Know Your History – 2nd February – Alexander Selkirk Rescued

know your history - writing

On this day…

 2nd February, 1709 Alexander Selkirk rescued from the Juan Fernández Islands.

Odd choice for today’s writing fact? Indeed it is, but I love random trivia. It’s always a question I wonder, how do other writers find their inspiration? Well today’s fact is about just that – Alexander Selkirk was the inspiration behind Daniel Defoe’s published Robinson Crusoe.

In September 1704, Captain Stradling brought the Cinque Ports to an island known to the Spanish as Más a Tierra, located in the uninhabited Juan Fernández archipelago, 670 km (420 mi) off the coast of Chile, for a mid-expedition restocking of fresh water and supplies.

Selkirk (who served as sailing master under Captain Stradling) had grave concerns about the seaworthiness of their vessel and probably wanted to make the needed repairs before going any further. Otherwise, he preferred to be left on Juan Fernández, he declared, than continue in a dangerously leaky ship. Stradling granted his request and landed Selkirk and his personal effects on the island. Selkirk regretted his rashness, but Stradling refused to let him back on board.

Cinque Ports did indeed later founder off the coast of what is now Colombia. Stradling and some of his crew survived the loss of their ship but were forced to surrender to the Spanish. The survivors were taken to Lima, Peru, where they endured a harsh imprisonment.

shipwreckSelkirk remained at first along the shoreline of Juan Fernández. During this time he ate jasus (shellfish) and scanned the ocean daily for rescue, suffering all the while from loneliness, misery, and remorse. Hordes of raucous sea lions, gathering on the beach for the mating season, eventually drove him to the islands interior. Once inland, his way of life took a turn for the better. More foods were available there: feral goats—introduced by earlier sailors—provided him with meat and milk, while wild turnips, cabbage leaves, and dried pepper berries offered him variety and spice. Although rats would attack him at night, he was able, by domesticating and living near feral cats, to sleep soundly and in safety.

Selkirk proved resourceful in using materials he found on the island: he forged a new knife out of barrel hoops left on the beach, he built two huts out of pepper trees (one of which he used for cooking and the other for sleeping), and he employed his musket to hunt goats and his knife to clean their carcasses. As his gunpowder dwindled, he had to chase prey on foot. During one such chase he was badly injured when he tumbled from a cliff, lying helpless and unable to move for about a day. His prey had cushioned his fall, likely sparing him a broken back.

The lessons he had learned as a child from his father, a tanner, now served him well. For example, when his clothes wore out, he made new ones from hair-covered goatskins using a nail for sewing. As his shoes became unusable, he had no need to replace them, since his toughened, callused feet made protection unnecessary. He sang psalms and read from the Bible, finding it a comfort in his situation and a prop for his English.

During his sojourn on the island, two vessels came to anchor. Unfortunately for Selkirk, both were Spanish. As a Scotsman and a privateer, he risked a grim fate if captured and, therefore, tried to hide himself. On one occasion he was spotted and chased by a group of sailors from one of the ships. His pursuers urinated beneath the tree in which he was hiding, but failed to discover him. Frustrated, his would-be captors gave up and sailed away.

Selkirk’s long-awaited deliverance came on 2 February 1709 by way of the Duke, a privateering ship piloted by William Dampier, and its sailing companion, the Duchess. Thomas Dover led the landing party that met Selkirk. After four years and four months without human company, Selkirk was almost incoherent with joy. The Duke ’​s captain and leader of the expedition, Woodes Rogers, mischievously referred to him as the governor of the island. The agile castaway, catching two or three goats a day, helped restore the health of Rogers’ men, who were suffering from scurvy.

Sources – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Selkirk
Image from google images.

 

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