
This page was last updated on May 19th, 2012.