Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis

Way back in June, Doug Forde, Head of Community Learning at Jersey Heritage , wrote in to ask for information on TB Davis, Davis was a prominent businessman in Durban, having been born in Jersey.

He wrote:

I am researching the life of Jerseyman Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis (1867-1942) for an exhibition here in the island at the Maritime Museum for next March. Davis moved to Durban about 1902 and by 1905 he had made enough money to build a house on the Berea (Port View, Cowie Road). He was involved in stevedoring all over Southern Africa yet the records are a bit thin on the ground up here in the UK and the islands. He obvious was very successful as during the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s he gave away about £1 million sterling to various causes in both Jersey and South Africa.

Can you or any of your readers give me any information about his various business activities? His headquarters was Sivad Buildings on the Point and the parent company was known as Thomas BF Davis. He also operated as Messsrs Brock and Co Ltd in other ports.

I would also be most interested to know whether, apart from the Modwena, did Davis' Natal Shipping and Trading Company own any other vessels? When he died in 1942 his son changed the name of his company to Urda (SA) Ltd.

A final question concerns his son and that is which of his three Christian names did he go by Frederick, Thomas or Glenham. I do hope you or your readers can help.
Best wishes, Doug.

I published his request on the diary pages of the website and, in due course, received a number of replies from readers.

My informant Tony Large wrote:

My interest in the barque/yacht Modwena arises from the fact that my late father commanded her, at a time when TB Davis owned her, on two trading voyages between Durban and Madagascar. Three or four years ago I decided to find out a little more about her. I remember this beautiful little ship at moorings in Durban Bay prior to her being scuttled in the mid nineteen thirties.

By that time, TB Davis had long relinquished ownership. I was confident that TBD, self-made, powerful, extroverted and locally of great prominence, would have left memorabilia behind him, including, I believed, plans and/or paintings, photos, maybe even half models of his ships, including Modwena.

I set about finding his descendants and traces of both man and ship in local Durban shipping circles, museums and collections but had extraordinary little success – a disappointment and a surprise. If there were leavings, they’d vanished.

My father’s tale was worth telling and a local (Ulverstone, Tasmania) solicitor, Desmond Jackson, now dead, extracted it from him in taped sessions, edited it and from some of the memoirs the book *Windjammer ‘Prentice eventuated. (It is still available on the Web).

At the end of his twenty years at sea, largely in sail, and newly married, my father decided it was time to come ashore. His wife, my mother, was a Durban girl whose father was also of importance in local shipping, and a good friend of TB Davis. In short TBD came to an agreement that if my father took command of Modwena until he could find a regular captain, TBD would give my father a job in one of his stevedoring enterprises.

That’s all I know, a little derived from father/son talk, but most from the examination of the tapes that made the book Windjammer ‘Prentice.

*I'd heartily reccomend Windjammer 'Prentice, which I did find on the web. Ed.
** See here for the transcription of the tapes which record the incident when Modwena's capatain was fired and Vincent Large assumed command.

Dave Puttick wrote:

My father ,who is now 80, used to live 3 houses away from Port View in Cowie Road and remembers TB Davis. Here are some on the things he told me: (This period about 1937 - 1940 or 41)

1) TB Davis paid for and had built the dome on Howard College University building.

2) Soon after WWII started, General Smuts [SA Prime Minister. Ed.] came to his house for a visit. My father clearly remembers all the hullabaloo that went on when Smuts arrived in Cowey Road.

3) His wife needed some specialised surgery (for that time) so he built an operating theater adjacent to the house so she could have the procedure done "at home".

4) He then put a lift into the house to assist her going upstairs. (According to my father everyone was totally amazed about this as it was a HUGE thing, in those days, to have a house with a lift in it.

TB Davis

TB Davis in classic pose at the wheel of his Durban-registered schooner 'Westward'. When he raced, he did so as a member of the Royal Cape Yacht Club of Cape Town, SA . It was only when he stopped racing in 1936 that he moved her registry to Jersey.

Picture courtesy Doug Forde.

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