The white ex-naval officer who fathered Bob Marley was a British captain from Essex

Tall, imperious and imposing, especially on horseback, Captain Norval Sinclair Marley roamed the plantations of Jamaica bedding many of the teenage daughters of the estate workers he was supposed to oversee, Glenys Roberts writes in this article for London’s Daily Mail.

According to local gossip, he seems to have been a British naval captain who came from Essex and had once served in India, but he ended up working for the British colonial service in the Jamaican backwoods in the Forties.

By then, Marley was at least 50 years old, yet his brief liaisons resulted in a number of children. And one of his lovers was 18-year-old gospel singer Cedella Booker

Their son, Robert Nesta Marley, was born in 1945 and spent his formative years living in considerable poverty in the slums of Jamaica.

He might have lived out his life in utter obscurity were it not for his musical talent which would propel him to super-stardom as Bob Marley, the King of Reggae, one of the biggest record industry earners of all time. Today, more than 30 years after his death, his estate is worth an  incredible $1billion.

The extraordinary story of how the dreadlocked musician rose from such obscurity  to become one of the demi-gods of popular music from the Seventies to the present day is the subject of a fascinating new documentary film which, for the first time, spells out the truth about his ancestry.

When he was growing up, Marley looked so different from his black family that he was often known as ‘the German’, because in contrast to them he looked somewhat European. Feeling an outsider in both the black and white communities, his  isolation became the driving force behind his will to succeed.

Now, for the first time, film-maker Kevin Macdonald has put a face to Marley’s philandering father. He can be seen in a photograph out in the fields, on horseback as usual, ready to throw his weight around with the workers.

Macdonald also found a rare picture of Bob Marley himself before he became famous. Tall and skinny, the teenager had a short back-and-sides haircut in the days before he discovered dreadlocks.

His thin face reflects many of his father’s aquiline features — not that young Robert had much chance to discover that for himself. For Captain Marley did not tarry long after his son’s birth. Although he provided some financial support, there was little contact between father and son as the boy was growing up.

Then, when Bob was just ten, Captain Marley died suddenly of a heart attack.

His mother Cedella, still only 28, was left in such extreme poverty that she was forced to make her way to Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, in search of work, leaving her young son with her family.

H  e eventually followed her to Kingston, where they settled in a corrugated-iron shack in a street with open sewers in the Trenchtown area, one of the roughest parts of the capital.

Here, Marley was confronted in the starkest terms with the reality of his mixed parentage.

He was taunted mercilessly by his peers for standing out from the crowd. Indeed, he longed so much to fit in that, as his 65-year-old widow Rita has recently revealed, he used to black his face with boot polish. She says he even married her — when he was 21 and she 19 —because, unlike him, she was completely black.

But aside from his struggles for acceptance, Marley had another yearning: to be famous.

He formed a group, the Wailers, with his childhood friends, including Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Marley’s stepbrother.

The trio were so poor they made their own guitars with strings fashioned from stripped electrical wiring. And such was Marley’s drive that he forced them to rehearse U.S. R&B songs and the new local music called ska for 18 hours a day.

At first, they saw little reward for their efforts. For years, Marley was earning just £3 a week.

Only when he embraced Rastafarianism, with its emphasis on black pride and marijuana smoking as a sacrament, did he find his vocation. At the same time, his band moved on to the new, slower reggae beat.

By 1971, he had his own record company funded by a Jamaican soccer star, and his first big hit, Trenchtown Rock. This success led to a meeting with Island Records’ boss Chris Blackwell, who promoted the group internationally.

But family and friends, speaking out for the first time in the new film, reveal that because Bob was so single-minded about his career those close to him were often neglected.

His daughter Cedella, named after Bob’s mother, seems during conversations in the film to be quite bewildered at having to share her father with so many fans across the globe — not to mention his ten other children, many of them  illegitimate and the result of the many affairs he conducted during his marriage.

Marley had at least seven mistresses, including 1976 Jamaican Miss World Cindy Breakspeare.

The women themselves say he was so shy that they made all the  running. Several even fell pregnant by him at the same time: this year, three of his sons by different women will all turn 40.

His daughter Cedella is 44, a successful businesswoman with three children who lives in Miami.

She is still visibly hurt when she remembers that it was often more important to her father to be Bob Marley the superstar than a good parent — perhaps because he himself had never had a good example given by his own father’s absence.

On one occasion, she recalls being bullied by a girl at school and fully expected him to defend her.

Instead, when he came to confront the girl and she said ‘Oh my God, it’s Bob Marley! Can I have your autograph?’ he meekly complied.

By the time he held his now famous One Love Peace Concert in Kingston in 1978, Marley had been elevated to the status of local saint — though his dream of peace and harmony were not shared by everyone.

After independence from the British in 1962, the bitter hatred of rival political parties had led to gang warfare in the streets. Marley himself narrowly escaped serious injury when a bullet grazed his chest.

At the concert, he proudly revealed the scar on stage to howls of approval from the crowd.

Then, in front of 30,000 people, he invited the bitter political opponents Prime Minister Michael Manley and his Right-wing challenger Edward Seaga on stage and joined their hands above his head, begging them to be reconciled.

Marley went on to perform in the Gabon in Africa — where the president’s daughter fell in love with him — and at Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in 1980, long before the world learned the full truth about Robert Mugabe.

But time was running out for the man with the mission to spread harmony. In a game of football several years earlier, Marley had suffered an apparently trivial accident that would lead to his death aged only 36.

Spiked on the toe by someone else’s football boot, Marley simply bandaged it up. But the injury had sparked the growth of a cancerous melanoma, which led to cancer spreading throughout his body.

In 1980, by which time he was worth around £16m, he used every ounce of his waning strength to give what was to be his final performance of classic songs like No Woman No Cry and Buffalo Soldier, in Pennsylvania.

When chemotherapy — which resulted in the loss of his famous dreadlocks — proved useless, he opted for a spell at the controversial Bavarian clinic of Dr Josef Issels, who hoped to stem the cancer through a vegetarian diet.

But though Marley stayed in Germany for eight months, nothing could be done to save him. Given only 48 hours to live, he finally set out to return home to Jamaica. But he never made it. The film reveals what even his daughter Cedella did not know: he suffered a stroke while changing planes in Miami.

That was the real reason he was taken to hospital there, not the cancer that riddled his body.

His family flew from Jamaica to his bedside. By then he had barely enough strength to whisper his final poignant words to his oldest son Ziggy: ‘Money can’t buy life.’

But the legend was just beginning. When his body was taken back to his birthplace, thousands came to pay tribute. The accident of fate that made him neither black nor white may have driven him to become a mouthpiece for unity who conquered the world.

But were it not for a philandering naval officer — possibly from Essex — we might never have heard of Bob Marley at all.

For the original report go to

3 thoughts on “The white ex-naval officer who fathered Bob Marley was a British captain from Essex

  1. Many overseers racially abused and sexually abused the people they were suppose to be looking after. There should be compensation to those communities.

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