The Vaughan Palmer Davies years on Skomer Island: 1861 – 1892

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Vaughan Palmer Davies (1826 – 1914) was born to a local tenant farmer, Thomas Mathias Davies and his wife Emily Mathias Davies (née Palmer) at Broom Hill Farm, near Dale.

At the age of 18, Vaughan Davies became an apprentice seaman aboard the barque Worcester in 1844. Between August 1847 and December 1849, Vaughan served as second officer on the brig Poppy, sailing out of Calcutta and transporting opium into China, and in 1854 he became the captain of another opium brig, Arrow. In all, Vaughan spent thirteen years engaged in the opium trade, sailing between Calcutta, Bombay, Canton, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Although he probably intended to continue working at sea (having obtained his steamer certificate in October 1860), in 1861 he was persuaded by his father-in-law and farmer of Skomer Island, Edward Robinson, to take over the lease of the island. In 1864 Vaughan renewed the lease for another 22 years, at a rent of £145 a year, which included Skomer, Middleholm and, on the mainland, ‘Martin’s Haven House’.

Vaughan and Ellen Davies had seven children: four boys and three girls. A nurse and subsequently a governess were employed to care for the children on the island, and when old enough the girls were sent to a finishing school.

Having been raised in a very religious family, Vaughan maintained his strong beliefs and was the head of an equally religious family on Skomer; beginning each morning with prayers before breakfast and leading a service on Sundays.

The surviving diaries and correspondences of Vaughan and his wife Ellen during the 1880s provide an insight into both domestic and farm life on the island, many of which are available at Pembrokeshire Archives in Haverfordwest.  These documents suggest that the islanders were largely self-sufficient with nearly all their food coming from the farm.

Records and photographs of their time on the island show that the Davies’ life on Skomer was very similar to that on the mainland, with the exception of being constrained by the weather and their ability to put to sea in small boats.

In March 1892, after 30 years of farming and living on Skomer, Vaughan Davies and his wife Ellen left the island to settle at Oystermouch, Swansea Bay. This marked the end of sustainable farming on the island and the last time that a farmer living on the island would derive their entire income from farming.

By the time of the 1911 census, Vaughan, together with his wife Ellen and daughter Annie Maud Fulshaw (widow), was living in Narborough, Leicestershire. Ellen Angelica Davies died in Leicestershire on 25 March 1913, and Vaughan survived her by little more than a year, dying on 11 May 1914.

‘Skomer Island’, Alexander M., 2021