It was the Scottish island where George Orwell wrote one of the most influential books of the modern age.

But on Jura, the writer and journalist Eric Blair, a new book reveals, was also in fear of his life.

Barnhill, a new novel by the writer Norman Bissell, reveals that Orwell, who wrote much of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the island at the remote farmhouse of the title, feared he could be assassinated by agents of Soviet Russia because of antipathy to his anti-totalitarian book Animal Farm.

Mr Bissell, whose book is published by Edinburgh’s Luath Press, said that Orwell borrowed a pistol from Ernest Hemingway in 1945 because he was afraid that Stalinist agents might try to kill him.

He carried a Luger pistol with him at Barnhill, his secluded home on Jura, too.
Orwell’s fears about assassination are part of the novel, he said, and noted: “He had witnessed them in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War when he and his wife Eileen narrowly escaped death because Stalin had given orders to crush the Independent Labour Party contingent with whom he fought and the Anarchists. 

“The French Communist Party was huge in 1945 and Orwell feared he could be just another journalist killed without trace during wartime.”

He said: “He brought his housekeeper Susan Watson and his son Richard Blair to Barnhill in July 1946, and her boyfriend David Holbrook [who died in 2011] came there soon after. 

“He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and Orwell thought he was there to spy on him and possibly assassinate him. 

“He knew that Leon Trotsky’s assassin had gained access to his fortified house in 1940 by becoming the boyfriend of one of his close female supporters. 

“He was aware of how much the Stalinists hated Animal Farm which became a worldwide bestseller when it came out in August 1945, and so he went about with a Luger at Barnhill.”

The author said that he had been struck by the contrast between Barnhill’s beautiful, remote location and the dark, dystopian novel he had created there. He based the novel on research, biographies as well as Orwell’s novels, essays, diaries and letters.

Orwell lived at Barnhill from May 1946 to January 1949, and was happy there.
He dug vegetables, cut peat, fished and tried to become as self-sufficient as possible in what he described as a “an extremely un-get-atable place.”

Bissell said, although living on the island was tough, it did not directly lead to his health declining: he suffered in returning to London in the bad winter of 1946/7 although nearly drowning in the Gulf of Corryvreckan did not help. He died in 1950.

The writer said: “From his point of view, and mine, Barnhill was a success because it enabled him to focus on writing his novel instead of being distracted by the demands of life in London.

“He was happy there and gave up his London flat because he intended to live permanently at Barnhill.

“However, he was a chain smoker and he neglected his health to such an extent in his efforts to finish the book that he went into hospital again in January 1949 and never came out.”

The author added: “The conditions at Barnhill were better for Orwell’s health than if he had continued to stay in London.

“The Gulf Stream on the west coast of Scotland creates a milder climate and that first summer of 1946 they had six weeks without rain....there was no electricity at Barnhill at that time so they used paraffin lamps and heaters which weren’t good for his lungs, but the problem was that he didn’t look after himself wherever he lived. 

“He was driven by his urge to finish the book that was his warning to the world about the dangers of Big Brother totalitarianism if it killed him and, unfortunately, in the end it did.”