History of Pointe Baptiste Estate
There are few people today, let alone in the early 1930's, who were progressive-minded or brave enough to exchange a life of pomp, prestige and privilege for a bohemian, Caribbean lifestyle.
Lennox Napier, (an English, businessman) and Elma Gordon Cummings, (eldest child of Sir William Cumming of Scotland) ,were two such people.
They shared the same visions, passions and love of art and literature. They were married in 1924, and had two children, Patricia and Michael.
The couple first visited Dominica in the winter of 1931. They had discovered the island ,while on a Caribbean cruise, recommended by a lung physician as a cure for Lennox's fragile health. The couple decided to visit the West Indies as they knew so little about it.
They sailed from England to Trinidad in a French ship Colombie, from the Port of Spain and took the Canadian National Steam ship Lady Drake north, through the Windward and leeward islands.
They both feel in love with the island at first sight, an in infatuation without tangible reason or rhyme.
On leaving the island, they promised to return in three weeks and true to that promise, they did return in 1932 with a vision, to make the island their home, forever
Lennox and Elma Napier visualized and manifested the life that most people only fantasied about.
Their bohemian life choice, entitled them to live at-one with the elements of nature and to come to understand its effect on everything around them, to walk bare foot in sun or rain, to choose to bathe daily in the warm blue sea or cool clear rivers and to sun-bath, under the gloriously hot Caribbean sun as naked as they were born.
In March 1932 Lennox and Elma Napier purchased land in Pointe Baptiste, near the village of Calibishie, on the
North East coast of Dominica. Pointe Baptiste Estate is situated between two beaches, 'Ti Baptiste the beautiful black sand beach and Grand Baptiste, the white sand beach
Building A Legacy For Generations To Come
Within a month of their arrival, Mr and Mrs Napier had already decided on the final details of their Caribbean home, that they had previously decided to call Pointe Baptiste, after the name of the local vicinity.
Lennox Napier designed the house with the help of a local architect and a small cottage was initially built, as a temporary home for the Napier's. The site for the mansion itself, was cleared of bay trees and leveled for preparation of the house.
The mansion was lovingly and painstakingly initiated in1932, the large living-room faces west and north.
The veranda over-looking the sea is 70 feet long, with an alcove, that is itself is an other sitting room. The western windows look to the spectacular view of Morne Diablotin, the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles.
Heavy timbers were felled, high up in the mountains for the making of shingles, for the outside walls of the mansion and the foundations, high off the ground, were built of stone.
The framework of the main house was cut and prepared in Roseau from imported pitch pine, that had to be brought round to the north of the island by sloop and then erected by Roseau carpenters.
The pine arrived by boatload which was anchored in Calibishie and the house in forms of timbers mortised and ready for erection, tongue and grooved was transferred into little boats which were rowed around the blow hole point to Black Beach. With the next consignment, the house was deliberately thrown overboard from the sloop and allowed to float, boat-fashion onto the beach.
It took two years to compete the mansion and the use of many locally skilled and unskilled neighbours to manifest the Napier's vision.
After the house was completed, hordes of people from around the island would arrive periodically, by bus loads, sightseeing. They were all wholeheartedly welcomed by the generous Mr and Mrs. Napier.
World renown writers such as; Alec Waugh, Peter Fleming and Noel Coward to name a few have visited Pointe Baptiste Estate in days gone by. It is known that two princesses both Princess Alice , Countess of Althone (last surviving grand child of Queen Victoria) and Princess Margret, Countess of Snowdon (daughter of king George Vl and Queen Elizabeth) have both graced the Estate with their presence.
The Napier's enjoyed the house they had made in happiness together, for eight years until Lennox's health deteriorated and he died of tuberculosis in 1940 aged 48 years.
Lennox Napier was buried on the day of his death, in his own Estate, in a place of his own choosing, in that quiet place under trees, within the sound of the sea.
In 1973, thirty-three years after the death of her husband Elmer Napier was buried in her own predestined final place of rest, alongside her husband, by the track that runs from Pointe Baptiste, towards the sparkling sands of Black
Eighty Years and Counting
Pointe Baptiste Estate show-cases a beautiful, colonial type ,wooden house that has survived, two world wars and the savage clutches of many hurricanes including Hurricane David.
At the age of 80 years, its former beauty is still as apparent as it was in 1934, when it was first built as a family home.
Nowadays, the Estate is not just enjoyed for its breath-taking views and fascinating architectural features but also its rich, historical, charm.
Today Alan Napier, son of Michael Napier and grandson of Lennox and Elma runs the Estate as a Guest House. It has been used for this purpose since the death of Alan's grand mother in 1973. He was 6 months old when he first came to Dominica, in the arms of his mother Josette, who had accompanied her husband Michael Napier on a visit to the island.
This was the first of many visits for Alan, and just like his father before him Alan had enjoyed many hours of play and exploration on the red rocks and black and white sand beaches, on his frequent visits to Dominica while growing up.
Alan Napier has traveled extensively throughout his life, he has visited and lived in numerous countries such as; Turkey, Italy, India, Austria Jordon and the Middle East. Periodically Alan would always return to the place
where his heart was and would always be, Dominica. Not even in England, his place of birth did
he feel the sense of belonging he felt when he was in Dominica.
Five and a half years ago, Alan decided to return to Dominica to live and work on his grandparents Estate. He has quickly settled back, into the bohemian life style he has been privilege to experience since birth. Alan has maintained the historical value of the Estate and has only made changes to the house where absolutely necessary.
Alan shares his grandmothers passion for the island and the estate and has made it his home, forever, just as his grandmother Elma Napier did.
Alan's grand-parents were enthusiastic, environmentalist and preservationist and had purchased 45 acres of virgin forestland, not just because it was lovely, but to save the forest.
He happily walks in his ancestors footsteps, a constant advocate of preservation of wildlife, forest and organic farming.
The Estate is evidence of his convictions and is full of a wide variety of trees, flowers and herbs many of which he has planted with his own hands. He is well acquainted with the many names and uses of the local vegetation, herbs, foliage, flowers and wildlife that grow throughout the island.
Alan Napier is more than happy to oblige guests and sightseers with a garden tour, a taste-testing of his now infamous Pointe Baptist Chocolate or the historical details of his families endeavors.
Alan Napier is always readily available to greet all who visit Pointe Baptist Estate, with a warm Napier welcome.
The Life of Lennox Napier
Lennox Nappier was an English, businessman. He was a man of very progressive ideas and had once lived amongst the artist of post Gaughin Tahiti.
He had served in the first world war from 1914-1918 and was then known as, Captain Lennox Napier. He had received some injuries, while in action and spent sometime in a Field Hospital in France recovering.
Lennox Napier married Elma in1924. It was he who introduced her to books and paintings and “the world that reads the New Statesman”.
Lennox fathered two children with Elma Napier, Patricia and Michael..
He traveled to Dominica with his family in 1931 because he was over-tired, over-worked and constantly, rather ill.
He was at the brink of his 40th birthday. A lung specialist recommended that he take three months holiday in search of sunshine. Lennox and his wife chose to go the West Indies.
Lennox Napier fell in-love with the island at first sight and decided with the agreement of his wife to return to the island three weeks later and make it their home, forever.
On that second trip, three weeks later Lennox reacquainted himself with an old friend named John Holly Knapp, known as Knapp. They had meet 13 years previously in Tahiti and to Lennox's delight, his old friend had also made Dominica his home, some years previously.
Knapp became a very valuable friend and neighbour, not just to Lennox but to the whole Napier family and this friendship was maintained by the two men until death separated them.
Lennox Napier was responsible for the design of the mansion, he was also very much involved with the building of the mansion over the two years that it took to complete.
Lennox Napier played a part in the changes of the political affairs, on the island he had adopted.
He became a member of the colony's Legislative Council a post he held from 1937 to his death.
Lennox Napier died of tuberculosis in 1940 at the age of 49 years, just eight years after his arrival in Dominica.
He was buried on his Estate in Pointe Baptiste in a place he had chosen previously with his wife Elma, a quite place by the track that runs from Pointe Baptiste to the Black sand beach.
John Holly Knapp died suddenly one month after the death of his best friend.
He was buried by Elma alongside her beloved husband Lennox Napier.
The Life of Elma Napier
Elma Napier was born Elma Gordon Cumming, in Scotland in 1892, the eldest child of Sir William Cumming, whose family owned half of Scotland.
In 1890 two years before her birth, her father Sir William was accused of cheating, during a card
game with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII).
Sir William sued for defamation and lost. This affair became infamously known as the Tranby Croft affair, he lost his place in high society and was socially ostracized from the Edwardian court because of it.
As a child Elma Gordon Cummings was often confined to a lonely existence, with thirty in- door servants and governesses.
Elma felt disconnected from her background, often wanting to 'run like a hunted hare' because she felt that, she 'heard a different drummer.'
At the age of 18 years she met and fell in love with a married man. Her mother told her 'no decent man will marry you now' she was wrong.
At age 19, she gratefully married Mr. Gibb, an upper class English man, with global business connections.
For nine years the couple lived in Australia, which she loved for its freedom and landscape, even though she felt constrained by wifely duties. Elma gave birth to two children in this union a son
called Ronald and daughter called Daphne.
In the years that followed Elma meet Lennox Napier. He was also English, and a businessman but he had lived among the artist of Tahiti and had progressive ideas of his own.
He introduced Elma to books and paintings and the world that reads “New Statesman' their, relationship deepened and in this partnership she found an answer to her restlessness.
In the wake of her divorce she forfeited the two children of that marriage into the care of their father.
Ronald became an RAF pilot and was killed in action in 1942, while daughter Daphne would eventually join her mother, aged 20 years and accompany the Napier's to their new beginning in Dominica.
Elma and Lennox were married in 1924 and produced two children from that marriage,
a son named Michael and a daughter named Patricia.
It was because of Elma's husbands frail health that they embarked on that first trip to the West Indies, neither one of them had any real knowledge of the island. The lung specialist had recommended Mr. Napier go in search of some healing sun rays, to aid his fragile health.
The winter of 1931 the Napier family discovered Dominica while on a Caribbean cruise. It was on this trip that Elma fell in love again, this time with the Caribbean island of Dominica. A love that was to last for the rest of her life. A love that she and Mr. Napier shared from the first sighting.
Elma and Lennox left the island vowing to return in three weeks to make this island their home, forever. True to their word they returned three weeks later with and began putting plans together to put down their roots on this beautiful Caribbean island.
The Napier's purchased land on the North East coast of Dominica near the village of Calibishe. Elma's husband designed the house and took charge of the management of the building of the mansion, that took two years to build.
Elma had different horizons from the rest of Dominicans small white population, mainly colonial service officials whose wives wore white gloves for tea parties and played tennis at the all-white club. Elma Napier did not do that, she swan in the nude, walked along forest trails alone and endured long horseback rides to remote villages in tropical downpours.
Elma also wrote articles for the Manchester Guardian, talked to men about politics and learned about the culture and landscape of her adopted island.
Elma Napier flourished in Dominica, as it i excited and satisfied her sense of adventure, and her love of the wilderness.
An early advocate for the environment, and a natural environmentalist, she fought to preserve the islands virgin forests.
When Lennox died in 1940 only eight years after their arrival. Elma became a member of the colony's Legislative Council in her husbands stead.
She remained at Pointe Baptiste with its dark glowing furniture and many books and continued in her role of hostess for a further 33 years, living alone always ready to welcome, all passing visitors both grand and not so grand.
Life in Dominica became more progressive in the 1950's but life at Pointe Baptiste remained the same. Elma said that a “typewriter, pen and sewing machine” were all the moving parts she needed. There was no electricity, lamps were used.
There was an appealing no nonsense, lack of sentimentality to her personality, which explains perhaps her ability to flourish even in the dynamics of island life, as she herself questioned, “It has never been easy to analyse, to define the mysterious charm that has lured some people to stay in Dominica forever, and from which others have fled without even taking time to unpack”.
Elma Napier was commemorated on a Dominican postage stamp. She was the first woman to sit in any West Indian parliament.
Elma's first book, of travel sketches was first published in 1927. She wrote two more novels, published in the 1930's both set in Dominica: A Flying Fish Whispered (which is to be re-published by Peepal Tree Press) and Duet in Discord. Then came a gap until two memoirs :Youth is a Blunder(1948) of her early years, evokes what Elma called the”casual cruelty of childhood” and Winter is in July(1949) largely about her life in Australia. Black and White sands was written in 1962, but has remained unpublished until now.
Elma Napier died in 1973 at the age of 81years. She was buried alongside her husband by the track that runs from Pointe Baptiste to-Black Beach.
The house itself remains in the family, it is now used as a guest house. The Napier family continue to contribute to the island life.
Daphne, eldest daughter of Elma continued to live in Dominica with her family, until the end of 2011, when she died at the age 98 years. Patricia younger daughter resides here too, as does her son, Lennox Honeychurch historian and anthropologist. Michael's son Alan has also taken up permanent residence in Dominica and is currently running Pointe Baptiste Estate, as a guest house. Other grandchildren and great grandchildren also live and work in Dominica, the island of which Elma wrote “…..with Dominica we fell in love at first sight, an infatuation without tangible rhyme or reason, yet no more irrational than any other falling in love”
It is evident today, that the said love affair Elma spoke of is still alive, thriving and flourishing.
It is a love that has touched one Napier generation after generation, and continues to touch all of us who are fortunate enough to visit Dominica, and the now infamous and historical, Pointe Baptiste Estate.
Michael Napier talks
Following a period of ill health, resulting probably from his experiences in the 1914-18 war, my father Lennox Napier, then aged 40, departed on a convalescent cruise to the West Indies early in 1932 accompanied by my mother; they fell in love with Dominica at first sight and were delighted to find that an American, Holly Knapp, whom my father had befriended some years previously in Tahiti, was now living in a house close to the present Seacliff Cottages.
My parents came to an instant decision that they too would like to live in Dominica, sacrificing a well paid directorship and large house in London and buying eight acres of land at Pointe Baptiste, after which they made arrangements with my future brother-in law Percy Agar to build what is now the Small House. They returned to Dominica in November 1932 with my half sister Daphne Agar, my sister Patricia Honychurch, and myself, then aged four.
The Main House, designed by my father with help from a local architect, was constructed during the following two years using pitch-pine imported from Canada. It was more strongly built than accords with current practice in order to provide maximum protection against hurricanes such as those which occurred in 1925, 1928 and 1930.
A keen gardener, my father spent much time beautifying the estate and created two flourishing vegetable gardens, alas not subsequently maintained. The beaches in those days were strictly private and bathing suits were often dispensed with. There were no roads to the south of the island so journeys to Roseau involved driving to Portsmouth and then a three hour boat journey along the leeward coast, stopping at villages on the way.
In 1934 my parents discovered a beautiful and unspoiled area where the Ti-Branche and Hampstead Rivers join and after acquiring fifty acres of land built a two bedroom house and adjacent kitchen with a veranda overlooking rivers and virgin forest. The only practical means of access was a path, now abandoned, starting from Hampstead Bridge and involved crossing the river six times. I have lovely memories of stays there of up to three days much of it spent fishing for mullet and catching river crawfish.
My parents took a great interest in local affairs which resulted in my father's election to the Dominica Legislative Council with a constituency stretching from Vieille Case to Rosalie. Unfortunately his health deteriorated and he died in 1940 of tuberculosis, aged only 48.
Our neighbour Holly Knapp died soon afterwards, being buried on the estate close to my parents. I remember a kind and intelligent man who had a well-stocked library and with whom I used to play chess.
My mother Elma Napier lived on for 33 years at Pointe Baptiste after my father's death, writing several books and taking over his interest in community affairs, eventually having her portrait on a postage stamp as being the first woman to be elected to a West Indian legislature. Crime was virtually nonexistent in those days and the house never used to be closed.
On my mothers death in 1973, the estate, by then expanded to the present 25 acres, passed to me. Major transformations included the installation of an electrical supply (lighting was previously by oil lamps and there was no fridge) and piped water, the construction of the east terrace and the building of the staff house.
Although recent years have seen much local development, Pointe Baptiste itself has remained unspoiled and the adjacent village of Calibishie is still one of the loveliest and most friendly on the island. In a world which is becoming increasingly uniform, it remains a place which is different amid an environment of outstanding natural beauty.