Who links Saundersfoot to the Nobel Peace Prize?

The answer is the Rev. William Evans Darby, nominated for the Prize in seven out of thirteen years between 1901 and 1913 for his work as secretary to the Peace Society.

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

Born in Laugharne in Carmarthenshire in 1844, his parents soon moved to Saundersfoot where William spent his formative years. Apparently the family descended from Anglo-Irish stock with an estate based around Leap Castle in Co. Offaly. He had several illustrious members in his extended family. The writer of one of his obituaries claimed that William’s great-grandfather was Admiral Sir Henry D’Esterre Darby (friend of Lord Nelson), although the precise relationship is in some doubt. Another was John Nelson Darby, a key member of the non-conformist evangelical Plymouth Brethren in the mid-1800s. Yet another will be familiar to anyone who has studied English medieval history as William’s great-nephew, Prof. Sir H C Darby, was the author of the ground-breaking seven-volume geographical analysis of the Domesday Book first published in the 1950s.

On the one hand, it is therefore perhaps not surprising that William rose to the status he did. For 26 years from 1889, he was secretary of the Peace Society, an organisation formed by Quakers in 1816 for the “Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace” taking a leading role in setting the organisation’s strategy. He travelled widely in Europe and North America speaking at annual peace congresses and also published extensively on topics such as peace, international law and temperance.

On the other, however, irrespective of his family’s lineage, William’s success is surprising. His father, Evan, was one of several harbour pilots at Saundersfoot, a competitive business heavily dependant on the ‘boom or bust’ coal trade. According to his obituary writers, William’s family lived in the poverty that affected so many around the area. Narberth Poor Law Union documents confirm this: his father was a pauper in the 1870s. At one point the local community had to club together to pay for repairs to his vandalised sails.

William Evans Darby's gravestone at the City of London Cemetery, buried 13 November 1922

The inscription on Darby's gravestone remembers him as "An Apostle of Peace"

How did William rise from this? Like his contemporary, the Rev. James Thomas, education is the answer. Set to follow his father’s maritime career, his potential was spotted by a local teacher who ensured that William received good and prolonged schooling. Unfortunately, unlike Thomas, there is no record of which school he attended but it may have been at New Hedges (a mile south west from Saundersfoot) where he later taught.

William completed his formal education at the non-conformist theological college, New College, London, in the mid-1860s. Student records for this period are currently unavailable so it is not clear how William could afford this final step but he was later ordained into the Independent church becoming minister at various chapels in England between 1868 and 1889.

At the risk of being unduly critical it can’t be said that his professional life was wholly successful. He was declared bankrupt in 1885 following some ill-advised dabbling in local politics in Chippenham, Wiltshire. More importantly, the outbreak of war in 1914 shows that the Peace Society failed in its objectives, suffering much criticism from around 1900 for its passivity as Europe headed towards war. When William retired in 1915 the once-thriving society was effectively moribund. He was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Note

My thanks to Annette Harrison, a descendant of Evan Darby, for her help with this post.

Sources

Tenby Observer newspaper

Western Independent newspaper

Herald of Peace journal

Congregational Year Book, 1923

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Narberth Poor Law Union Abstracts (Cat ref. HDX/1026/1/15)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required)

The British Peace Movement, 1870-1914, Paul Laity, Clarendon, 2002

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