James Lennox Kerr

James Lennox Kerr

James Lennox Kerr (1 July 1899 – 11 March 1963, aged 63) was a Scottish socialist author noted for his children's stories written under the pseudonym of "Peter Dawlish". He lived in Paisley until 1915, joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve by claiming to be 18, then served on merchant ships until 1929. After spending some time in Australia and America (his first book, for adults, Back Door Guest, described life as a hobo in USA and Canada, and is full of social comment which was then controversial) he settled in Pimlico in 1930, marrying Elizabeth "Mornie" Birch of Penwith, Cornwall (daughter of John "Lamorna" Birch the RA painter) in 1932. These details are in his autobiography (Kerr 1940). He wrote 32 books for children, most with a nautical theme and 23 books for adults, many commenting on working class life in Scotland, America and Australia. He served on minesweepers in World War II, assisted at Omaha beach, and was Mentioned In Despatches. As an author he used, in addition to his own name, the pseudonyms "Douglas Gavin" for adult books and "Peter Dawlish" for children's books after 1938 (Bigger, 2007). Kerr was a self proclaimed socialist, but he was never a member of the Communist Party. He joined and then left the Labour Party. He is survived by a son whose reminiscences are used by Wormleighton (1995) and Bigger (2007).



As James Lennox Kerr

  • Back Door Guest (1930)
  • Ice(1931)
  • Glenshiels (1932)
  • Woman of Glenshiels (1935) - this novel is particularly noted for his portrayal of a conscientious objector in the First World War who is pressured to enlist in the British Army and is killed in France.
  • The Blackspit Smugglers – An adventure novel for boys (1935)
  • The Eye of the Earth - a story of the arctic for boys (1936)
  • The Eager Years: An Autobiography (1940)
  • Wavy Navy : by some who served (1950) - about the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. It was edited by Kerr and David James, and included a foreword by Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope.
  • Touching the Adventures - Of Merchantmen in the Second World War (1953) - edited by Kerr. It featured a foreword by John Masefield. Kerr uses all three names in this volume.
  • The Great Storm: being the authentic story of the loss at sea of the Princess Victoria and other vessels early in 1953 (1954)
  • The R.N.V.R.: A Record of Achievement (1957) - another book about the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. This time it was written by Kerr and Wilfred Granville. The book began with a foreword by G. Thistleton-Smith.
  • Wilfred Grenfell, His Life and Work (1959) - a biography of Sir Wilfred Grenfell

As Peter Dawlish

  • Captain Peg-Leg's War, and Peg Leg and the Fur Pirates (1939) - Kerr’s first children’s books as Peter Dawlish, for Oxford University Press.
  • Peg-Leg Sweeps the Sea, and Peg-Leg and the Invaders (1940)
  • The First Tripper (1947) - a lad goes to sea on his first trip

The “Dauntless” Series describes the adventures of a group of five Cornish boys and their sailboat, an ex-French crabber. These adventures were published between 1947 and 1960. Books in the series include:

  • Dauntless Finds Her Crew (1947)
  • Dauntless Sails Again (1948)
  • Dauntless and the Mary Baines (1949)
  • Dauntless Takes Recruits (1950)
  • Dauntless Sails In (1952)
  • Dauntless in Danger (1954)
  • Sailors All! (1957)
  • Dauntless Goes Home (1960)

Other children’s books using the Peter Dawlish pseudonym include:

  • The Bagodia Episode (1953), an adventure story in Australia
  • Young Drake of Devon (1954)
  • He Went with Drake (1955)
  • Way for a Sailor (1955)
  • North Sea Adventure (1956)
  • Martin Frobisher (1956)
  • Aztec Gold (1958)
  • The Race for Gowrie Bay (1959) about sealing
  • The Boy Jacko (1962)
  • The Seas of Britain (1963)- non-fiction
  • The Royal Navy (1963) - non-fiction.
  • Johnno, the Deep-Sea Diver, the Life Story of Diver Johnson as told to Peter Dawlish by John Johnstone (1960) .
  • Merchant Navy (1966)- non-fiction.

He also wrote adult novels as Gavin Douglas.

  • 1935 Rough Passage Collins = The Tall Man, New York G P Putnam's Sons 1936;
  • 1936 The Obstinate Captain Samson Collins /New York G P Putnam's Sons 1937;
  • 1937 Captain Samson AB Collins;
  • 1938 The Search for the Blue Sedan Collins;
  • 1948 A Tale of Pimlico Robert Hale;
  • 1949 The Scuffler Robert Hale;
  • 1949 Seamanship for Passengers John Lehman, London;
  • 1951 The Struggle Robert Hale.


  • W. H. Marwick, "A Bibliography of Works on Scottish Economic History Published during the Last Twenty Years", Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 3 (1952), pp. 376-382 - comments on the role of Kerr in representing proletariat labourers in his novels.
  • Brian Doyle, (1978) ‘Peter Dawlish’ in Twentieth Century Children’s Writers, edited by D L Kirkpatrick, Macmillan (the bibliography is problematic).
  • James Lennox Kerr, (1940) The Eager Years (autobiography, Edinburgh: Collins)
  • Austin Wormleighton (1995) A Painter Laureate: Lamorna Birch and his Circle (Bristol: Sansom & Company) – biography of the whole family and artist friends.
  • Stephen Bigger, Sea Adventures: Peter Dawlish (James Lennox Kerr), a Writer Amongst Artists, University of Worcester, 2007 - http://eprints.worc.ac.uk/248

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