Think of the Bahamas and the visions that come to mind are gorgeous tropical islands, palm-fringed beaches and crystal-clear seas. And now you, too, could own a piece of this earthly paradise – if you happen to have the £46 million you’ll need to buy Darby Island. But beware – it has a sinister past that might be a little more than you bargained for.
That Darby Island is a secluded Bahamian idyll with the potential to be a tropical wonderland isn’t in doubt. But its derelict castle holds some secrets dating back to the Second World War that might put off even the most enthusiastic of prospective buyers. Moreover, the fate of the last man to live in the castle back in the 1940s is shrouded in mystery.
Today, Big Darby features that long-empty and slowly decaying castle, an impenetrable jungle covering and even a disused airstrip. It could be a great setting for a horror movie, in fact. But whether it’s a place the average multimillionaire would choose as a home from home is open to question. We’ll get back to this mysterious island with its dark past a little later, but first let’s find out some more about the Bahamas.
The Bahamas lie to the north of Cuba, with the Bahamian capital of Nassau located around 350 miles from Havana. In turn, the U.S. lies to the north of the Bahamas – the distance from Miami to Nassau is some 180 miles. The Bahamian archipelago includes in excess of 700 islands. These are spread over approximately 180,000 square miles of ocean.
The original inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayans, who lived there for hundreds of years. And when Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492, the first people he encountered were these Lucayans. Indeed, the sole written account we have of the Bahamians of that period was written by the famous explorer. The only other information we have about the Lucayans is derived from archaeology and the study of related peoples.
Moreover, Columbus kidnapped several of the Lucayans and took them back to Spain. This was a grim portent of what the future held for this unfortunate people. In 1500 hundreds more Lucayans were abducted and transported to Spain, where they were enslaved. Other Lucayans were also captured and cast into slavery on the island of Hispaniola, which is today made up of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
By 1513 tens of thousands of Lucayans had been taken from the Bahamas by the Spanish. And in 1520 the colonialists decided to seize all the surviving inhabitants of the Bahamas and transport them to Hispaniola. However, they were only able to locate a grand total of 11 Lucayans. After that final removal, the Bahamas would be free of human settlers for well over a century.
Then, in 1648 Puritans arrived from England and founded an outpost on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. Some 70 years later, the British declared that the Bahamas was their colony. The islands were subsequently settled with people who’d remained loyal to the British Crown during the War of Independence. And the new arrivals founded plantations cultivated by African slaves.
Slavery was finally outlawed on the Bahamas in 1834 and as a result the islands were a place where escaped African-American slaves could find refuge. Back then, the majority of Bahamians were former slaves and their offspring. Today some nine-tenths of Bahamian residents have African heritage.
Tourism was introduced to the tropical idyll of the Bahamas as early as the mid-19th century, but it was a cottage industry at first. By 1873, the islands could still only boast a few hundred tourists each year. Things took off for the industry in the 1920s, although the Great Depression of the 1930s slowed its growth.
Then, in the 1960s the Bahamas greatly benefited from American trade sanctions against Cuba after Fidel Castro’s communists came to power in Havana. By the end of the decade, a million tourists were visiting the islands each year. And come 1986, that number had increased to three million. The reputation of the Bahamas as a place of sun, sea and sunshine had been cemented.
And in recent decades the Bahamas has become a haunt of the fabulously wealthy as well as numerous cruise-ship visitors. According to the Bloomberg website, the Bahamas saw more private jet arrivals than any other islands in the world in 2018. The super-rich touched their aircraft down in the Bahamas more than 16,000 times that year. Second in this private-jet league table was the Spanish island of Mallorca – with fewer than 6,000 landings.
And for those with the deepest pockets, what could be more desirable than your own private island to complement your private jet? Well, that’s where Big Darby – with its $46 million price tag – comes in. You can be sure this Bahamian retreat is in the right neighborhood with the likes of Faith Hill, Nicholas Cage and David Copperfield all owning nearby real estate.
So now let’s find out what you’d get for your 46 million bucks. Big Darby Island is set in the Atlantic a little under 100 miles from Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, which is located on the island of New Providence. And the Exuma Cays have seen something of an economic boom recently thanks to the popularity of the islands as a tourist destination.
If you have the cash to spare, unspoiled Big Darby has much to recommend it. There are no fewer than 14 white, sandy beaches distributed around the island’s two miles of coastline, all of them overlooking pristine seascapes. To get there, you can fly to Great Exuma International Airport, although you’ll obviously need a boat or a seaplane to travel the last 35 miles or so to your new purchase.
Your very own private island, should you decide to go ahead with the deal, covers more than 550 acres, and is close to 90 feet above sea level at its highest point. It has a long unused airstrip that you can just about make out on Google Satellite view. It will need some heavy-duty maintenance before you’ll be able to land your private plane on it, however.
But what may well excite you the most about this $46 million island is the fact that it also boasts an 8,000 square-foot abandoned castle. It has some intriguing local folklore attached to it as well, which we’ll return to in a moment. The castle was built in 1938 and boasts several fascinating features.
One of those aforementioned features is its rainwater-gathering capacity, always a bonus on an island surrounded by the salty Atlantic Ocean and apparently lacking any other dependable source of freshwater. The castle has a series of three underground cisterns that can hold more than 100,000 gallons of collected rainwater.
The castle does have its drawbacks, though. For example, it has no sewer facilities, no electricity supply and no running water. Nonetheless, it does have handsome mahogany floors, high ceilings and balconies with superb views of the Atlantic and other nearby islands. But there’s no getting away from it – this property needs work, a lot of work. Think millions of dollars more on top of that purchase price.
So, who built this palatial residence on a remote Bahamian island in 1938? The seller, Rick Davis of Palmetto Bay, Florida, says that it was an eccentric English gentleman – are there any other kind – called Sir Baxter Darby. The island was apparently given to Sir Baxter as a gift by the then British king, George V, on the occasion of Darby’s knighthood.
“In the mid ’90s, I couldn’t get rid of [Big Darby] for $500,000,” investment banker Davis told the now-defunct Gossip Extra website. “But then David Copperfield bought one. And all of the sudden, everyone wanted his island in the Bahamas.”
He’s a strangely elusive character, however, this Sir Guy Baxter. Despite the fact that he allegedly had royal connections so close that George V knighted him and gave him an island, history still has very little to say about the man. In fact, much of what we know of him appears to come from local folklore. Nonetheless, the castle he’s said to have built in 1938 is real enough. Indeed, it’s there for all to see on Google Satellite.
Whatever the truth about Sir Guy’s origins, it seems that he took to his new island possession with some enthusiasm. In fact, he appears to have transformed it into a thriving plantation. The owner reportedly seeded some 20,000 coconut palms there as well as bringing in large quantities of livestock to populate the island including goats, sheep and cattle.
At one time, Sir Baxter was said to be the region’s biggest employer, although he also had something of a reputation as a tightwad. He maintained a top-class radio post at his home, and he even had a small factory producing wicker furniture. But it seems that it was some of his other rumored activities that were to be his downfall.
Big Darby has a close island neighbor, rather unimaginatively called Little Darby. Sir Baxter deepened the narrow channel that runs between the two, which is only about 150 feet wide at its narrowest point. He then constructed a large mooring dock on the channel. Today, you can holiday on Little Darby, lodging in a family home there.
The Little Darby holiday home has a website that mentions the mysterious Sir Guy. Describing his Big Darby plantation, the page in question records that “it was once the largest employer in the Exumas, with hundreds of workers building stone walls by hand. These great walls traverse the island both east to west and north to south. This work force constructed the largest man made structure in the area, the legendary ‘Darby Castle’.”
But it was another structure built by Baxter that became a major point of controversy: that large mooring dock mentioned earlier. “There are still giant poured concrete moorings,” the current owner Rick Davis told Gossip Extra in 2012. “Nobody knows why they’re there, but I believe it was for the submarines.”
And the question that locals are said to have asked was this: just who was the dock designed for? By this point, World War Two had broken out. The people of the Bahamas were subjects of the British Empire at the time and, naturally enough, fiercely opposed to Hitler.
The Atlantic, of course, was a hunting ground for Nazi submarines. These U-boats were tasked with disrupting transatlantic trade in order to turn the screws on the British. And local stories have it that Sir Baxter, although British, was in fact a Nazi sympathizer who’d built those docks as mooring places for German submarines, which would consequently be able to resupply at his island.
It is undoubtedly true that U-boats sailed around the Bahamas during World War Two. Approximately 130 merchant vessels were attacked and sunk by U-boats in the region’s waters, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of sailors. So it’s easy enough to see how Sir Baxter might have fallen under suspicion, given that at least some of his neighbors believed him to be a Nazi supporter.
There is no firm evidence, however, that any German submarine ever docked or even came close to Big Darby. But local rumors had it that Sir Baxter signaled passing German submarines from the rooftop of his castle to guide them to his island.
And local folklore even recalls that an angry crowd of citizens accosted Sir Guy. Remember, at the time, the Bahamas were still part of the British Empire, so people would have had little sympathy for anyone allegedly working with the Germans during the Second World War.
Regardless of the veracity of the tales about Sir Guy being a Nazi collaborator, the upshot was that the Englishman left the island with his mistress in tow, never to be seen or hear of again. Some say that an enraged mob from the surrounding islands forced Baxter to leave. Another account has it that the Bahamian authorities seized his property.
The Bahamas did have another somewhat tenuous connection with Nazi Germany. Britain’s King Edward VIII, forced to abdicate in 1936 in order to marry an American divorcée, was said by some to have Nazi sympathies. There was even talk that Hitler would make him king of the U.K. again after a successful German invasion.
Winston Churchill’s pragmatic answer to the problem of the former king was to order Edward to take the post of Governor of the Bahamas in 1940. Edward, with his wife Wallis Simpson, spent the rest of the war there. As far as we know, Edward never met Sir Baxter, although if the rumors are true, he and the knight might have shared some distinctly unpleasant political views.
While it’s impossible to definitively know if Sir Guy was indeed a Nazi collaborator, there were a handful of Britons who undoubtedly were Nazi sympathizers. Probably the most famous, or infamous, was William Joyce, better known in Britain during WWII as Lord Haw Haw. He worked for the Nazis broadcasting propaganda radio shows from Germany aimed at the British.
In fact, Joyce was actually born in 1906 in New York City to an Anglo-Irish mother and a naturalized American father. However, Joyce’s parents relocated to Galway in Ireland when he was a young child. The Irish War of Independence in 1921 saw Joyce work as a messenger for the British Army, and he came close to being killed by IRA fighters.
After his escapades in Ireland, Joyce moved to England where he became involved in fascist politics. In 1939 he relocated again, this time to Nazi Germany. There he started his broadcasts and earned the disparaging nickname of Lord Haw Haw because of his peculiar enunciation. In fact, it seems that many British listeners tuned in for the entertainment value of Joyce’s ludicrous propaganda.
The British Army subsequently arrested Joyce in May 1945 as the war ended. He was sent back to Britain and there stood trial as a traitor to his country. Found guilty of high treason, he was hanged in a London prison in January 1946. Thus, if Sir Guy Baxter really was a British sympathizer of the Nazis, he wasn’t entirely alone. But what happened to him after the war, we simply don’t know.
So, if you’re in the market for a Bahamian bolthole complete with a castle built by an English aristocrat – and you happen to be a multi-millionaire – then perhaps you should think about buying Big Darby. As the seller, Rick Davis, says, “Those who like white-sand beaches, clear ocean, peace and a stable government, then it’s for you.”