Sir James Matthew Barrie (Scotland, 1860-1937)

Figure 1.-- Here James at about age 6 which would mean approximately 1866. He wears a cut-away jacket, I think with a vest. This was a popular suit style in the 1860s. It looks to be a velvet suit and has very elaborate emroidery.

Sir James Matthew Barrie is the beloved Scottish author of the classic children's story--Peter Pan. Barrie was a Scottish dramacist and novelist. He was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire. I have little information on his childhood or what he wore as a boy. James for the first 6 years of his life, lived in the shadow of his elder brother David. Just before his 14th birthday, David was killed in a skating accident. James soon realised that, by dying so young, David would remain a boy forever in the minds of all those who had known him--just like Peter Pan.


James was raised by Margaret Oglivy. He adored his mother.


James for the first 6 years of his life, lived in the shadow of his elder brother David. In fact there were 10 other children. In the family mele, young James was sometimes lost. His older brother David was in fact his mother's favorite. Just before his 14th birthday, David was killed in a skating accident. James soon realised that, by dying so young, David would remain a boy forever in the minds of all those who had known him--just like Peter Pan.


James was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire. We do not that is boyhood was stongly affected by his older brother David. The tragic death of David brought home to James even at an early age that his brother would always be remembered as a boy. James was to spend much of the rest of his life trying to replace David for his mourning mother. James' efforts to substitute for a perpetually boyish David would affect Barrie's adult life and significantlt influence his writing. James as a boy was small and rather shy. Even as a adult he was only about five feet tall. Barrie became captivated by the theater, but I am not sure at what age.

Childhood Clothing

I have little information on his childhood or what he wore as a boy. As was the convention of the day, he would have worn dresses as a younger boy. We do not know when he was breeched. The only information we have at this time are available photographs. We do not know if he wore kilts. The earlies photograph we have found dates from about 1866. We notice him about age 6 wearing a cut-away jacket with knee pants (figure 1). I think it had a vest which was common at the time. This was a popular suit style in the 1860s and James' suit done in velvet with such elaborate embroidery would have been relatively expensive. It looks to be a velvet suit and has very elaborate emroidery. Notice the small white collar. He wears the suit without neckwear. He looks to be wearing argyle hosiery. Another portrait shows him a few years later, perhaps at about age 10 wearing a double-breasted knee pants suit. The knee pants are cut quite long. I can't tell anout his neckwear.


Barrie was educated at Edinburgh University.


Barrie began writing for the Nottingham Journal in 1883 and 2 years later settled in London where he wrote for the St. James Gazette and other periodicals. His first published volume Better Dead appeared in 1887. Auld Licht Idylls, a collection of humerous and pathetic sketches of life in Barrie's native village, appeared in 1888 and its sequel, A window in Thrums, a year later. He published The Little Minister in 1891, a romantic tale of love and adventure, containing a sympathetic account of the life of poor village weavers. The novel Sentimental Tommy was published in 1895 and its sequel, Tommy and Grizel in 1900. Barrie's first play, Walker, LondonThe Profesor's Love Story in 1895.

Figure 2.--This TV production shows how the Llewellyn-Davies boys were drssed for an outing to Kensington Gardens where Barrie met the boys. Tge man in the image is Barrie as played by Ian Holm.

Peter Pan

Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Barrie's Peter Pan. It was first presented on stage in 1904. Peter is a imaginary boy, leading the nursery-bound Darling children through exciting adventures. Peter is remembered for the Peter Pan collar. This was an existing fashion, but acquired the name because of illustrations for the book and theatrical costuming used in for Peter. Barrie wrote Peter Pan as a kind of tribute to the sons of his friends Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies. It was notably different than his earlier, more mature, realistic works that he had written and was to write. Peter Pan was more of a fantasy work, but it was not an ordinary fairy tale. Like Peter Pan himself, Barrie was a boy who refused to grow up. All of Barrie's ealirer work pailed in comparison to his next work--Peter Pan. His other works paled into minor footnotes in stage history when Barrie received iunstant fame in 1904 after the spectacularly successful production of Peter Pan. The poetic fairy tale received universal acclaim and has been continually produced in stage and movie versions--including the Disney animated version. It has been translated and produced in countless foreign language versions.

Personal Life

Barrie by the late 1890s was a successful writer both in Britain and the United States. He married actress Mary Ansell during the production of one of his plays. Their marriage was not a success, but while married to Mary, Barrie wrote his most memorable plays, The Little Minister (1897), The Admirable Crichton (1902), and his most memorable work--Peter Pan (1904). Janes and Marrie had no children, which was a great tragedy of his life because he so loved children. The fact that he had no children of his own, didn't stop him from meeting children. One of these was a 4-year-old girl called argaret who called Barrie "my friendy". Because she couldn't pronounce her "r"'s, the word "friendy" often sounded like "fwendy" or "wendy". She died when she was 6 but Barrie immortalised her in Peter Pan by calling his heroine Wendy, a name that he created. He was also very close to the Llewellyn Davies boys--George, Jack, and Peter who would help inspire Peter Pan. The boys were often dressed in smocks and berets.

Figure 3.--Actual photographs confirm that the Llewellyn-Davies boys were dressed in smocks, knickers, and floppy hats for informal play around the house. This photograph shows George and Jack in 1897. This was the year Peter was born.

The Llewellyn-Davies Children

Barrie's London home was very close to Kensington Gardens and it was here that he first met the Llewellyn Davies boys - George, Jack and Peter. He described their mother as "the most beautiful creature I had ever seen" and soon he was a frequent visitor to their house where he would tell the boys stories. One of these stories was about the youngest boy, Peter, who, according to Barrie, would one day fly away to Kensington Gardens so that he might be a boy forever. When children died, Peter would take them on a journey to a place called Never Never Land. When George heard the story, he said that "dying must be an awfully big adventure!". Barrie wrote the words down. They would later became the most famous words spoken in Peter Pan.

Further Work

Barrie wrote several additional plays. All were well received at the time. They included: What Every Woman Knows (1906), Dear Brutus (1917), and Mary Rose (1920). They are, however, little remembered today. It is Peter Pan that we remember tody. The original story was published as a play. Barrie in 1912 turned it into a book, called Peter and Wendy. Like the stage productions, it was a phenomenal success. It was eventually published in many different languages and continues to nchnt childrn around the world today.

Later Life

Barrie's marriage did not last. Mary Ansell divorced him in 1908. It was a sad year for the Llewelyn Davies boys. Their farther Arthur died of cancer. Their mother Sylvia died a few years later in 1910. Barrie raised all five boys as if they had been his own children. His reputation as an author only grew as published editions of his famed story enchanted children all over the world. Barrie was made a baronet and was honored with a number of honorary degrees recognizing his literary accomplishments. He died in 1937 much remembered.


The life of J.M. Barry and the writing of Peter Pan has been the subject of a wonderful TV film, The Lost Boys. One of the images is seen here. A British reader tells us in 2002 a new film version is being shot--Neverland. He reports that that there is already a full scale Hollywood treatment of the story on the internet. Ian Holm was perect casting for Barrie who was a very unprepossessing little man. So who have the Hollywood guys cast in the role, but the charismatic (and normal height) Johnny Depp! I am not sure yet about the costuming.


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Created: July 15, 2002
Last updated: 2:02 PM 9/2/2007