Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monarch of All I Survey

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself, or Robinson Crusoe, is a novel by Daniel Defoe.

But before Defoe wrote his novel there was a real Robinson Crusoe by the name of Alexander Selkirk, an Scottish seaman. In 1704, he was serving on the ship Cinque Ports when it dropped anchor at the uninhabited islands of Juan Fernandez to re-stocking fresh water and supplies.

Selkirk had his doubts about the ship's seaworthiness and tried to convince his crewmates to desert and remain on the island. Unfortunately, his fellow sailors saw no need to jump ship, however the irritated captain decided he would grant Selkirk his wish, dropping him off on the island with only a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible and his clothing.

Robinson Crusoe island, Juan Ferandez archipelgo, 418 miles west of South America, now a World Biospheres Reserve

Although Selkirk was marooned on the island for five years, he was correct about the Cinque Port. It later was lost at sea, along with most of its hands.

On this date, 301 years ago, February 2nd, 1709, Alexander Selkirk was rescued from his island by a privateer. He returned home to Scotland and great public acclaim, was interviewed by journalists, and then eloped to London with a sixteen year old dairy maid, whom he did not marry. By 1721 he had gone back to sea, managing to catch yellow fever and finally dying at sea off the west coast of Africa.

Statue of Alexander Selkirk in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland

From Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe:

"September 30, 1659 - I, poor miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked during a dreadful storm in the offing, came on shore on this dismal, unfortunate island, which I called "The Island of Despair"; all the rest of the ship's company being drowned, and myself almost dead.

"All the rest of the day I spent in afflicting myself at the dismal circumstances I was brought to; I had neither food, house, clothes, weapon, nor place to fly to; and in despair of any relief, saw nothing but death before me; either that I should be devoured by wild beats, murdered by savages, or starved to death for want of food. At the approach of night I slept in a tree, for fear of wild creatures; but slept soundly,though it rained all night."

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, published April 25, 1719.

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