Think of the Bahamas, and the visions that it conjures up are gorgeous tropical islands, palm-fringed beaches and crystal-clear seas. The other thing that comes to mind is fabulous wealth, since the Bahamas has been a playground of the rich and famous for decades. The likes of Johnny Depp, Mariah Carey and John Travolta own property on the islands of this earthly paradise.
And now you too could have a slice of this tropical idyll – as long as you can lay your hands on a cool $39 million, the sum that it will cost you to buy Big Darby Island. It’s one of 360 tropical islands that make up the Exuma Cays archipelago.
Big Darby Island is set in the Atlantic some 95 miles from New Providence, the island on which the Bahamas’ capital Nassau is situated. Miami is about 250 miles north-west. And the Exuma Cays have seen something of an economic boom during the 21st century, driven by the popularity of the islands as a tourist destination.
Big Darby certainly has much to recommend it. There are no less than 14 white, sandy beaches distributed around the island’s 10,000 feet of coastline, all overlooking pristine seas. 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 some 500 acres, and is 87 feet above sea level at its highest point. Moreover, it’s even said to have a long unused airstrip. And given that you’re rich enough to buy Big Darby, you’ll likely want to bring that back into use for your private plane.
But what may well excite you the most about this $39 million island is the fact that it also boasts an 8,000 square-foot semi-derelict castle. It was built in 1938 and has some fascinating features. The castle also has some fascinating local folklore attached to it, which we’ll return to in a moment.
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 his knighthood.
“In the mid ’90s, I couldn’t get rid of [Big Darby] for $500,000,” investment banker Davis told the Gossip Extra website. “But then David Copperfield bought one. And all of the sudden, everyone wanted his island in the Bahamas.”
And it seems that Sir Baxter took to his new island possession with some enthusiasm. Indeed, it’s reported that the good knight grew some 20,000 coconut palms, as well as bringing large quantities of livestock to populate the island.
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.
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.
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.
So, if you are 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.”