25th April 1867

Jersey benefactor Thomas Davis is born

Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis was born in St Helier, and died, aged 75, in Durban, South Africa. During his lifetime he was a sailor, dock worker, trader and yacht racer. However, wherever he happened to be in the world, he never forgot his humble birth and upbringing in Jersey.

His trading business made him a considerable fortune, which he spent on bequests that he named after his son, Howard, who had died of wounds he sustained during the Battle of the Somme. These include Howard Davis Farm, which he gifted to the States of Jersey for use in developing an interest in science among the youth of Jersey. It is now the headquarters of the Jersey Agricultural Department.

Gifts to the people of Jersey

He also funded the building of Howard Hall at Victoria College when he’d discovered that there was no room in the existing school buildings to hang a picture of the king he’d commissioned. He also bought a 10-acre estate, which he renamed Howard Davis Park and gave to the people of Jersey shortly before the start of the Second World War, during which it was used to grow vegetables.

Upon his death, he left a considerable fortune and a yacht called Westward that he insisted was to be scuttled off the coast of the Channel Islands. The Westward had been built at Rhode Island and once belonged to the Kaiser. Worth £60,000 (around £2.3m today), it had frequently raced against King George V’s yacht, Britannia, and was well-known in Dartmouth where it was berthed. Indeed, it was so well-loved that despite the fact the date of its sinking had been kept a secret until the very last moment, Dartmouth residents had turned out to see it off and, according to the Western Morning News, “The smoke of the tug [that took Westward] along the estuary was so dense that some local people believed a smoke screen was being thrown out to hide the schooner’s departure.”

Yacht destroyed

A report in The Times read, “In accordance with the owner’s will, two members of the crew, Skipper Aldis and the sailmaker, Mr James Foster, were the last to be on board. Two souvenirs were taken from the Westward – the wheel and a punt.”

The Western Morning News described the sinking in more detail: “Preliminaries completed, the explosives in the hold of the vessel were detonated by means of a switch from the cabin of the tug and also by a time fuse. There was a loud roar as the explosion took place, with clouds of smoke billowing in mushroom fashion into the clear sky, intermingled with pieces of timber which fell over a wide area of the sea. Westward gradually settled and disappeared from the view of the men watching in the tug, leaving only a few floating spars.”


FREE Jersey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Jersey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.



Other events that occured in April