A High Wind in Jamaica was first published in England in 1929 as The Innocent Voyage, and retained that title in a number of American re-printings. For its second English edition, Hughes changed the title to the current one, without any other alteration of the text.
On the surface, and as any brief summary may suggest, A High Wind in Jamaica sounds like a traditional children’s adventure story. In the mid-nineteenth century, after an earthquake and a great hurricane have shaken Jamaica, Mr and Mrs Bas-Thornton decide to send their five children back to England for further upbringing. The children range in age from John (aged about 12) and Emily down through the “littlies”(or “Liddlies” as they are called) Rachel, Edward and Laura (who is 3). They embark on the good ship “Clorinda” under Captain Marpole. With them are two Creole children, Margaret and Henry Fernandez. Margaret is aged 13, which is important in some of what follows.Share
The “Clorinda” is attacked by pirates, who are under the command of the Danish Captain Jonsen and his Viennese mate Otto. All seven children are captured, and proceed to spend the rest of the novel travelling with the pirates, until the last chapter, which is set in England.
If you were a literate child reading this book, you could conceivably see it as a straight adventure story. It swarms with exotic animals – screeching parrots, wildcats, an octopus, a monkey which has lost its tail and is chased around and persecuted by the sailors, a baby crocodile which is cuddled by one of the little girls. It has vivid descriptions, bordering on the Conradian, of the sweltering Jamaican heat and the ferocity of earthquake and hurricane and the leaden sea. It has boisterous action as the children toboggan back and forth across the deck of a storm-tossed schooner and as young Edward plays at being a pirate captain.