Alexander Selkirk

Alexander Selkirk  was born at Largo, Scotland, in 1676, and bred to the sea. Having engaged in the half piratical, half exploring voyages in the American seas, into which the spirit of adventure had led so many Englishmen, he quarrelled with his captain, one Straddling, by whom he was left ashore, September, 1704, on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, with a few books, his nautical instruments, a knife, boiler, axe, gun, powder and ball. These constituted his whole equipment.

The island of Juan Fernandez lies in the Pacific Ocean, and is about three hundred and thirty miles west of Chili. It is twelve miles long and six wide. It is beautifully diversified with hills and valleys, and has been long resorted to for water, fruits, and game, by vessels navigating the Pacific Ocean. Upon this island, Selkirk now found himself alone. He saw the vessel depart with sadness and sickness at heart. His emotions of terror and loneliness overwhelmed him for a time, and he remained in a state of stupor and inactivity.

But these feelings gradually faded away, and though his situation was appalling, he concluded to make the best of it. He now set about erecting himself two huts, one of which served him for a kitchen, the other for a dining-room and bed-chamber. The pimento wood supplied him with fire and candles, burning very clearly, and yielding a most fragrant smell. The roofs of his huts were covered with long grass.

The island was stocked with wild goats. He supplied himself with meat by shooting these, so long as his ammunition lasted. When this was exhausted, he caught them by running; and so practised was he at last in this exercise, that the swiftest goat on the island was scarcely a match for him. When his clothes were worn out, he made himself a covering of goat-skins. After a short space, he had no shoes, and was obliged to go barefoot; his feet, however, became so callous, that he did not seem to need them.

Soon after he had become settled in his hut, he was annoyed by rats, which became so bold as to gnaw his clothes and nibble at his feet while he slept. However, the same ships which had supplied the island with rats, had left some cats ashore. Some of these, Selkirk domesticated, and the rats were taught to keep themselves at a distance. He caught also some young goats, which he reared, and amused himself by teaching them to dance and perform many other tricks. During his stay upon the island, Selkirk caught and killed nearly five hundred goats. A few he set at liberty, having cropped their ears. Thirty years after, Lord Anson's crew shot a goat upon the island, and found its ears marked in the manner described.

Selkirk generally enjoyed good health, but in one case he nearly lost his life by accident. In the eager pursuit of a goat among the mountains, he fell over a precipice, and lay there for some time in a state of insensibility. On recovering his senses, he found the animal which had caused his fall, lying dead beneath him.

Selkirk often saw vessels pass by the island, and made frequent, but vain attempts to hail them. At length, after he had lived here in perfect solitude for four years and four months, he was taken off by an English vessel, commanded by Captain Rogers. This occurred in February, 1709. Although he felt great joy at his deliverance, he still manifested much difficulty in recovering his speech, and in returning to such food as he found on board the ship. It was a long time before he could again accustom himself to shoes.

Captain Rogers made him a mate of his ship, and he returned to England in 1711. It has been supposed that he gave his papers to De Foe, who wove, out of his adventures, the admirable story of Robinson Crusoe. It appears, however, that he made little use of Selkirk's narrative, beyond the mere idea of a man living alone for several years upon an uninhabited island.