Jamaica Inn (novel)

Jamaica Inn is a novel by the English writer Daphne du Maurier, first published in 1936. It was later made into a film, also called Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a period piece set in Cornwall in 1820. It was inspired by du Maurier's 1930 stay at the real Jamaica Inn, which still exists and is a pub in the middle of Bodmin Moor.[1] The plot follows a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal the cargo.

Jamaica Inn
The first UK edition
AuthorDaphne du Maurier
GenreMurder mystery
Published1936 Gollancz (UK)
Doubleday Doran (US)


Mary Yellan, twenty three years old, was brought up on a farm in Helford. After her mother's death, Mary goes to live with her only surviving relative, her mother's sister, Patience Merlyn, in a coaching inn called Jamaica Inn. Patience's husband, Joss Merlyn, is a local bully, stands almost seven feet tall and is a drunk. On arriving at the gloomy and threatening inn, Mary finds her aunt in a ghost-like state under the thumb of the vicious Joss, and soon realises that something unusual is afoot at the inn, which has no guests and is never open to the public. She tries to squeeze the truth out of her uncle during one of his benders, but he tells her, "I'm not drunk enough to tell you why I live in this God-forgotten spot, and why I'm the landlord of Jamaica Inn."

Against her better judgement, Mary becomes attracted to Joss's younger brother, Jem, a petty thief, but less brutal than his elder brother. After Mary realises that Joss is the leader of a band of wreckers and even overhears Joss ordering the murder of one of their members, she is unsure whether to trust Jem or not. She turns to Francis Davey, the albino vicar of the neighbouring village of Altarnun, who happened to find Mary when she got lost one day on the moor.

Mary and Jem leave the moors for Christmas Eve and spend a day together in the town of Launceston, during which Jem sells a horse he stole from Squire Bassat back to the squire's unwitting wife. When it comes time to return to Jamaica Inn, Jem leaves Mary to get the jingle,[lower-alpha 1] but never returns. Mary has no way to get home except by walking, but when she attempts this realises the weather and distance make it impossible. At this point Francis Davey passes her on the road in a hired coach and offers her a lift home. He leaves the coach at the crossroads to walk to Altarnun. The coach is then waylaid by her uncle's band of wreckers, and the coach driver is killed. Mary is forced to go along with the wreckers and has to watch as they 'wreck' - tricking a ship into steering itself on to the rocks and then murdering the survivors of the shipwreck as they swim ashore.

A few days later, Jem comes to speak with Mary, who is locked in her room at the inn. With Jem's help, Mary escapes and goes to Altarnun to tell the vicar about Joss's misdeeds, but he isn't at home. She then goes to the squire's home and tells his wife her story, but Mrs Bassat tells Mary that her husband already has the evidence to arrest Joss and has gone to do so. Mrs Bassat has her driver take Mary to Jamaica Inn, where they arrive before the Squire's party. Mary goes inside and finds her uncle stabbed to death; the squire and his men arrive soon thereafter and discover Patience similarly murdered.

The vicar arrives at the inn, having received a note Mary left for him that afternoon, and offers her refuge for the night. The next day, Mary finds a drawing by the vicar; she is shocked to see that he has drawn himself as a wolf while the members of his congregation have heads of sheep. The vicar returns and tells Mary that Jem was the one who informed on Joss. However, when he realizes that she has seen the drawing, the vicar reveals that he was the true head of the wrecker gang and responsible for the murders of Joss and Patience. He then flees the vicarage, taking Mary as his hostage. The vicar explains that he sought enlightenment in the Christian Church but did not find it, and instead found it in the practices of the ancient Druids. As they flee across the moor to try to reach a ship to sail to Spain, Squire Bassat and Jem lead a search party that closes the gap, eventually coming close enough for Jem to shoot the vicar and rescue Mary.

Mary has an offer to work as a servant for the Bassats, but instead plans to return to Helford. One day as she walks on the moor, she comes across Jem, leading a cart with all of his possessions, headed in the opposite direction of Helford. After some discussion, Mary decides to abandon her plans to return to Helford to go with Jem.

Jamaica Inn in other media

  • The BBC's Home Service broadcast a five-part adaptation starring Patrick Troughton in 1966.
  • BBC Radio 4 made a four-part dramatisation adapted by Brian Gear in 1984.
  • An ITV television series Jamaica Inn aired in 1983. Starring Jane Seymour, Trevor Eve, Billie Whitelaw and Patrick McGoohan, this adaptation was nearer the original story than was the Hitchcock film.
  • The first known stage adaptation of Jamaica Inn was scripted by David Horlock and performed at Salisbury Playhouse in 1990.
  • BBC Radio 4 broadcast a four-part adaptation by Michael Bakewell in 1991.
  • An adaptation by John King was performed at the Regent Centre in 1993 and was to be performed again in February 2009.[4]
  • There is a 2004 stage adaptation of Jamaica Inn by Lisa Evans, which has been performed as recently as 26 May 2007 at Newcastle-Under-Lyme's New Vic theatre, with the critically acclaimed Juliette Goodman starring in the lead role of Mary Yellan.[5]


The characters presented throughout the novel include (in order of introduction):

  • Mary Yellan, main character
  • Mary's parents, who die, causing her to move away
  • Joss Merlyn, inn-keeper
  • Patience Merlyn, Joss' wife
  • Jem Merlyn, Joss' younger brother
  • Squire Bassat, local squire and Mary's rescuer
  • Francis Davey, Vicar
  • Hannah, Vicar's housekeeper
  • Mrs Bassat, squire's wife

See also


  1. jingle was a west-of-England term for a form of two-wheeled, horse-drawn tub cart or dray in common use in the nineteenth century.[2]


  1. Paschke, Jean (March 2007). "The Cornwall of Daphne du Maurier". British Heritage. Weider History Group. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, 'jingle':4
  3. Duguid, Mark. "Jamaica Inn (1939)". filmonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  4. "Jamaica Inn 1993 and 2009". Archived from the original on 11 February 2009.
  5. Orme, Steve. "Jamaica Inn". The British Theatre Guide. Peter Lathan. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  6. Orloff, Brian (31 March 2005). "Musings of a musical maverick". St. Petersburg Times. Times Publishing Company. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  7. Greene, Andy (12 June 2012). "Q&A: Neil Peart on Rush's New LP and Being a 'Bleeding Heart Libertarian'". Rolling Stone Magazine. Jann Wenner. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  8. [issuu.com/rickpalin/docs/issue_25/1?e=0 Firebrand Magazine Review]
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