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Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe

Perhaps you know the story of Robinson Crusoe, the hero of Daniel DefoeÂ’s famous novel. In the story we read that he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island where he experienced a lot of adventures, until finally a passing vessel took him off the island. DefoeÂ’s novel is by no means an original creation. It is based on the true story of a British sailor named Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721). CrusoeÂ’s story island was located at the mouth of the Orinoco River, not far off Trinidad an island that belongs to the West Indies. The real island of SelkirkÂ’s adventures is in the Juan Fernandez group, 400 miles off the coast of Chile, South America, to which it now belongs as a national park.

Perhaps you know the story of Robinson Crusoe, the hero of Daniel Defoe’s famous novel. In the story we read that he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island where he experienced a lot of adventures, until finally a passing vessel took him off the island.

Defoe’s novel is by no means an original creation. It is based on the true story of a British sailor named Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721). Crusoe’s story island was located at the mouth of the Orinoco River, not far off Trinidad an island that belongs to the West Indies. The real island of Selkirk’s adventures is in the Juan Fernandez group, 400 miles off the coast of Chile, South America, to which it now belongs as a national park.

Selkirk was born in Scotland. He became a sailor at an early age and took part in some expeditions to the Pacific, then known as the South Seas. In 1704 he sailed as sailing master of the English vessel named “Cinque Port”. In the course of this voyage he quarreled with the captain of the ship, and was left at his own request on the uninhabited island now called Mas-a-Tierra. The leaky condition of the ship, as well as his quarrel with the captain, was the reason for Selkirk’s strange request. However, before the vessel left, Selkirk begged to be taken on board again, but his was refused. He lived quite alone for four years and four months on the island, until he was finally discovered and rescued by a British ship named “Duke” in January 1709.

In those four years Selkirk had seen several ships pass by his island. Two had anchored for wood and water, but on discovering that they were Spanish, he had climbed a tall tree rather than fall into their hands. At that time, England and Spain were at war, and he feared that he might be killed or sent to work as a prisoner in the mines of South America. When the British vessel “Duke” came to anchor and sent a party ashore for water, they found “a man clothed in goats” skin that looked wilder than the first owners of the skin.”

Town San Juan Bautista, Robinson Crusoe, Cumberland bay

The commander of the rescuing vessel, Captain Woodes Rogers, told the story of Selkirk’s adventures in a book entitled “A Cruising Voyage Round the World”, which he published a few years later. “He had with him”, said Captain Rogers about Selkirk, “his clothes and bedding, some powder, bullets, tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a Bible, some useful articles, and his mathematical instruments and books.” It was lucky for him that he had his books, for they helped him to fight against lonesomeness and despair. With his tools he built two huts of pimento trees, lining them with the skins of wild goats.

After a short time his powder, of which he had only a pound, gave out. For a time, he could kill no more game and could make a fire only by rubbing together two dry sticks. He slept only when he could watch no longer, and “never ate until he was very hungry.” He had no salt to season his fish, which were easy enough to catch. Gradually Selkirk found ways of overcoming his difficulties. He captured great turtles on the beach, and he learned to take the goats by running them down.

Statue of Alexander Selkirk in Lower Largo

“He ran with wonderful swiftness through the woods,” said Captain Rogers,” and up to the rocks and hills, when we ordered him to catch goats for our meal. We had a bulldog, which we sent with several of our fastest the runners, to help him catch the goats, but he left both the dog and our men far behind him, caught the goats and brought them to us on his back.” Selkirk’s lack of salt was forgotten in the use of the fruit of the pimento tree, and of a black pepper called malageta nor did he lack vegetables.

His clothes wore out very soon. He found that he could get along without shoes, and that goat’s skin served for the making of a coat and cap. Fortunately, the Juan Fernandez Islands never have very severe weather. It is cool in June and July, when it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and in summer the air is never too hot to bear.

Defoe describes Robinson Crusoe as entertaining himself by taming parrots and kids (young goats). Alexander Selkirk found the island filled with a lot of rats. By feeding and taming some of the wild cats whose ancestors had been left on the island by visiting ships, he succeeded in keeping down the number of rats. Captain Rogers tells us that “he tamed some kids, and would now and then sing and dance with them and his cats.”

When he was met for the first time by Rogers’ crew, Selkirk could hardly make normal conversation with them, and he had lost all taste for English food. The real Robinson Crusoe returned to England in 1711. He continued his work as a seaman under the command of Captain Rogers until his death in 1721. In 1868 the officers and sailors of the British naval vessel “Topaz” erected a monument in memory of Alexander Selkirk at a spot called “Selkirk’s Look out”, on the Island of Mas-a-Tierra, Chile.

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Comments (1)
Ranked #13 in History

Very interesting life of struggle, glad to know Selkirk, kept a Bible. Thanks for the share....like/tweet/stumbled!

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