The Author: John Hilton Davies (1871-1954)

John Hilton Davies, the author of the diaries was born in Everton on 14 December 1871 to a long line of seafarers but didn't become one himself.

Brief Family History

Below is a simplified diagram of John's family going back for three generations:

Family Tree
John Hilton Davies: Simplified Family Tree [8]

Paternal Great-Grandfather: William Davies (1794-1866)

John's great-grandfather William Davis was a mariner and may have come from Ireland. I have not been able to find out anything else about him apart from his death being registered in West Derby, Lancashire in 1866.

Paternal Grandfather: William Davies (1814-1869)

John's grandfather William Davies was born in Liverpool. On 13 August 1840 he married Ruth Parsons (1821-1885) from Maryport in Cumberland at St. Annes Church in Liverpool. There are several churches of that dedication in Liverpool but the marriage certificate notes that this was a Church of England wedding so must have been the church at Aigburth Road, Aigburth - a rather heavy-handed looking ediface designed by Scottish architect John Cunningham and Liverpool's Samuel Holme in the Norman Revival style and consecrated in 1837. For some reason it was damaged in an arson attack by Suffragettes on 16 December 1913. The marriage certificate reports their address as St Paul's Square and gives William's occupation as a Pilot.

St Anne's Church
St Anne's Church Aigburth [22]

William and Ruth had 5 children and he seems to have continued working as a pilot for the rest of his life. He died in April 1869 at the age of 55.

The St. Paul's Square area was cleared in the 1930s and the Liverpool Boxing Stadium built there. This was an entertainment venue used for sporting and musical events. This in turn was demolished in 1987 to make a car park and built over once more in the 2000s when The Plaza was constructed.

Father: William Davies (1844-1891)

John's father William Davies was born in Liverpool and married Alice Hilton (1843-1895) from Upholland near Skelmersdale, on 4 May 1871. They had two children - John Hilton Davies (1871-1954) and Florence May Davies (1874-1955).

William Davies was a river pilot on the Mersey from at least 1871 and continued in that occupation until his death in 1891; Alice died before him in 1885. Before marriage Alice had been employed as a servant in Maghull, which is about 8 miles inland from Liverpool. They lived for a long time at 113 Thirlmere Road - a house still standing and less than half a mile from Liverpool Football Club's Anfield Stadium - though from 1884-1891 Anfield had been home to the Everton Football Club after which they moved to Goodison Park.

113 Thirlmere Avenue
113 Thirlmere Avenue in 2020 [12]

Life of John Hilton Davies

John Hilton Davis was born on 14 December 1871 and baptised at the Emmanuel Church, West Derby Road Everton in the County of Lancaster on 3 March 1872 by Henry Carpenter. The church had been built by the firm of W. & G. Audsley - brothers who churned out 10 churches in the Gothic Revival style in Liverpool as well as synagogues in Liverpool and London [9]. The Emmanuel Church was consecrated on 15 February 1867 - only four years before John was baptised there. It was demolished in 1974 and I have only been able to locate one photo of it.

Emmanuel Church
Postcard showing the Emmanuel Church on West Derby Road [10]

In 1891 John appears on the census as living with his father at 113 Thirlmere Road. He married Minnie Sophia Craston on 11 May 1898 at the church of St. Simon and St. Jude and was living by then at 280 Anfield Road. His occupation is recorded on the marriage certificate as a Book Keeper. Minnie's father is recorded as being a Draper. The house at Anfield Road is only a few minutes walk from Thirlmere Road.

280 Anfield Road
280 Anfield Road in 2020 [12]

St. Simon and St Jude was founded in 1894 and demolished in 1983. This is another church for which I can only find a single photograph online.

St. Simon and St. Jude
Old postcard showing the church of St. Simon and St. Jude in Anfield [13]

John and Minnie had just one child Harold John Craston Davies who was born on 11 May 1899. By this time the family was living at 2 Matlock Avenue, Walton on the Hill. Their houses were getting gradually nicer - maybe related to John's status at work. John's occupation was recorded as Insurance Office Clerk on the 1901 census.

2 Matlock Avenue
2 Matlock Avenue in 2020 [12]

By the time of the 1911 census they had crossed the Mersey to Wirrall and were living at 54 Sudworth Road, Liscard near New Brighton and John's occupation was recorded as Insurance Clerk. The new address was semi-detached with a front garden indicating a further move up the property ladder.

54 Sudworth Road
54 Sudworth Road in 2020 [12]

The Voyage on Manipur

In 1914 John took the trip during which he wrote the diaries; from various entries he made we know that he worked for the Royal Insurance Company in Liverpool and this was confirmed by other documents discovered by Andrew Moore. He mentions friends in the Royal's Calcutta office and reports several calls there during his time in Calcutta. What is not clear is whether he made the trip in a professional capacity or for pleasure. The missing first volume might have cleared this question up.

At the time of the trip John was 42 with a wife and a 15 year old child. The trip lasted from 7 July 1914 until 25 November 1914 - a total of over 4 months. We have to ask ourselves whether it is likely that Royal Insurance would have given him leave for that long to take a private trip, and whether, as an insurance clerk, he would have had the money to finance the trip. Even if in some manner WOT could have wangled the passage free of charge there would still be the bills to pay at home. On the balance of probability I think he was doing work for Royal Insurance at Calcutta - maybe inspecting the offices or doing some kind of audit. Of course we will never know for sure.

We don't even know what branch of insurance John was working in. Given his family history you can't help wondering whether it might have been marine insurance. Marine insurance in Liverpool seems to have started around 1750 and by 1851 there were at least 51 underwriters operating in the City [11]. At first underwriters operated as individuals but over time there was consolidation as the insured risks got greater. One of the larger groups was called British & Foreign and this was taken over by Royal Insurance Company in 1908 and they started their own marine department in 1909. They would continue to take over other companies over the following decades.

The next unanswered question is whether John knew WOT before the voyage to Calcutta or whether they only got to know one another during the months they were away. They had both married at the church of St. Simon and St. Jude in Anfield, John in 1898 and WOT in 1907 so maybe in those days of regular churchgoing they were members of the same congregation. I am inclined to think they must have known one another before the voyage as John spent a lot of time on the bridge during the voyage and the two men made a number of visits together.

Life After the Manipur Trip

Presumably John returned to whatever his insurance duties were in Liverpool after the trip and did whatever insurance clerks do - mainly try to find ways to avoid paying out on policies in my experience.

Minnie died on 19 November 1919 at the Victoria Central Hospital in Wallasey - apparently from complications from an intestinal operation and cardiac failure leaving John a widower at the age of 47.

John made at least one further trip to India. On 24 July 1923 he arrived at Liverpool on the Anchor Line vessel Massilia from Bombay. The passenger list records him as an Insurance Official and travelling with him was his son Harold John Craston aged 24 and recorded as a Cashier. I wonder whether Harold also worked for The Royal? John wondered in his diaries whether he would ever make a similar trip and he got his wish.

Passenger list
Passenger list [27]

When the 1939 Register was compiled just before the outbreak of WW2 John was living at the address 'Johns, Newmarket, Holywell, Flintshire'. Had he named his house after himself? Newmarket doesn't appear on modern maps as it was renamed Trelawnyd in 1954. To be accurate, its name was changed back to Trelawnyd having been changed to Newmarket in 1710 by businessman John Wynne who was hoping to turn the place into the area's market town. His attempt failed with Rhyl becoming the market town instead. John's occupation was shown on the 1939 Register as 'Insurance Official - Retired' and his age shown as 68.

Andrew Moore was in touch with John Gray of Trelawnyd in 2012 who relayed the following information about JHD in his latter years:

A villager who reads my blog came around today. She knew John when she was a girl and told me that he "employed" her and other village children to come to his cottage to fly flags! He had a selection of shipping flags which had to be flown on his own flag pole when he was expecting visitors. Each one was different and had a significance to him depending who was about to arrive ... she remembers he used to give the children shipping timetables to read .... he was in her own words "a bit of an eccentric". His cottage is actually located behind and above the house called Pen y Bryn on High Street.

John died in a nursing home called Fron House in Holywell on 26 December 1954 at the age of 83 and was cremated at Anfield.

Funeral Notice
Funeral Notice for John Hilton Davies [28]
Obituary Notice for John Hilton Davies Royal Insurance March 1955 [39]
Memorial Tablet
Memorial Tablet for John Hilton Davies and his wife Minnie [28]

The Mystery of the Diaries

John died in North Wales but the two surviving diaries were discovered at a car boot sale in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire 130 miles away so how did they end up there? Maybe a member of his family could throw some light on that question but it is not unusual for relatives to employ a house clearance company to empty the houses of old people that haved died.

But that doesn't explain why the first volume is missing. Seeing how much effort John spent them it is doubtful that they would have been separated during his lifetime. These are further mysteries that will probably never be solved.