Places: A High Wind in Jamaica

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedPirate schooner

Pirate High Wind in Jamaica, Aschooner. Unnamed vessel commanded by Captain Jonsen on which the five young Bas-Thornton children and two Fernandez children are inadvertently taken prisoner when the ship carrying them from Jamaica to England is captured. The seven children quickly adapt to life aboard the slovenly pirate ship, and it becomes for them a place of adventure and friendly companions, much like their home in Jamaica. They climb the ship’s ratlines fearlessly and pass their days talking with the friendly crew and playing with the ship’s animals. After carrying the children aboard his ship for a year, Captain Jonsen disguises his vessel as the merchant ship Lizzie Green and hails a passenger steamship, which takes the children to England.

The pirate captain’s cabin serves as a refuge and a crime scene. With the others aboard the Thelma for the circus, young Emily, still recuperating from her injury, remains behind to guard the tied-up Thelma captain. When he struggles free to get the knife, Emily grabs it first and stabs him fatally. The pirates only take two prizes while the children are aboard: the Clorinda, a London-bound British merchant ship, and the Thelma, a Dutch steamer.


*Jamaica. West Indies island ruled by Great Britain. Formerly a tropical paradise, Jamaica is suffering from economic and social confusion following the emancipation of slaves there and throughout the British Empire in the mid-1830’s. Once-thriving sugar plantations are now nearly in ruin.


Ferndale. Jamaican sugar plantation on which the Bas-Thornton family is living when the novel opens. Conditions have already deteriorated so badly that the family must live in the overseer’s leaking house after the collapse of the family mansion. Although they share this house with farm animals and vermin, their lives seem circuslike, rather than ugly or macabre. The family’s five children roam wild.

On her tenth birthday, young Emily Bas-Thornton accidentally discovers Liberty Hill, a squalid refuge originally built by runaway slaves. Within a week, two natural disasters strike the island. An earthquake occurs while the children are visiting the Fernandez estate, Exeter. After they return home, a hurricane razes the remaining plantation buildings. After the rebuilding of the plantation begins, the family sends the children back to England to be educated.


Clorinda. Ship on which the Bas-Thornton and Fernandez children are sent from Jamaica to England. With their families unable to afford passage on a steamer, the children are put aboard the Clorinda, a modest merchant barque captained by James Marpole. They freely roam the ship, make friends with the crew, and witness the death of the ship’s mascot, a monkey, that plummets from the cross-trees to the deck. Before the ship is out of the West Indies, it is captured by Captain Jonsen’s pirate crew, who board it dressed as women and strip it of all its valuables.

*Santa Lucia

*Santa Lucia. Port in Cuba where the pirates auction off the Clorinda’s cargo. Presided over by a mustached, fat-lady (the wife of the chief magistrate), the sale resembles a sideshow. Three of the children with their pirate guide observe a banquet honoring the pirate captain and mate; then they attend a nativity play in a warehouse, where John Bas-Thornton falls to his death, paralleling the fate of the monkey that died aboard the Clorinda.


Thelma. Small Dutch steamship carrying a cargo of wild animals destined for a circus that Jonsen’s pirates capture. To placate the children, the pirates stage a circus for them on the Thelma’s deck; however, the animals are too weak and seasick to perform.

BibliographyHenighan, T. J. “Nature and Convention in A High Wind in Jamaica.” Critique 9, no. 1 (1967): 5-18. One of the few literary discussions of the novel. Relevant and useful.Hughes, Penelope. Richard Hughes: Author, Father. Gloucester, N.H.: Alan Sutton, 1984. Memories of her father, quoting extensively from letters and anecdotes. Includes photos and some of Hughes’s drawings.Poole, Richard. Richard Hughes: Novelist. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. A full-length study of Hughes as novelist. Includes sections on biography, Hughes’s novels (including a chapter on A High Wind in Jamaica), and his theoretical thinking. Poole concentrates on Hughes’s narrative voice and stance. A full bibliography of Hughes’s own writing and an index are included.Savage, D. S. “Richard Hughes, Solipsist.” Sewanee Review 94, no. 4 (Fall, 1986): 602-613. Substantial essay. Discusses the painful awareness Hughes had of the isolation of the ego and the illusory nature of human experience, with the consequent emptiness of accepted moral standards.Thomas, Peter. Richard Hughes. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1973. Discusses the ways in which the novels have explored the areas where instinct and need become rationalized into principle. Emphasizes Hughes’s ability to go against accepted opinion and fashion–and often to invert them. Index included.
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