J.M. Barrie (1860 - 1937)

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From the ages of 13 -18, James Matthew Barrie played wild and adventurous pirate games with his friends in the ‘enchanted land’ surrounding the grand Georgian house at Moat Brae.

jm barrie

These games were long after to provide the inspiration behind ‘that nefarious work’ – Peter Pan. The unique environment and the experiences he had here in Dumfries at that time would strongly influence Barrie’s astonishingly successful writing career.

J.M. Barrie moved to Dumfries in 1873 from Kirriemuir, in Angus, where he had grown up as one of ten children in a weaving family. He stayed with his older brother Alexander, a schools inspector, and attended Dumfries Academy where he became involved in the newly formed Dramatic Club as well as writing for the school magazine.

It was in the wings of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries and the reading rooms of Anderson’s Library and Book Shop that Barrie developed his love of theatre and satisfied his voracious appetite for literature. His first play, written and performed when he was 17, was called Bandelero the Bandit and his first work of fiction was a ‘log book’ of the games he played in the ‘enchanted land’ at Moat Brae.

Six years previously, his brother David had died tragically at the age of fourteen after a ice skating accident. This had a profound and devastating effect upon his mother who remained in Kirriemuir. James tried very hard to replace his brother in his mother’s affection.  She believed that through his premature death David would always remain a boy.  

J.M. Barrie (1860 – 1937) Timeline

1860Born 9 May, at Kirriemuir in Angus, Scotland.
1868Attends Glasgow Academy (aged 8 yrs).
1871Attends Forfar Academy (aged 11 yrs).
1873Moves to Dumfries and attends Dumfries Academy (aged 13 years) and joins the Gordon Brothers’ Pirate Crew at Moat Brae.
1875Contributes his first articles to the secret magazine The Clown, Edited by his friend Wed Anderson
1877First play – Bandelero the Bandit is performed on 29th December at Dumfries Academy and shortly after at The Crichton Institution, Dumfries.
1878Enters Edinburgh University.
1882MA, Edinburgh.
1885Leaves Kirriemuir to seek his living in London as a freelance writer.
1888Publication of Auld Licht Idylls and When a Man’s Single.
1889Publication of A Window in Thrums.
1890Publication of My Lady Nicotine.
1891Publication of The Little Minister; Ibsen’s Ghost first performed (Toole’s Theatre, 30 May)
1892Walker, London first performed (Toole’s Theatre, 25 February); The Professor’s Love Story  first performed (Star Theatre, New York, 19 December).
1894Marries actress Mary Ansell.
1895Death of his mother, Margaret Ogilvy.
1896Publication of Margaret Ogilvy and Sentimental Tommy; visits the USA for the first time, and is entertained by Charles Frohman, eventual producer of Peter Pan.
1897First meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family. The five children on George and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies were very important to the evolution of Peter Pan, and Barrie eventually adopted them in 1910 after both parents had died from cancer.
1900Publication of Tommy and GrizelThe Wedding Guest first performed (Garrick Theatre, 27 September).
1901-02Death of his father, David Barrie; publication of The Little White BirdQuality Street first performed (Vaudeville Theatre); The Admirable Crichton first performed (Duke of York’s Theatre, London).
1903Little Mary first performed (Wyndham’s Theatre, 24 September).
1904Peter Pan first performed (Duke of York’s Theatre, 27 December).
1905Alice Sit by the Fire first performed (Duke of York’s Theatre, 5 April).
1906Publication of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (extracted from The Little White Bird).  200th Performance of Peter Pan starring Maud Adams, produced by Charles Frohman (Empire Theatre, New York, 15 April).  Mark Twain says of Peter Pan “It is consistently beautiful, sweet, clean, fascinating, satisfying, charming”.
1907Death of Arthur Llewelyn Davies; involved in campaign for the reform of theatre censorship, after Harley Granville-Barker’s Waste was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain.

1908Sole performance in Barrie’s lifetime of When Wendy Grew Up; An Afterthought (22 February); What Every Woman Knows first performed (Duke of York’s Theatre, 3 September).
1909Divorces Mary Barrie on the grounds of her adultery with Gilbeert Cannan; receives Hon. LL D (Edinburgh).
1910Death of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies.
1911Publication of Peter and Wendy.
1913The Adored One first performed (Duke of York’s Theatre, 4 September). Receives baronetcy in the Birthday Honours, 14 June.
1914Visits USA on diplomatically contentious mission to raise support for the allied war effort.
1915George Llewelyn Davies, eldest of the five boys, killed in action in France.
1917Dear Brutus first performed (Wyndham’s Theatre, 17 October).
1919Elected Rector of St Andrew’s University.
1920Mary Rose first performed (Haymarket Theatre, 22 April).
1921Death by drowning of Michael Llewelyn Davies, fourth son of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies , and Barrie’s favourite. Shall We Join the Ladies? first performed (RADA, 27 May).
1922Receives the Order of Merit
1924Barrie was presented with the Freedom of Dumfries at the Lyceum Theatre in the afternoon of 11 December 1924. In his acceptance speech, Barrie said “I think the five years or so that I spent here were probably the happiest of my life.”   Later in the speech he spoke about his escapdades “in a certain Dumfries garden”:

“When the shades of night began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles, crept up walls and down trees, and became pirates in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work. We lived in the tree-tops, on coconuts attached thereto, and that were in a bad condition; we were buccaneers and I kept the log-book of our depredations, and eerie journal, without a triangle in it to mar the beauty of its page. That log-book I trust is no longer extant, though I should like one last look at it, to see if Captain Hook is in it.”
That evening a banquet was given in Barrie’s honour at the Royal Restaurant, where he gave another speech. The whole event is described in detail by Denis Mackail in his 1941 biography, “The Story of JMB”, pp 592-593.  Barrie’s speeches at the Lyceum and the restuarant are reproduced in full in “M’Connachie and J.M.B. : Speeches by J. M. Barrie” published by Peter Davies Ltd, 1938, pp 75-105.

Watch Pathe news footage of the event here

In the same year, the first silent movie of Peter Pan was produced starring Betty Bronson and directed by Herbert Brennan – see footage here
1928First publication of Peter Pan; publication of The Plays of J.M. Barrie (first single-volume collection, Barrie determining which plays were to be included and which omitted). See an advert from The Bookman magazine
1929Donates the copyright of Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital
1930Receives Hon LLD (Cambridge); installed as Chancellor of Edinburgh University.
1936The Boy David first performed (His Majesty’s Theatre, 21 November).
1937Dies, 19 June; burried at Kirriemuir.

Original information taken from Peter Pan Education Pack researched and compiled by Cally Phillips for the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre and Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association To Commemorate 100 Years of Peter Pan in April 2004.  Some details have since been added.

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