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Scottish playwright and novelist, James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), was in kinship care as a child. 

James was the second youngest child of Margaret and David Barrie who, at the time of James’ birth, lived in a small cottage in Kirriemuir in the burg of Angus with their six children; the oldest, eighteen-year-old Alick, was studying at Aberdeen University. Given the paucity of their own education, Margaret (daughter of a stonemason) and David (a weaver) were determined that their children had more opportunities than they had been afforded and “a university education remained one of the pinnacles of social achievement” (Chaney, 11). 

When James was seven, his fourteen-year-old brother, David, died. Faced with rejection by his grief-stricken mother, biographer Lisa Chaney argues that Jamie coped by telling stories and conducting performances. 

Returning from his travels [to and from school Jamie] was learning better how to draw his mother out of her wretchedness. As the weeks passed she became more willing to listen to her small boy’s adventures. Besides, he had a way of telling that captured you, and Margaret loved stories as much as did her small son. In this way there were discovering a bond that would bind them together as closely as anything ever could (Chaney, 23).  

In August 1868, eight-year-old Jamie travelled by train by himself to Glasgow (a distance of about 158 km) where Alick was teaching and his sister Mary Ann was keeping house. The motive for sending Jamie to live with his siblings was to expand Jamie’s outlook and improve his education. Despite being well cared for, the boy was often homesick and lonely. 

Jamie returned to live with his family when he was about ten as his brother was training to become a school inspector and did not have time to care for the child. When Alick took up a post as an inspector for schools in the district of Dumfries (about 261 km southwest of Kirriemuir), he argued that Jamie would be better off at Dumfries Academy and Jamie moved in with Alick and Mary Ann again. 

On finishing at Dumfries Academy, eighteen-year-old Jamie returned to his parents’ home in Kirriemuir. He was determined to become a writer, to the horror of his parents and older brother. At his family’s insistence, Jamie attended Edinburgh University where he was largely unhappy and grateful to be finished four years later. 

In 1885, and against the advice of his family, James Barrie set off for London. Based in Bloomsbury, Barrie earned a modest living as a freelance journalist, writing for various periodicals and gradually making a name for himself. He published his first novel, Better Dead, in 1987. By 1888, Barrie had won the support of three influential magazine editors and was the author of three novels. 

James Barrie married Mary Ansell (1861-1950) in 1894 and about three years later, while walking the family dog, Barrie met the Llewelyn-Davis family. As Barrie invented stories to entertain the five Llewelyn-Davis boys, he developed the character of Peter Pan. The first appearance of Peter Pan was in The Little White Bird in 1901, followed by the stage play, Peter Pan, in 1904. 

After Arthur (1863-1907) and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davis (1866-1910) died, Barrie became one of the guardians of the five boys. 

James Barrie was knighted in 1913 and received the Order of Merit in 1922. He was Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh from 1930 to 1937.

When James Barrie died in 1937, there was mourning throughout Britain. 

Crowds gathered; reporters and newsreel men came to record the day, and many well-known figures followed the coffin to the cemetery on Kirriemuir Hill…In Edinburgh at the same time an open-air service for six hundred was held in the Old College quad of Barrie’s university. A month later a memorial service took place at St Paul’s Cathedral (Chaney, p. 368). 

J.M. Barrie is best remembered now for his Peter Pan character which has been featured in numerous plays, film, and merchandise since Barrie’s death. The copyright is held by the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London. 


Chaney, Lisa. Hide-and-Seek with Angels. New York, St Martin’s Press, 2005. 

“J.M. Barrie.” New World Encyclopedia. 

Lane, Anthony. “Why J.M. Barrie Created Peter Pan.” The New Yorker, 14 November, 2004. 

Image available here.