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John Arthur Davies

Origins of the Debes Family

      According to family legend, the Debes (pronounced 'De Besse') family escaped from La Rochelle, France, shortly before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Huguenots fled La Rochelle at the time of its siege and capture by royalist, Catholic troops. Their destination: Protestant countries such as England and Holland. The Huguenot Society in London, England, has records of indigent French Huguenot émigrés from the late 17th century whom they helped. More research may dig up a clue there. (For a brief history of the Huguenots, see "Who were the Huguenots?")
      There are Debeses in Texas and Kentucky, but they trace their roots to the Debeses concentrated in the Strasbourg area of France/Germany. The Debes name seems only to be found in protestant-sympathizing areas such as Holland, the Bas-Rhin, and England. In Holland, the name appears as "De Bes". In France, though there may be as many as 250 Debes households, the form "de Besse" is more common. The name translates to 'birch tree', and the surname may refer to a small village, Besse, south of the Loire.

The above information courtesy of A. Debes, England, 1999.

Davies of Liverpool

      The first Debes ancestor we have evidence of, John Debes (1726 -1789), is said to have been 'press-ganged' in Liverpool, and escaped into Wales, where he changed his name to Davies (a very common name in Wales) in order to avoid recapture and transportation or hanging. John Debes died in Wavertree, Lancashire, England, June 16, 1789.
    The Debes/Davies were nurserymen in Wavertree, Liverpool, England, for at least 150 years. The family owned Thomas Davies and Co., nurserymen and seedsmen, Wavertree (See Thomas Davies II Biography).
    John Arthur Davies, 1835-1915, (brother of Thomas Davies II) married Mary Ann Masser of France. They had four children: Thomas Harold, Ernest, Harriet, and John Arthur (II). 

"My grandmother's name was Mary Ann Masser... She was delicate, very beautiful, and possessed an extraordinary voice. She was studying music in Paris at the time she met my grandfather, John Arthur Davies... My grandfather was an oil importer; he amassed a large fortune at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. This, due to the introduction of illuminating gas and the use of adulterants, which he would not countenance, barely lasted his own lifetime. He died in 1915, aged 80. His wife had died 43 years previously in childbirth, although she had been consumptive for a year or two preceding her death."

From "Assets and Liabilities", Pauline Winifred Davies, 1932
    John Arthur Davies (II) married Florence Winn YATES  in 1867 in Fairfield, Liverpool, England. At some point, they moved to Leeds. They had eight children: Florence Thelma, Marjorie, John Leslie, Arthur Ronald, and Audrey May (all born in England), Pauline Winifred (born in Victoria, B.C.), and Thomas Yates (born in Berkeley, CA).
     The family departed their home in Leeds abt. 1900, stopping to visit 'Uncle Tom' (Thomas Davies II) in Liverpool before setting sail for Canada. They stopped first in Calgary. From Calgary they went to Victoria, British Columbia, and finally settled in Berkeley, California, about 1911.
     "My father [John Arthur Davies (II)] received his early education at the Leeds Grammar School under Rev. Powys, father of the famous Powys brothers. He ran away to sea at the age of 14, received his master's papers at the age of 24 when he married my mother. My mother [Florence Winn YATES] had quite a large fortune; this enabled my father to go into the banking business and a number of other side-lines, at all of which he lost money. He finally settled on publicity and advertising, introduced the famous Players Cigarettes, and set on its way the first gigantic, systematic world-wide advertising campaign, that of the Nestle Mild and Chocolate Company.
     "A few years after Audrey's birth, my father, much to my mother's dissatisfaction, picked up bag and baggage, and shaking the dust of England from his feet, sailed with his family to Canada. With foresight now vindicated he chose Calgary - a puny settlement of frame houses, divided by rivers of mud where Indians still came to trade beadwork and furs for whiskey and a bolt of printed calico. Here he settled my mother, who had never even buttoned her own shoes, to wrest with open plumbing and woodstove. (The cook-servant who accompanied the family to Canada demanded her return ticket to England in short order.)
     "He himself set out to acquire land whereon the principal business section of that thriving community stands; the task only too easy, but what after that? The land had little real value; he amused himself by building the library that was later the first public library in Canada.
     "With the full winter came sickness for my mother, and the end of my father's game. The doctors told him mother would never be well in the terrific cold of Central Canada, that the coast would be her only salvation. After a visit to Victoria for recuperation her ultimatum was removal to Victoria or permanent return to England. Then, drawing up an elaborate document, he gave his recently acquired domain to the City of Calgary forever, his library to the people of Calgary, and set off again with his progeny to the halcyon shores of Victoria. Here he established the household, if only for a few years, yet long enough for my advent to take place - an unexpected event after ten years of rest for my mother."

From "Assets and Liabilities", Pauline Winifred Davies, 1932

Debes/Davies Gravestone in Childwall


Davies gravestone in Childwall

Debes/Davies gravestone
Childwall, Lancashire


The family tombstone at the Parish of Childwall All Saints Church (formerly St. Peter's) reads:

"Here lieth the remains of John Debes who departed this life June 16th 1789 aged 65 years. Also John Davies (otherwise Debes) son of the above who departed this life December 19th 1832 aged 58. Here lieth the remains of Mary Ellen daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Davies of Wavertree, who departed this life 12th day of October 1846 Aged 16. Also the above-named Thomas Davies, son of John Davies (or Debes) Born October 2nd 1802, Died September 21st 1887. And Elizabeth Lunt his wife, Died March 1853 Aged 43. Stephen Davies, Died May 1885, Aged 74."

Thomas Davies Biography

Other Useful Links:

Biography of Thomas Davies II

The Surname Web

DAVIES Resource Page at RootsWeb

Liverpool and S.W. Lancs Family History Society

EnglandGenWeb Project
GEN UKI - UK and Ireland Genealogy
ScotlandGenWeb Project 

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