Do you remember the Jamaican film, The Harder They Come? I’m sure you do!
Written by Perry Henzell and Trevor Rhone, and produced and directed by Perry Henzell, The Harder They Come became Jamaica’s most popular low-budget feature film, and now an iconic Jamaican product worldwide in the 40 years since its release.
The Harder They Come centres around the main character, Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, the typical Jamaican country-come-to-town, who goes to Kingston after the death of his grandmother to make a life for himself in the “big” City. Like many other young men back in the Studio Days of Reggae music, Ivan actually comes to Kingston to make it in the music industry.
But things don’t work out as he planned, and Ivan eventually becomes the most-wanted man in Jamaica, hunted and eventually killed by the security forces. His death, like his baptism into Kingston life, was hard.
So you must now be wondering where I’m going with this. After all, I already dealt with this in a previous post, The Harder They Come: “Jamaica’s First Full Length Motion Picture.”
Remember, our history echoes all around us, and even those echoes have echoes of their own.
The main character in the movie, Ivanhoe Martin, was loosely based on real-life escape convict and gun-slinger, Ivanhoe Martin aka “Rhyging” and “Ivan Brown.”
Who was Ivanhoe Martin?
On October 9, 1948, Ivanhoe Martin, who also went by the aliases “Rhyging” and “Ivan Brown,” was killed by the police at Lime Cay where he had fled, “reportedly awaiting a schooner headed for Cuba” (Campbell 2006). His death brought to an end a six-week manhunt for him as he was wanted for three murders in Kingston.
Two of these three murder victims, Detective Corporal Edgar Lewis of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Lucilda Tibby Young of 257 Spanish Town Road, were killed during a running gun battle between Ivanhoe and the police during the late hours of Tuesday, August 31 and the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 1, 1948. Four others were injured during this gun battle.
Following the failure of this police attempt to capture Ivanhoe, and the resulting murders, the police, on September 4, offered a £200 reward for information leading to his arrest.
So how did this massive manhunt for Rhyging begin? It all began when Ivanhoe escaped from the General Penitentiary in April 1948, where he was serving a five year term for larceny and burglary.
From one of the windows in the General Penitentiary, Ivan Martin, serving five years in the brickyard for burglary and larceny, leaped to freedom one night early in April . All police stations were notified, and the biggest man hunt in Jamaica’s police history started. (Daily Gleaner, Thursday, September 2, 1948, pg. 1)
He laid low until August 1948 when his whereabouts were discovered by the police at the Carib Hotel on Regent Street in Hannah Town. It was there that the running shoot-out took place, with Ivanhoe managing to escape police capture. According to a police statement issued on Wednesday, September 1, 1948: “it is believed that the wanted man escaped from the hotel into a block of tenements bounded by Regent Street, Trinity Lane, Blount Street and Dumfries Street” (Daily Gleaner, Thursday, September 2, 1948, pg. 1).
The six week manhunt began in earnest for Ivanhoe Martin, until he was cornered and killed at Lime Cay by the police on Saturday, October 9, 1948.
He was buried on Sunday, October 10, 1948 in a pauper’s lot at the May Pen Cemetery.
The Inspiration for “The Harder They Come”
During the six weeks that the police hunted for Ivanhoe, one of the areas they searched were the swamps surrounding the Caymanas Estate. Perry Henzell’s father was the manager of the Estate and he remembers seeing the police searching the swampy areas near the sugar plantation. It was this memory that influenced the storyline for The Harder They Come… and the rest is history.
Until next time…
Campbell, Howard (2006) Icon: Ivanhoe ‘Rhygin’ Martin – The Original Bad Man.” The Gleaner, Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, September 2, 1948
The Sunday Gleaner, September 5, 1948
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, September 6, 1948
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, October 11, 1948
The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, June 1, 1972