One of the most famous and perhaps lovable convicts who have had the pleasure of a spell in Dartmoor Prison has to be David Davies, aka Evans, also known as the Dartmoor Shepherd. For a series of petty crimes he served at total of some 50 years in various gaols including the infamous Dartmoor Prison. He became known as the ‘Dartmoor Shepherd’ due to the fact that he had a natural way with sheep and therefore tended the prison flock. His story can be read on the Dartmoor Shepherd link above. What this page concerns are some letters which he wrote to some prominent politicians of the late 19th century following his release. These made their way into the popular press of the time and once you know his background give a great insight to his wry humour.
These extracts came from the satirical page of a publication called ‘The Penny Illustrated Paper’ which was the equivalent of the modern-day Spectator. They all relate to spoof letters written about or by the ‘Dartmoor Shepherd’. These lines refer to David Davies’ release from Dartmoor Prison in 1911 thanks to the intervention of Winston Churchill and D. Lloyd George. One of the special conditions of his early release was that he travelled to Ruthin to work on a farm as a shepherd for a period not less than six months. Failure to comply with this meant that either his release license was revoked or he was convicted of breach of release conditions. Additionally anyone aiding and abetting him breaking the conditions would also be liable to conviction.
At this time of strict penal penalties many people and opposition politicians saw this as not only a weakness but also some ‘spin’ nearing election time insomuch as those sympathising with the harsh penal conditions might be swayed to vote for Lloyd George. Unfortunately everything back-fired because two days after arriving at Ruthin he promptly ‘did’ one’ and absconded from the farm thus breaking his release conditions and making him once again a wanted man. Clearly all those who opposed his release soon jumped on the bandwagon thus making political gain from the situation. On the 8th of Febuary 1911 the questions as to why was asked in Parliament. A Hansard transcript of which can be found – HERE.
- Saturday January 21st 1911.
“To David Davies, Shepherd, Ex-convict and Gentleman at large from the Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George: DEAR DAVIES. Where have you gone? Gentle shepherd, tell me where? Why do you make mincemeat of one of the most thrilling speeches I ever delivered? Why do you go on the tramp when you might be a guardian of sheep? Good Heavens, Good Evans, Do mend your ways. Yours in Despair, D. LLOYD GEORGE.
His reply – To Lloyd George Esq.; from the Old Shepherd. OLE PAL, I’ve been gone and done it, Ye never seen nor heerd tell of sich a game. Told ’em the tale -lordy! you’d ave busted yer sides wiv larfin’ – at the old farm.; come the religious over em – you know how that goes down amongst those Welsh, eh! ole Flick? and di a shimozzle – wich is Dartmoor for vamoose.
But orl rite and never fear, ole luvvy, I’ll be in Dartmoor or Portland in time for the next general elekshun – and will send you the strate by wun of my friends amongst the warders so as you can come and get me out in time for the vote-catching.
Only non of yer two-bob poor boxes this time – if I’m lagged it will be for the real thing. S’help me if I don’t do in ole ‘Erb Askwith for ye so as yer can get his job. Wot-ho. So toodle-oo, and may the heavens send you his blessing (the ole religious touch – wot!.). DAVID THE GENTUL SHEPHERED (I don’t think).
- Saturday January 28th 1911.
“To Doctor Waldron, from Evans the Dartmoor Shepherd. DEAR DOCTOR. You jolly knows wot’s wot. You says how its the dooty of Inglishmen and wimmin to travel as much as they kan. That’s wot I am doing of. Good luck to ye and Minister Lloyd George and Churchill. Yourn SHEPHERD EVANS.
- Saturday March 11th 1911.
“The Dartmoor shepherd forwards a memorial to Home Secretary pointing out that proposed tram service will arouse painful memories in its ex-convict customers.”
- Saturday April 15th 1911.
“Letter to Winston and Lloyd George from David Davies the was lost and now is found shepherd of Dartmoor. Sirs.- Bo-Peep. Yours sheepishly, Davies.
- Saturday April 11th 1911.
“There still of course, remains whisky, and it is to be hoped that the gourmets in their baulked condition will not emulate the example of the Government’s pet, the Dartmoor Shepherd and make lawless raids upon their neighbour’s supply of Scotch. But in these days one never knows. He thought he saw a savoury, Extremely nicely peppered, He looked again, and saw it was, An ancient Dartmoor shepherd, since he cannot change his spots, he said, He’s cuter than the leopard.”
The reason I have included this page is that it nicely accompanies the Dartmoor Shepherd’s story of a maverick whose is fairly harmless but has no regard for authority and clearly captured the imagination of the British public in the early 1900s. If you look at the old photograph of him above you can see a sparkle in his eye and a mischievous look on his face.