9th May 1860

Author JM Barrie is born

James Matthew Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Angus, and is best remembered as the author of the stage play ‘Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’, which was first performed in 1904. He gave the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children so that it could benefit from the royalties, and a model of Peter Pan now stands in Kirriemuir.

The National Trust for Scotland looks after the weaver’s house in the town in which he was born and where he lived with seven siblings in two upstairs rooms. One of his brothers was killed in an accident in his early teens, and it seems that this may have inspired the story of Peter Pan, as the boy would never grow up.

Journalism and publishing

He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, then took a job as a journalist before publishing his first book, Auld Licht Idylls, in 1888. This, and the two that followed it, brought him global fame by the time he turned 30. “But the shy Scott evaded public view,” reported the Dundee Courier in a retrospective published on 21 June 1937 following his death. Instead, “Barrie’s genius was diverted into realms of pure whimsy, while himself was impelled and compelled into the bustling world he had shunned. He had been old when young; now he became young as he grew old.”

He invented the character of Peter Pan for his 1902 book The Little White Bird, and explored him further in a 1904 stage play. The play formed the basis of his 1911 book Peter and Wendy.

Rave reviews

The Pall Mall Gazette of 28 December 1904 described Peter Pan as “less of a play than a playground”, and its journalist claimed to have enjoyed the play more than any piece produced for many months. “It is because of Mr Barrie’s marvellous fertility in humorous and pathetic touches. A dramatic outline [like this] would, in any other hands, have produced an intolerable mass of irritating padding. With Mr Barrie, when he chooses to be sporting, the padding becomes the life and soul of the piece.”

The same day’s Sheffield Daily Telegraph was similarly flattering with regards to the performance at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre, saying “there is an elusive unanalyzable quality about Mr Barrie’s stage work that seems to touch magically the meanest and most trivial thing and the most absurd.”

Barrie spent much of his working life in London, and after marrying the actress Mary Ansell in Kirriemuir in 1894 they bought a house overlooking Kensington Gardens, where a statue of Peter Pan was erected during his lifetime. The marriage ended in divorce and, upon Barrie’s death of pneumonia in London in 1937, his body was returned to the town of his birth. The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 24 June 1937 announced “Barrie’s Homecoming” as his remains were laid to rest at Kirriemuir Churchyard. He was buried alongside his parents and some of his siblings.



Other events that occured in May

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