The Reverend Mister Davies
By Fay Herridge
I often heard my grandmother speak of ‘The Reverend Mister Davies’, the Church of England minister who once visited a number of the small outports on Newfoundland’s south coast. He was tall, thin, always wore a hat, and was known to have a good sense of humour.
James Davies was born on 15 March 1889 in Aberdeen, Scotland, the seventh of eight children born to Robert Watts Davies and Frances Jane Ramsbotham. In 1918 he married Doris Louisa Sykes, daughter of Robert Sykes and Sarah Ann Rhodes. They had at least four children, two sons and two daughters, who may still be living. During the First World War, Rev. Davies served as chaplain to the armed forces in France, while his future wife served as an army nurse.
When Rev. Davies came to Newfoundland, he was stationed at Belleoram. His actual parish, however, extended from St. Jacques to Point Rosie, which was practically all of Fortune Bay. It included such places as, Anderson’s Cove, Stone’s Cove, New Harbour, Grand John, Grand Jarvis, Hoop Cove, Hare Harbour and many others which have long since been abandoned. The only way to get around his parish was by boat and he had just one man to assist him. His first boat, the St. Mary Stafford, had a small Kelvin engine which was donated by the parish of that name in England.
It took a fair amount of time to visit all the communities in his parish so he spent a good deal of time traveling. When he came to Anderson’s Cove he often took a little time to go up Long Harbour fishing with Tom Pope, the Brook Warden at that time.
He kept his boat at Anderson’s Cove and walked to Stone’s Cove for morning and evening services at the church. Anderson’s Cove, like many of the other little settlements in his care, had no church, so he would have prayers and serve Holy Communion in someone’s home.
He was a small man who would not back down from a challenge and when he wanted to accomplish something, it took a big man to stop him. He once quarreled with John Kearley regarding some church matter. Frustrated, Kearley told him, ‘Mr. Davies, if you weren’t what you are, I’d hit you.’ To which, Davies calmly replied, ‘Mr. Kearley, if I weren’t what I am, I’d have hit you long ago!’
In the early thirties the Doctor Fitz-Gerald’s grandson, Conrad III (known as Con), came from Trinity to spend the winter with his grandparents. A big, strapping, young man, Con was doing quite well at the time as a heavy-weight boxer in Newfoundland, and before long he set up a ring in the doctor's boathouse. Con weighed around 180 pounds, and wasn’t a bit bashful about his boxing abilities. Reverend Davies, who weighed about 130 pounds, announced one day that he would go a few rounds with Con. Although he was surprised, and thought that such a mismatch could only be a joke, Con finally agreed. Skipper Randell Young, the only witness, later said that the movements of Rev. Davies were ‘a pleasure to behold.’ He said that there was no contest for Davies completely outsmarted and out-punched his much heavier and younger opponent.
He was also generous to a fault and, although his earnings were small, he could not resist giving to anyone who was in greater need than himself. Many times he gave items of clothing belonging to himself or his wife to ‘someone who needed it more.’ These donations were often made on the spur of the moment, without his wife’s knowledge, until she mentioned a missing item. He would then tell her, ‘Oh, I gave that to so-and-so.’
When Davies came for service at Anderson’s Cove and Stone’s Cove, he stayed at the home of my grandparents, Arthur and Lucy Herridge. His wife sometimes traveled with him but stayed on board the boat, which was fitted with sleeping quarters. In his leisure time, Rev. Davies would go out on the family’s wharf and paint, sitting on a chair with his paper in one hand and paintbrush in the other.
One of his favourite meals was salt cod’s heads, boiled and served with pork fat and onions. One time he walked into the Herridge home, sniffed appreciatively and asked what was cooking. Upon being told it was venison, he wanted to know exactly what that was. ‘Well, that’s what we call caribou,’ was the reply. Davies knew it was illegal to kill caribou and said that he would not be able to eat any. My grandmother thought he didn’t like the meat. ‘Oh yes, I like it,’ he assured her, ‘but I wish you hadn’t told me what it is. I can’t eat forbidden meat.’ This was an excellent example of the strength of his religious beliefs and convictions.
Reverend Davies returned to England in 1933. Sometime after that he sent two small paintings of Anderson’s Cove to my grandmother, one of which has the date 1929 written on the back. Included with the paintings was this short note:
Dear Mrs. Herridge,
It is a long time since I painted this picture. I hope you will like it. It might be worth framing and hanging on the wall. I would like to go sailing up Long Harbour if the weather was good.
How are all the children? I expect there are grandchildren for you to look after. Remember me to all the folk.
A happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.
James R. Davies
‘The Reverend Mister Davies’ died on 02 November 1962 in Devon. His paintings are still hanging on the wall as he had hoped they might, a treasured memento of my birthplace
© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Apr/May 2007
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