Errol's 'Navy Island'

27 Dec

Hello Fellow Errol Fans,

Although most of you are familiar with Navy Island and the 'Errol Connection', There are some facts that are not widely known. (At least I was not aware of them until recently) Navy Island has a rich and varied history that goes back to the 1600's. Originally, at that time it was named 'Lynches Island' after being given to Sir Thomas Lynch (the then overseer of that portion of Jamaica) for “Services to the British Crown”. In the 1700's, the Royal Navy constructed a small cannon battery to provide crossfire to Fort George, (which is just across the inlet some 200 yrds. or so) The remains of this battery still exist(Photo 1) on the barren N.E. portion of the island. Also constructed were several rough buildings for Naval Stores and a small barracks, and the island took on the name; “Navy Island”.

It is worth noting that Captain Bligh himself spent 6 months docked at navy island on his ship, 'Pandora' after returning from Tahiti. This time was spent careening his ship in the shallows, making urgent repairs, offloading some of his Breadfruit specimens to replant in the rich soil, and even exploring for new species of plants. He even collected samples of Ackee fruit and introduced it to the Royal Society of Britain, who gave it it's current name: “Blighia Sapida” in honor of Bligh.

How ironic it is that an island that was once commanded by Capt. Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame should end up being owned by one Errol Leslie Flynn, a descendant (by way of his mother) of Midshipman Edward Young who served aboard the HMS Bounty with Fletcher Christian and Capt. Bligh! No doubt it is a small world indeed.

In the early 1800's, the Royal Navy abandoned the island and it passed through several hands, both Govt. and private until Errol sailed into the harbor on that fateful day and fell in love with both the island and the N. coast of Jamaica. Although rumor has it that Errol won the island in either a poker game or a roll of the dice,(Both being very “Errolish”) The truth of the matter is that he contacted a local attorney by the name of Vincent Grossett and arranged the sale of the 64 acre property for the sum of approx. $80,000 in the winter of 1946. He then purchased the Titchfield Hotel across from Navy Island, and at his wife Patrice's good advice, a very large chunk of prime property in the Boston Bay area from the Lorenzo Baker Dow family. This was the same family that had brought tourism to this part of Jamaica and had built the Titchfield Hotel some 50 yrs. earlier.(another ironic twist)

The island was virtually barren due to various hurricanes which swept over the island unabated, so Errol went about planting Royal and Coconut palm trees(over a hundred) and also planting various vines, flowers and lemon, lime and avocado trees. These still exist, and I helped myself to a half-dozen avocado when I visited there last. The palms still stand and have provided the island with much needed windbreaks so the local fauna has not only survived, but thrived.

Errol also laided out pathways that criss-cross the island. To add to the “paradise” atmosphere, he brought in peacocks and other exotic birds and animals. Later he even brought in chickens, goats, cattle, and even horses to the menagerie. There has also been heated speculation as to whether or not Errol ever built a house there. When I visited there last(oct-nov 2009) I vowed to explore the island by foot and solve this mystery once and for all. Aided by a detailed map and a large photo taken by satellite(Google Earth) I set out. Dear readers, I almost got in over my head! I found the remains of a large house at the S. end of the island, straight up the hill from the now deserted 'Admiralty Club' on the highest part of the island. It looked to have been a fairly large, substantial home with a proper foundation of concrete and a detached kitchen. This was not a 'rude slat house for a caretaker'. There was even a large cistern for storing water nearby. Hmm. So I pressed on. I did not have a machete, (Mistake) so I plowed on as best I could.

Anyone who has not had to make his way through sub-tropical jungle in 90+ degree heat has no idea just how hard it can be. The vines and branches(half of them stinging or poisonous) seem to reach out for you and a person can lose sense of direction very quickly. Add smothering, steaming heat, and you have a bad recipe. By dumb luck, I had brought a large bottle of drinking water and a compass, and believe me, I used them both. I finally made it out to the clear where I continued to the N. end. The foliage got shorter and more stunted until I suddenly broke out to the jagged, windswept cliffs. There I saw the remains of the Battery, but the cannon were long gone. Only a large metal tangent used for aiming remained.(Photo) I circled back around W. till the cliff ran out and jungle began. Having no choice, I dove in again. I saw a huge clearing that looked like a large manicured lawn, and what seemed like the way back. No such luck. The 'lawn' consisted of 3ft. deep vines that made the going impossible. What next?

I turned and made my way to the rocky beach, intending to wade my way out by following the W. coast. It was there I discovered a large concrete foundation.(Photo) I am still puzzled at it's origin. As I went on, I also discovered a fresh-water spring coming out of the side of the hill, and after gingerly testing it, refilled my now empty bottle. The going got easier and firmer and before long, I was in familiar territory on “Trembly Knee Beach”. I must confess my own knee's were more than a little 'trembly' at that point. From then, it was a short walk to the pier where a cell phone call brought the boat for the ride back to the mainland, in a tropical, pouring deluge of a rainstorm. Checking my watch, I was surprised that over 5 hrs. had passed! Other than being filthy, exhausted, and humbled by Mother Nature, I was O.K. (Although when I reached my apt., I stripped off my clothes and flopped on the bed in a dead sleep for about 12 hrs. and was sore all over for about two days afterward)

Two months later, I still have the scars on my shins, a new found respect, and a story to tell from this old Errol fan.  John 

P.S. There is a lesson to be learned from all this. I got lucky that day. If I had fell and broke an ankle, or hit my head or forgot water, or a hundred other things, I probably would not be writing this. I got to be 'Indiana Jones' for a day and the good Lord, who protects children and fools (in my case, old fools) cast his eye on me that day. My wife almost crapped (can I say that?) when she found out. For the record, never travel alone, and be prepared. Having said that, I can truthfully say I was never more alive than that 5+ hrs. I spent on my own. Sometimes you just have to go for it and 'Devil take the backside', eh? Errol would agree, I think. Nevertheless, I will cherish that memory for the rest of my days.  John


— john


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  1. Anonymous

    December 27, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    This is a fantastic story and and so informative about Errol and things not readily known. Thank you so much for sharing this great article with us. Moreover, thank you very much for the warning not to be fullish to go there alone and get marooned on the island. One would not expect that on a little island this jungle type landscape would exist. If not warned one could definitely underestimated the situation.
    Please keep bringing these stories.
    All the best to you!

  2. Anonymous

    December 27, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    John! What a thrilling story! Nothing is better than a first-hand account and I appreciate hearing it very much. The outdoors can be a killer, all right. I am sure you learned what would be best to take along on a second trip to the same area… no doubt telling yourself as you fought the brush and jungle vines – I wish I had better boots, a rope, a knife, some food, and a sharp machete! Maybe a GPS device! I'm sure Errol would have smiled having had many a similar experience in the tropics himself…

  3. Anonymous

    December 29, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Wow! A story to tell and you told it very well. Although a bit daring I would say since you were ill equipped. Nevertheless your pictures show your discoveries and proof of your hard work in getting them. I find them intriguing. Indiana Jones (Eagle Scout-you found fresh water!) for sure and you have your “medals” two months later to remind you! Did any of the cement foundations have a name or year etched on them?

  4. Anonymous

    January 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Kathleen, Sorry it took so long to answer. I did not see any identifying marks on the foundations. (I confess I didn't look for any) But saying that, I'm pretty sharp-eyed and I probably would have noticed. Oh yes, I read a book called 'The Pirates Daughter' and there is a small map of Navy Is. in it and it shows a shed in that area as well as a stream nearby that match up to what I found, as well as a large house in the same area that I found the remains of the house in my posting! If you can get it, look at the map and you will see what I mean. Thanks for the interest, John

  5. Anonymous

    October 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    at school i was the first pupil who i know the Olympus legends. my favorite one was myth of Narcissus. i loved to tell stories and i knew how to tell them, to come alive. recently i heard a story about a plant call Kratom, that it has magical power of healing. i must tell this story to my students. i forget to say that now i am a English teacher.