Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208
A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes, is the story of five British children, the Bas-Thorntons from Jamaica, who are abducted by pirates. The children are living with their parents on a sugar plantation when the island is hit by a severe hurricane and earthquake. At that time, their parents send them on a ship back to England so they can get an education in their homeland.
After pirates overtake the ship and abduct the children, the children’s experience with the pirates brings out their capability for cruelty. The pirates at first appear brutal and heartless, but the tides soon turn, and the children assume the roles of the pirates. Their experience with the pirates seems to have unleashed their primitive drives and tendencies for brutality, exploitation, and abuse. In the end, a young child named Emily, the main character, commits murder—and she commits it as savagely and heartlessly as if she had been a hardened criminal for years. The children’s earliest experiences on the pirate ship are frightening to them, but the pirates soon become frightened of the children. The children are transferred to another ship and eventually return to England. Emily testifies against the pirates in court, and the pirates are executed.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1203
Five young Bas-Thorntons live on the family’s run-down sugar plantation in Jamaica. On the day after Emily’s tenth birthday, they are allowed to make their first visit away from home. They go to meet Margaret and Harry Fernandez, children of Creole neighbors, on a nearby plantation. The Fernandez children often run around barefoot, like blacks; Emily thinks it quite wonderful. During their visit, the region is shaken by a slight earthquake. Emily is wildly excited and gallops her pony into the sea. For the first time she realizes that there are forces in the world over which neither she nor adults have any control.
If the earthquake is the most thrilling event of Emily’s life, the death of a pet cat is soon to be the most terrible. The next evening, back home, a hurricane strikes the island. While the house shakes under the force of wind and rain, Tabby streaks through the house and dashes out into the storm pursued by a pack of wild jungle cats. That night, the house and the surrounding countryside are blown flat, but to the children the destruction is nothing compared with the mystery of Tabby’s horrible fate.
Mr. and Mrs. Bas-Thornton have no way of knowing what is passing through the children’s minds. Fearing that the hurricane must have been a shock to them, the parents reluctantly decide to send them back to England to school. They and the Fernandez children are shortly put aboard the Clorinda, in care of Captain James Marpole.
Pirates board the vessel off the Cuban coast. The Clorinda’s stores and valuables are seized, and the children are removed to the marauder for their supper. Captain Marpole, mistaking efforts to return the children for the splash of bodies thrown overboard, leaves the scene under full sail. Later, he writes the Bas-Thorntons that the pirates callously murdered the children. Actually, Captain Jonsen, leader of the pirate crew, is surprised to find himself the custodian of seven young travelers.
The pirate ship goes to Santa Lucia, Cuba, where the Clorinda’s cargo is auctioned off. While playing there, Emily’s older brother John falls forty feet to his death from a warehouse doorway. The pirate ship presently puts to sea with the surviving children.
For weeks, the pirate ship sails aimlessly over the ocean in search of booty. The children are allowed to do much as they please and to amuse themselves with two pigs and a monkey that the vessel carries. Emily begins to be aware of her identity as a separate personality; the shipboard life that she accepted unquestioningly at first begins to disturb her. One night, Captain Jonsen comes into the children’s quarters in a drunken state. When he tries to stroke Emily’s hair, she bites his thumb. Margaret, more mature, is sick after the incident, but a few days later, she goes to the captain’s cabin to live. From that time on, she avoids the other children.
Emily and the captain avoid each other after the drunken incident, until a thigh wound Emily receives from a marlin spike dropped by Rachael brings about a reconciliation. Captain Jonsen carries her to his cabin, dresses the gash, and gives her his bunk.
Emily is still confined to bed, her wound healing, when the pirates capture a Dutch steamer carrying a cargo of wild animals. The ship’s captain is bound and left tied on the floor of Emily’s cabin while Captain Jonsen and his crew amuse themselves with the animals aboard their prize. While Emily screams futilely, the Dutch captain manages to roll toward a knife lying in a corner. He is not a handsome man. He seems to have no neck, and he reeks of cigar smoke; the fact that he is tied up like an animal adds to Emily’s terror. His fingers are groping for the blade when she throws herself out of her bunk. Seizing the knife, she slashes at him until he is covered with wounds. Leaving him to bleed to death, she then hurls the weapon toward the door and drags herself back to the bunk.
Margaret is the first to enter the cabin, so the first boatload of pirates to return from the captured steamer think she committed the crime. Horrified, they drop her overboard to drown. The freebooters in the second boat, assuming that she had accidentally fallen in, pick her up. In the excitement caused by the murder, no one notices her come aboard, and she is not disturbed when she rejoins the younger children in the hold.
With the captain’s death hanging over their heads, intimacy between children and pirates comes to an end. Realizing the wantonness of her deed, Emily bears the double burden of her conscience and the fear that Margaret will identify the real culprit.
The sight of a man-of-war on the horizon finally brings Captain Jonsen to a decision: It is time he and the children part company. With his ship disguised as a shabby cargo vessel, the Lizzie Green, he persuades the captain of a passing steamship to relieve him of his young passengers. The children are laying their own plans for capturing another prize—the steamship—when the mate calls Emily aside to coach her in what he hopes will be the children’s story. Emily willingly promises to say that the captain of the Lizzie Green had rescued them from pirates. It is she, however, who, in a childish burst of confidence to the stewardess aboard the steamer, tells the secret of the pirate vessel. On that information, a gunboat apprehends Captain Jonsen and his men; they are imprisoned in Newgate. The young Bas-Thorntons are reunited with their parents, who had sold the plantation and moved to England. Margaret and Harry Fernandez go to stay with relatives.
Although Emily revealed their captors’ identities readily enough, the prosecuting attorney has good reason for doubting his ability to obtain a conviction. The children tell about the pirates’ monkey and some turtles the Clorinda had carried, but they have little to say about life aboard the pirate ship. All memory of John seems obliterated from their minds. It is accepted by the grown-ups, and gradually by the children, that he died trying to protect the girls. This conclusion is substantiated by Margaret’s condition of shock and loss of memory.
Emily becomes the chief witness for the Crown. Asked about the Dutch captain and the possibility that he had been murdered, she becomes hysterical but manages to say she saw him lying in a pool of blood. Her statement is enough for a conviction. As she leaves the courtroom, she sees in Captain Jonsen’s eyes the same despairing look she saw in Tabby’s the night of the hurricane. Captain Jonsen is condemned to be hanged.
A few days later, Emily is taken to her new school by her parents. The headmistress speaks feelingly of the experiences Emily has undergone, but anyone else, looking at her, would see that Emily’s innocent young face blends perfectly with the others as she stands chattering with the quiet-mannered young ladies who are to be her new friends.