Peter Davies obituary

Other Lives: Britain’s foremost scholar of the international shipping industry

Peter Davies, my colleague and friend, who has died aged 92, was Britain’s foremost scholar of the international shipping industry. His published output was prodigious, including books on Liverpool’s involvement in the West African trade, The Trade Makers: Elder Dempster in West Africa, 1852-1972 (1973) and Sir Alfred Jones: Shipping Entrepreneur Par Excellence (1978). But what set Peter apart from other maritime historians was his willingness to place Liverpool’s role in a comparative context.

His interest in Japan led to publications such as The Japanese Shipping and Shipbuilding Industries (with Tomohei Chida, 1990); a biography of Brigadier Sir Philip Toosey, The Man Behind the Bridge (1991); the memoirs of Yoshihiko Futamatsu, the Japanese engineer who supervised the Burma-Thailand Railway’s construction, Across the Three Pagodas Pass (2013); and The Business, Life and Letters of Frederick Cornes (2008), about a 19th-century British merchant trading in Japan.

Peter was instrumental in strengthening the international standing of maritime history: he was the first president of the International Maritime Economic History Association and chaired both national and international bodies with distinction.

Born in Birkenhead, he was the son of Tom Davies, a Great Western Railway employee, and his wife, Edith (nee Carver), and was brought up in Egan Road, part of the council’s postwar housing development for Birkenhead’s disadvantaged North End. He attended two local primary schools and Temple Road school. Conscripted into the Royal Army Service Corps, he was one of the last British soldiers to leave Palestine in 1948. After being demobbed, he established a motorcycle business and acquired a stake in two local car companies.

Having obtained a teaching diploma at St John’s College, York, in 1958, he became an undergraduate in Liverpool University’s economics department at the age of 30. Under the guidance of Francis Hyde and Sheila Marriner, the nucleus of the Liverpool School of Maritime History, Peter’s academic future was assured. He rose rapidly through the ranks, from tutor to emeritus professor on his retirement in 1993.

Peter demonstrated what could be achieved by determination and charm, at a time when universities offered mature students the prospect of social mobility. As a staff member, he remained committed to Liverpool University for more than 55 years; he was a man of many parts, a real gentleman.

He is survived by his wife, Maureen (nee Cheshire), whom he married in 1962, and by his son, Simon.

Robert Lee

The GuardianTramp

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