Jamaica, the birthplace of James Bond

With the exception of Great Britain, perhaps the country most closely associated with James Bond is Jamaica. It was there that Ian Fleming designed and built the house where he would spend each winter to escape the British chill; and it was there that he wrote all the James Bond adventures and indeed, thanks to Fleming’s local knowledge, the island appears in several of the stories.

A brief history of Jamaica

Prior to Spanish colonisation after Columbus landed in 1494, Jamaica’s inhabitants had been the Arawaks, who were essentially wiped out during the sixteenth century thanks to forced resettlement, enslavement, the introduction of European diseases against which they had no immunity, as well as attacks from the hostile Caribs.

Spain used Jamaica as a secure base from which it could plunder Mexico’s gold, but when the island fell to the British in 1655, African slaves began to be imported to work on the sugar plantations; worldwide trade was helped by the island’s natural harbour, the seventh largest in the world.

By the 19th century, however, sugar production on the island was facing competition from European sugar beet. The problem was compounded by increased production costs and further decline came with the abolition of slavery in 1838 when former slaves were suddenly due wages; soon, small farms owned by former slaved started to export logwood, coffee and bananas and when the island gained independence in 1962 it developed bauxite and alumina exports, as well as a fledgling tourist industry.

Ian Fleming and Jamaica

A Jamaican Dock. Image courtesy sxc.hu

Fleming first visited Jamaica during the Second World War when he attended an Anglo-American naval conference. The former British colony is located in the Caribbean Sea, 120 miles west of Haiti and 90 miles south of Cuba and therefore well away from the conflict zone.

He stayed in the Blue Mountains at the home of his friend Ivar Bryce, and completely fell in love with the island. Perhaps it was the people; perhaps it was so exotic in the days before mass tourism; or perhaps because it took him closer to nature, the birds and marine life that he so loved to watch.

Whatever the reason, after the war he purchased a plot of land and had a villa built to his own design; he named it “Goldeneye”, after a wartime operation in which he’s been involved designed to protect British interests in case Spain entered the war on Germany’s side.

It at Goldeneye where he eventually sat down to write his “spy novel to end all spy novels” – Casino Royale in just six weeks during his annual winter vacation in 1952, and looking for a suitable name for his hero he came across one that fitted perfectly; on his bookshelf was A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies written by an American ornithologist named James Bond.

Today Fleming’s house is part of the Goldeneye Hotel and Resort, and belongs to Island Outpost, owned by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. Coincidentally, Fleming conducted an affair with Blackwell’s mother, Blanche; Fleming named a supply ship after her in Doctor No, while she gave him a small boat named Octopussy; and Chris Blackwell assisted the location manager on the first Bond film, Dr No, which was filmed on location in Jamaica.

The first Bond novel that takes Bond to Jamaica is Live And Let Die, but the Jamaican connection is there from the start; in Casino Royale Fleming explains how Bond has taken the cover of a wealthy Jamaican businessman and is being controlled through Jamaica. 007 returns to the island in Doctor No, The Man With The Golden Gun and in the short story Octopussy, in which Bond confronts an ex secret service man, Major Dexter Smythe, about the disappearance at the end of the war of someone who had been something a father figure to him.

Smythe was suffering the effects of drinking and smoking heavily throughout his life and depressed following the death of his wife, he was permanently drunk and bored with life with exception of the sea creatures on the reef at the end of his garden – disillusioned with his own life, the parallels with Fleming are striking.

Look out for further articles covering James Bond in Jamaica.

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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