A project part-funded by the Welsh Government's Sustainable
via Anglesey County Council's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Office
This web site and all material
presented on it is Copyright 2009 - 2012 (C) All Rights
Reserved John Rowlands/Anglesey Bone Setters DNA Project
except where indicated otherwise. See full rights
assertion at the bottom of this page.
One dark, stormy night about 1743, a
ship is said to have become wrecked off the treacherous
north Anglesey coast.
The only survivors of that wreck, rescued by a local smuggler named Dannie Lukie, were two boys of about 11 years old.
They were said to
speak an unknown language.
Where had they come from?
The geographical origins of the boys has long
been a mystery, with notions of a Spanish nationality
commonly found, theorising that they may have been in
transit to or from Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion of
One of the boys - given the name Matthew by locals, died soon after his rescue. The other, now named Evan Thomas by his adoptive family in Llanfairynghornwy, flourished and demonstrated a remarkable ability at healing the broken bones of animals. Evan later applied his great skill to human bones, and became much sought-after by the common people and gentry alike. Evan's later descendants became fully-qualified doctors and spawned a new branch of medicine we now call orthopaedics. A useful summary of the various sons and their professions can be found here.
A BBC 'Coast' video clip giving the
background to the bone setters story can be viewed here
(please scroll to 'extract 3'.)
There is no surviving record of the geographical origins
of Evan Thomas. The most widely-held belief has
always been of a Spanish origin, and the historical events
of the period, coupled to a foreign language might lend
some credibility to this. But it is far from
conclusive. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office
has no database record of a shipwreck within a 5 mile
radius (about 78 square miles) of the Skerries, the area
where the wreck was said to have occurred. However,
the UKHO staff kindly supplied information to this project
from a book that showed a record of two wrecks between the
period of 1730 and 1745. One is of a 'Barbadoes
Packet' in 1743. The other, rather tantalisingly, is
of a 'sailing ship, unidentified, probably Spanish'.
The frustrating thing is, we have no means of knowing for
sure on what basis that presumption of being 'probably
Spanish' was made. Was it due to the type of ship,
or simply down to the expectation of considerable Spanish
shipping in the area at the time? And, of
course, simply being a passenger on a Spanish ship didn't
necessarily mean the boys were themselves Spanish.
It is notable, from a reliability of historical accounts
point of view, that a book about the bone setters, written
in the 1930s, is specific in saying the boys were not of a
dark complexion. Yet, by today, almost all modern
accounts have it that they did have a dark
complexion! The disagreement seems to stem simply
from a misreading or a 'wishful' reading of the book's
Until this project's initial findings in 2011, there was
no hard evidence for where Evan Thomas and Matthew came
from. Now we have a rapidly-developing picture -
based on scientific evidence - that makes a
Spanish/Iberian origin increasingly unlikely.
Today, the analysis of genetic information has
developed very quickly into a sophisticated and reliable
means of uncovering all sorts of information about
humans and their origins. From just one cheek
swab, we can work out the route that a person's remote
ancestors took in their long journey out of the cradle
of civilisation in Africa.
But DNA analysis can tell us the more recent story of a person's genetic origins. In particular, the Y-chromosome, encoding the instructions for the male sex, is a permanent record of mutations in the DNA, passed down largely unchanged from father to son.
For this project to have any chance of success, we had
to find a living, direct male descandant of Evan Thomas,
the shipwreck survivor. This was to be a difficult
task, admirably undertaken to the highest standards of
proof by Helen Osborn of Osborn Family
After a few months of examining wills and various birth, death and marriage certificates, Helen was able to provide the first names of direct descandants who were likely to be still alive today. The final detective work involved contacting members of the family who were likely to have knowledge of the whearabouts of this descendant. Sure enough, within 24 hours of contacting the family, we were visiting Mr. Thomas David ('Dafydd') Evans in Moelfre, Anglesey to tell him all about this project! For those who wonder about the surname of today's descendant being Evans and not Thomas, this is a result of the historical way in which sons were named after their father in Wales. So, for example, Richard, son of Evan Thomas became Richard ap Evan, which becomed the more modern version of Richard Evans. In Nordic countries, this principle gives rise to, for example, Peterson (son of Peter) and Eiriksdottir (daughter of Eirik).
Next Step - Sampling and Analysing
Descendant Y-Chromosome DNA
Our direct male descendant, 'Dafydd' Evans, kindly
provided saliva samples for the initial DNA analysis and
for more detailed analysis, blood samples taken with the
kind assistance of Dr. Dyfrig ap Dafydd of Meddygfa Coed y
Glyn Surgery, Llangefni. Comparisons with Dafydd's
second cousin, Dr. Richard Anwyl Evans of NSW, Australia
were also undertaken. The initial science outcomes
are detailed in the report, below.
Project News (funded project now ended):
Accessing the full reports of this
project indicates acceptance in full of the copyright
assertion found at the bottom of this page.
The reports are available
November 2012 Leading Welsh Poet, Grahame Davies, has been extremely kind in skilfully translating Evan Thomas's elegy for this project, for which we are profoundly grateful. Grahame's translation is now available here. Accessing the document indicates acceptance of the copyright assertion in favour of Mr. Davies.
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