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Alexander Selkirk - The Real Robinson Crusoe

03 March

Year of Stories

It’s a fascinating story of a castaway, left to survive alone on a deserted island with just a few supplies and plenty of resourcefulness. 

Not Robinson Crusoe, but the real man who inspired the novel – Alexander Selkirk from Lower Largo.

Selkirk was by no means a typical role model, finding himself in almost constant trouble as a young man. Eventually, after one violent altercation too many, the Fifer had little option but to run away to sea.

In 1704 Selkirk was serving on the privateer ship Cinque Ports, hunting for Spanish gold around South America. It wasn’t a happy expedition, plagued by illness and poor leadership. The situation finally came to a head when they stopped at an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile.

Selkirk claimed that the Cinque Ports wasn’t seaworthy and argued with Captain Stradling that vital repairs were needed before they cast off again. When his request was refused, Selkirk stubbornly claimed he would rather stay on the island than risk travelling on such a dangerous ship. The captain was all too happy to oblige.

Alexander Selkirk was abandoned with some simple supplies including a gun, knife, bible and cooking pot. The lonely sailor initially waited on the shoreline, surviving on shellfish in the hope that his crewmates would return.

Before long he was forced to venture further inland surviving on wild goats, hunting them down with only a knife after ammunition for his gun ran out. Fortunately, he was a practical man, fashioning goatskin clothes and building huts for cooking and living. When rats began attacking him in the night, Selkirk domesticated some feral cats to keep them away.

Other ships did land on the island to refill their water, but they were the Spanish ships he had been employed to hunt. Instead of seeking rescue, Selkirk was forced to hide. It would be 4 years and 4 months before the man from Lower Largo would finally be picked up by a British vessel.

That ship still had an expedition to carry out though and the castaway fell straight back into his old role. Even after returning to Lower Largo as a celebrity, Selkirk just couldn’t settle back into a regular life. It wasn’t long before he was heading out to sea once again.

Alexander Selkirk died during a voyage and was buried at sea, but this incredible character is remembered in several ways. Not only has his story been immortalised in the famous novel, but the very island he survived on was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island and its neighbour now known as Alejandro Selkirk Island. Closer to home, the house in Lower Largo that Selkirk grew up in displays a statue above the door to remind us of his roots.

There must have been many moments during his lonely island life that Selkirk regretted his hasty decision. However, it turns out that he was entirely correct. The Cinque Ports did indeed sink not long after he was marooned, and the few surviving crew were captured by the Spanish.

He might have spent almost 4 and a half years alone, but that argument probably saved this Fifer’s life.

Storytelling by Scotland's Stories

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