Elma Napier

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Elma Napier (1892 – 1973) was a Scottish-born writer and politician who lived most of her life in the Caribbean island of Dominica. She published several novels and memoirs based on her life, and was the first woman elected to a Caribbean parliament.

Born Elma Gordon-Cumming in Scotland, she was the eldest daughter of Sir William Gordon-Cumming, a wealthy landowner. Her father's reputation had been ruined shortly before her birth, in what became known as the Royal Baccarat Scandal. Accused of cheating in a game of baccarat with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Sir William sued for defamation and lost. Elma would come to understand that she was expected to rehabilitate the family by entering a good marriage. At the age of 19, she married Maurice Gibbs, an upper-class English businessman, with whom she had two children: Ronald and Daphne. The couple moved to Australia, where they lived for nine years until Elma met and fell in love with another English businessman, Lennox Napier. Elma divorced, losing custody of her children in the process. Elma and Lennox married in 1924, and had two children: Patricia and Michael.

The Napiers first visited Dominica, then a British colony, while on a Caribbean cruise in 1931. They moved there the following year, settling on its north coast near Calibishie, at a house they built and named Pointe Baptiste. Her daughter by her first husband, Daphne, now 20, also came to live with them. Lennox died in 1940.

Elma was first elected to the colony's Legislative Council that year, where she championed local government and development in the form of village boards and cooperative ventures. She also became involved in local conservation efforts to preserve Dominica's forests. Elma remained at Pointe Baptiste, entertaining guests that included Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Princess Margaret.

Napier wrote two novels, both set in Dominica, that were published in the 1930s. She wrote three memoirs, each covering a different stage of her life. Youth is a Blunder dealt with her youth; Winter Is In July was mostly about her life in Australia. Black and White Sands, about her life in Dominica, was written in 1962, but first published in 2009. She also periodically wrote articles for The Manchester Guardian.

Napier died in Dominica in 1973. She was buried, alongside her husband, near Pointe Baptiste. She was posthumously honored by Dominica (which became independent in 1978) with a postage stamp bearing her portrait.

Her grandson, Lennox Honychurch, is a Dominican historian and former politician.


Works[edit]

Nonfiction[edit]

  • Nothing So Blue (1927)
  • Youth is a Blunder (1948)
  • Winter Is In July (1949)
  • Black and White Sands (written 1962; first published Papillote Press, 2009)
  • Carnival in Martinique (1951)

Novels[edit]

  • Duet in Discord (1936)
  • A Flying Fish Whispered (1938; Peepal Tree Press, 2011)

References[edit]