Descendant of bone setter boy, shipwrecked off Anglesey in 1740s, leads journey of discovery about his origins

Descendant of bone setter boy, shipwrecked off Anglesey in 1740s, leads journey of discovery about his origins

As part of next month’s Isle of Anglesey Festival of Walks in North Wales, 69-year-old Dafydd Evans will take ramblers on a journey around the rugged Anglesey coastline and into his own amazing family history.

The story starts on a stormy night in the 1740s off the north coast of Anglesey, when two shipwrecked 11 year-old twin boys were rescued from the sea by local smuggler Dannie Lukie.  They were both dark of complexion and spoke no English or Welsh.  Lukie took the brothers to the local doctor in Llanfairynhornwy, who adopted them and named them Evan and Matthew Thomas.  Matthew died shortly after, but Evan thrived and began to take an interest in the doctor’s work.  He showed an amazing talent for setting broken bones.  Working first on injured animals, Evan could feel where bones were broken by touch alone, and would manipulate fractures to ensure they would cleanly knit.  As he grew older, he pioneered the use of traction and splints to pull apart over-lapping breaks, and immobilise limbs while they healed.  News of Evan’s extraordinary skills spread and became highly sought after by both commoners and gentry across North Wales.

Hugh Owen Thomas

Evan went on to found a dynasty of physicians who, over 8 generations and 250 years, have revolutionised orthopaedic medicine.  The first of Evan’s descendants to receive any formal training as a physician was his great-grandson, Hugh Owen Thomas, credited as ‘the father of modern orthopaedics’.  His invention of the ‘Thomas Splint’ in the 19th century went on to save the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers injured with potentially fatal fractures during the First World War.

Evan’s great-great-grandson, Sir Robert Jones, became the first doctor in the world to use X-Ray photography to diagnose a fracture in 1896 and was the co-founder of the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Gobowen, Shropshire.

The mystery of Evan and Matthew Thomas’ origins is being researched by the Anglesey Bone Setters DNA Project.  The boys’ dark complexion and foreign language led the locals to believe that they were  Spanish, part of a contingent of Spaniards heading past Anglesey for Scotland to take part in the Jacobite rebellion.  However, modern analysis of Dafydd Evans’ Y chromosome DNA seems to have ruled out Spanish origins.  Instead it is now thought that the brothers originated in Eastern Europe, possibly the CzechRepublic.  Research is ongoing to further narrow  down the likely point of origin of their very rare haplotype.

Preparing for next month’s guided tour, Dafydd told the Daily Post:

“When you have grown up with a story like this, you forget the impact it can have on others and how fascinated people are by it.  You take it for granted, so I am happy to share it with people on the walk who might not have heard of my family’s story and what it meant for the future of orthopaedic medicine.  Along the walk I will be pointing out important links to the story such as the farmhouse where Evan lived, Maes Merddyn Brych, and also Llanfairynhornwy Church where Lord Bulkeley placed a marble plaque to celebrate Evan’s achievements in treating his wife Lady Bulkeley.”

The north coast of Anglesey near Llanfairynhornwy


Earth's History in 1 Minute

Earth's History in 1 Minute - 4½ billion years in a 1 minute video

Posted by Abroad in the Yard on Friday, 14 August 2015