© 2007 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
Printed from https://www.damninteresting.com/the-solitude-of-alexander-selkirk/
Now available in the Damn Interesting fragrance department: Ben Taylor's "New Writer Scent."
It’s a small spot on the map. Below the thirty-fourth degree south latitude, the island of Juan Fernandez casts a modest shadow in the vast eastern Pacific Ocean. In 1704, Alexander Selkirk, shouting from the beach of this forgotten island, saw a western breeze carry his ship and crewmates into the October horizon. His next four years would be in solitude as he struggled for survival and, in time, inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Selkirk first went to sea at fifteen to escape a formal charge of “undecent beaiviar.” Later, as a grown man, he joined the crew of the Cinque Ports, a one hundred thirty ton vessel of billowing sails and swelling planks. Selkirk was the master navigator as they traveled south along the coast of Brazil.
After reaching the southern tip of Argentina they turned north following the coast of Chile. However, diminishing rations and disease saw their original crew of ninety wither to forty-two. The ship was strained against a relentless ocean. The situation worsened when an infestation of worms reduced portions of the hull to a near pulp, yet relief lay ahead.
In September of 1704, the tiny island of Juan Fernandez appeared on the horizon. Captain Stradling ordered the crew to anchor in the island’s bay, providing the men with a needed respite from their frustration and suffering.
The sojourn on the island was brief; the captain was anxious to return to his ship and his voyage. Selkirk insisted, however, that the ship was no longer seaworthy, and that the leaking hull would succumb to the temperament of the ocean or enemies. He urged captain and crew to remain on the island and wait for help, but they ignored him. Selkirk’s defiance grew, until finally Stradling ordered that Selkirk be left on the island with only his sea chest, bedding, and clothing. Moments later the ship and the crew set sail while Selkirk watched in anguish from the lonely shore of the island. He shouted for them to return, begging for forgiveness— but the ship continued.
Among his possessions was a pistol, gunpowder, bullets, a knife, a hatchet, navigation instruments, a bible, a flask of rum, and enough food for just a few days. He watched the horizon, awaiting salvation.
Escape on a make-shift raft was impossible. The closest inhabited land was Valparaiso, a journey six hundred miles north. His pistol provided reassurance that his final hours would be of his choosing.
Upon his exploration of the island’s sharp lava rocks and lush vegetation he found fresh water to drink, seals to provide meat, and indigenous plums to protect against scurvy. Selkirk had heard stories of other men who survived years of seclusion before eventually being rescued. He knew of men like Pedro de Serrano, a man who spent seven years isolated on an island in the Pacific without fresh water. Serrano survived by drinking the blood of turtles, but eventually became insane. Other men had survived for years with fewer resources than those offered by the island of Juan Fernandez; Selkirk knew what one man could do, so could another.
Selkirk’s warnings of an unsafe ship proved accurate— within a month of his exile, the Cinque Ports gave in to its fate and sank off the coast of Peru. Many of the men drowned, and those remaining, including the captain, made it to the shore of an island where fourteen more died. In time they surrendered to the Spanish guarda-costa and were imprisoned in Lima, where “the Spaniards put them in a close dungeon and used them very barbarously.” The captain escaped and in time returned to Britain, poor and in diminished health.
Despite living alone on the island, Selkirk was not without the threat of man. One day he spotted a ship anchored in the bay. High above was the Spanish flag— Selkirk ran for cover. Being Scottish, he knew that his capture would lead to enslavement or death. They chased him; the echo of their gunshots rang out across the island. He was outnumbered and unequipped in the pursuit. His knowledge of the island was his only advantage. He climbed into the thick brush of a tree and remained silent. Two days passed before the Spaniards left.
The tides shifted, the shadows stretched, and Selkirk remained. He persevered by keeping his mind on the future. He maimed wild goats when they were young to ensure they would never be able to outrun him. If his health ever withered he could then rely on these easy pursuits. One day the hunt for a goat nearly ended his life when he fell from a cliff, leaving him “senseless for the space of three days, the length of which time he measured by the moon’s growth since his last observation.” The fall would have meant certain death had he not landed on the goat he was pursuing. Over four years Selkirk kept count of the five hundred goats he slaughtered. Others were captured only for “sport” and released after he carved a notch in their ear. This was his method of indicating the speed and physical aspects of the goat.
The necessities of basic survival dictated the routine of his day. Often he stood atop the island peering out into the vast ocean, searching for the glimmer of a ship or some reminder of the world he once knew. In these silent times he was subjected to “revolutions in his own mind,” hoping one day he would return home.
It was a late afternoon in 1709 when a ship approached the island. Though he could not determine the nationality of these men, he was desperate and ran to the shore. Quickly, he ran across the beach signaling them with a burning branch. The men disembarked onto the island, guns drawn and aimed at the weathered face of Selkirk. With his hands above his head, he told them he was marooned. The crew offered him room aboard the ship. Selkirk would only join if he was assured Stradling, his former captain, was not present. The name was of no meaning to these men searching only for food and fresh water.
Captain Woodes Rogers later wrote of Selkirk’s marooned existence in his book A Cruising Voyage ‘Round the World:
[Selkirk] was at first much pestered with cats and rats that bred in great numbers from some of each species which had got ashore from ships that put in there for wood and water. The rats gnawed his feet and clothes whilst asleep, which obliged him to cherish the cats with his goats’ flesh, by which so many of them became so tame, that they would lie about in hundreds, and soon delivered him from the rats. He likewise tamed some kids; to divert himself, would now and then sing and dance with them and his cats; so that by the favor of providence, and the vigor of his youth, being now but thirty years old, he came, at last, to conquer all the inconveniences of his solitude, and to be very easy.
When his clothes were worn out he made himself a coat and a cap of goat skins, which he stitched together with little thongs of the same, that he cut with his knife. He had no other needle but a nail; and when his knife was worn to the back he made others, as well as he could, of some iron hoops that were left ashore, which he beat thin and ground upon stones. Having some linen cloth by him, he sewed him some shirts with a nail and, stitched them with the worsted of his old stockings, which he pulled out on purpose. He had his last shirt on when we found him on the island.
Selkirk had seen himself through more than fifteen hundred nights alone. After four years and four months he was returning home. The ship’s officer set a course to travel north along the coast of Peru. Selkirk saw his island pass into the distance, as the faint glow of the embers from his signal fire faded on the beach.
After his rescue, a different isolation set in. Selkirk returned to his hometown of Largo, where he was unable to acclimate to the regimen of daily life. In his most desperate hours he sought out the seclusion of a small cave on a high spot of land. He married in 1717, but soon returned to sea.
Authors interested mostly in money occasionally penned his story in short form. Writer Daniel Defoe, approaching sixty and burdened by the cost of his daughter’s wedding, published a fictionalized account of Selkirk’s ordeal as Robinson Crusoe in 1719, his four hundred and twelfth publication. Its popularity mandated two sequels.
In 1720, after a brief time in port, Selkirk married another woman without regard to his first wife. Again, their time together was short, as he joined the HMS Weymouth as first mate. He would see this journey end in the grip of a virus, which claimed his life in 1721. That night the First lieutenant recorded Selkirk’s death in his log and noted a “small breeze.” The same drifting wind that saw the Cinque Ports disappear into the horizon would return to see Selkirk’s life fade before he was relinquished to the ocean.
The world became fascinated with the tale of Crusoe, yet few readers knew of the complicated man who inspired the timeless novel. In 1966 the Chilean government changed the name of Alexander Selkirk’s scrap of earth to Robinson Crusoe Island, a bittersweet monument to his fictionalized counterpart. Selkirk never found his place in society but came to inhabit his permanent existence behind the words of Defoe’s book. Only when forced into seclusion was there enough stillness and silence for Selkirk to hear the echoing of his soul that, like so many others, wanted only to find itself.
© 2007 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
Printed from https://www.damninteresting.com/the-solitude-of-alexander-selkirk/
Since you enjoyed our work enough to print it out, and read it clear to the end, would you consider donating a few dollars at https://www.damninteresting.com/donate ?
sorry everybody… i’d never been first, i couldn’t resist!
Very DI. Can’t believe I haven’t heard of this!
Wow. DI Indeed, there. I had no idea the book was based on a real person.
It also seems that a lot of people, when returning from some long and arduous experience, can’t acclimate to daily life.
Excellent Article and well written! Congrats on a great first article. I look forward to reading more!
“Among his possessions was a pistol, gunpowder, bullets, a knife, a hatchet, navigation instruments, a bible, a flask of rum, and enough food for just a few days.”
Is it too much to ask to capitalize the word “Bible” when you are referring to it?
@journeyman: it says “a bible”, not *the* Bible. geez.
I was interested in the word “beaiviar” so I did a quick google search. While I was able to verify that it is indeed an old English version of “behavior” I also found review of a book about Selkirk. According to that book, Selkirk had other, ahem, uses for the goats.
love a tale of overcoming adversity, even if Selkirk had advantages other marooned people didn,t.
As for the goats, don’t ask don’t tell…
Wonderful Article! It brought be to think that if a geek like you or me were marooned on an isle like Selkirk, we’d be skewered before we know it. Unless there’s an internet connection there.
Wow. I’d do it. For sure. Living all by myself with no stressful job, no traffic, no 10 o’clock news, no tabloids, no bills to pay, no temptation to eat fast food and sweets, yet plenty of fresh produce, time to get caught up on my sewing projects, all the privacy you could want, freedom to dress how you like, you can be your very own fashion designer, no alarm clock, yet all the time in the world to pursue creative ideas and thoughts…. I’m sure any dirt on the island could be used to make great relaxing and age defying facial masks and mud baths with plenty of healthy antioxidants so you will have glowing skin and unclogged pores. I always liked eating goat, and never minded working hard….Hmmmm, how exactly can a gal get herself marooned? It sounds fantastic!!!!
I’d spend the time getting the cats to breed into a “super cat” not trying to make a Man-Goat hybrid as he did.
Do you mean he got lonely? And got a little fraky with the goats?
Do you mean he got lonely? And got a little frisky with the goats?
Wouldn’t you think that if you are fighting to survive, the last thing you would want is some weird disease on your ding dang doodle? 0_o
DI, I had to read Robinson Crusoe for english class, but I never knew it was based on a real person! I don’t think that my teacher even knows about this. Lol to the comment by boolean.
Great article Ben! Welcome to the site.
Who would gaze upon your glowing skin and unclogged pores?
Enter your reply text here.
Fabulous Job. Ben, and his trusted sidekick, Holly!! Who wouldn’t be proud of his son. Daddy
Fascinating and well written article in my opinion. Right on Ben!
DI indeed! Looking forward to more articles Ben…and more goat lovin!
i wouldnt worry about him catching any diseases from the goat loving…
being a sailor there is a good chance he gave a few to the poor island goats.
Whet my appetite, but too short and scant on details. Here’s to the extended version :)
I’ll chime in with most everyone else in saying I had no idea Robinson Crusoe was based on this event. Too bad he didn’t have any of those goats that go paralyzed when frightened. It didn’t sound like he needed ’em (God knows I would have), but at least they could have provided some sanity-inducing entertainment!
Interestingly, goats (Capra hircus) is a species introduced to the new world by European colonizers, and are currently the largest threat to pristine islands (e. g. Galapagos) after Homo sapiens. Certainly, Selkirk could not have survived without these highly resistant and aggressive species on the island, providing him with the necessary dietary and sexual relief. From a certain point of view, the Juan Fernadez was not completely virgin and certainly it was highly modified by previous human activities. I wonder how many people currently live on the Island.
Please, for the love of all that is sane, PLEASE refrain from posting that. Nobody cares. If making timed posts is your thing, go to 4chan and kill your mind with /b/ combos.
Great article Ben.
WOW! I’m still flipping out at Serrano drinking nothing but turtle blood for seven years. That man must be pretty informed on the in’s and out’s of turtle blood appreciation. I wonder if he grew to like it or it almost made him throw up right up till the end.
Well, the goats, of course.
LOL! Hillarious! (Laughing all evening :) !) You guys crack me up. If you have so little stimulus from the outside world a person (I would imagine) would do lots of things just to please themselves. A nice mud bath could provide good health benefits and a good relief from an island sunburn. Either that or you could get gussied up for those fantastical mermaids that occasionally wash ashore. LOL!! If this happened to me I would make paintings all over the island with natural dyes , carve drawings into the tree trunks, make sand castles, make scuptures out of found materials– you know, decorate! Really, it is sad that the real person didn’t write his own book, then he could have made millions and bought an island of his very own.
There is a small airport and a few permanent buildings there now along with a small dock near one beach house. Also a network of roads running the length of the island. It’s nowhere near as isolated as it once was, but still not a place you’d likely want to call hame.
‘Bob’ maybe, but no, not ‘hame’… although Selkirk was a Scot.
“Hame sweet hame” maybe.
(sorry David… it just tickled my humour)
I wonder… was it the blood-drinking that drove Serrano insane, or the isolation?
DI article anyway!
There is probally a net cam there now so i think the whole world could watch you.
I envy Selkirk a little bit.
Sorry man, but it’s just another book to alot of us.
But to many more of us it’s a lot more than that! I’m not looking for a fight but please don’t insult Christians just because your not. I/We wouldn’t do that to your beliefs. A true Christian wouldn’t i mean.
I do too Nicki. although after 12 to 24 hours i would miss my “stuff” this computer among them.
Long-time listener, first-time caller. (Now, just to get this piece of business out of the way.)
Even still, book titles use initial caps.
OK, so no one has commented on what I thought was really DI. Selkirk must have been a brilliant but practical man. He knew this wasn’t like missing the last express bus back home to the ‘burbs. So he maimed some young goats, if he couldn’t catch them because of age or infirmity! Wow. Would I have thought of that? More likely, I woulda maimed myself trying to catch them.There’s no indication he was a cruel man — indeed, he tried to warn his shipmates about their impending doom. Survival, baby.
There are some interesting links about the other guy, Pedro Serrano at:
If Selkirk was good at surviving in isolation, then Serrano was the master of masters. He leaved for 8 years in a small sand bank in the Caribbean with almost no vegetation or shelter, and no fresh water. However, he was not completely alone, being accompanied by another sailor three years after Serrano’s arrival to the island.
A map of the island where Serrano lived can be found at:
Onto other things, CollandDI do not bother us with your bible-loving issues, no one cares if you like it with “B” or “b”. If you think the bible is sacred or it is the literall word of one of the many gods humanity have had in its history, then keep it to yourself. Dawkin’s words that religion is source of conflicts is one more being proved.
I have to say, this goat thing is remindind me of Abeforth Dumbledore…. (^_^)
Onto other things, CollandDI do not bother us with your bible-loving issues, no one cares if you like it with “B” or “b”. If you think the bible is sacred or it is the literall word of one of the many gods humanity have had in its history, then keep it to yourself. Dawkin’s words that religion is source of conflicts is one more being proved.”
Who elected you to speak for everyone? You are wrong when you say “no one cares” I do and so do millions of others. Your spelling is at the 5th grade level so please use your spell checker that way at least you don’t look as ignorant as you sound. I really don’t care if my Bible loving issues bother you, if it does simply don’t read them! So let me understand this correctly your interested it the words of Dawkin but not the Lord!? Also there is only one God. I was not the one that even brought up the capitalization issue to begin with i just agreed with it. Finally my user name is coolandDI not collandDI. So do you have a clear understanding now or should I type it slower for you next time.
Ben i apologize to you for getting off topic in the comment section but i will defend my beliefs if i feel it is necessary from time to time. your article is well written and researched. It is DI to say the least, i look forward to more articles from you in the future!
So say some; others have different takes on the issue. All claim that they are right, however, so there is a problem: mutually exclusive claims cannot all be correct. Many wars have been fought over just who—if anyone!—is correct in this regard; flame wars are just another aspect of this, alas. Chill, dude….
Thank you for your apology. Suggestion: just try to keep everything positive. Find something you like instead and focus on that. This site is so super fun and extra super smart! I love this site so much! You guys rock. Maybe take a different approach and compliment someone instead. Religion is one of those touchy topics where it can be hard to live and let live, so personally I try not to talk about it on here, and I focus on the letting live part. Anything anyone wants to believe is cool with me. You will all always be damned interesting to me for being yourselves. Don’t let the bees get in your bonnet. :) Hope this helps.
Robinson Crusoe Island is a Chilean National Park and World Biosphere Reserve.
You probably won’t want to live there, but it is a nice place to visit.
And i can point out at least 4 in yours so why don’t we just take the suggestion of supercalafragalistic and let this go and get back on topic.
Unlike most of you guys i knew the tail of Alexander Selkirk, before i read the book Robinson Cruseo, not that i had much choice as my father is Alexander Selkirk, (no not that one), I also happen to live no more than 30 miles from the birth place of Selkirk, Lower largo in Fife Scotland, although of yet i have not established any direct link between us, and i doubt in all probability that there is a link, it is a nice thought… now that is DI.. and true..
Forgive my spelling it is not as neat as it should, probably because English is not my first language. However, attacking my spelling is not a valid element to sustain your belief in a supernatural being. The fact that millions believe in your god is also not a valid proof for the existence of this metaphysical being you so vehemently want to pay tribute to. I am interested in the words of Richard Dawkins, and other great minds of our time. I do not give a damn about old fairy tales, maybe just as amusement, but nothing else. Finally, you are correct in one thing, I should speak for myself, and for what I think is a reasonable argument. What is your argument to sustain the existence of your god, any evidence?
My first, and probably my last time on this site, how petty and arrogant can people be, get over your selfs, and your spelling and punctuation, to busy squabbling over your male macho pride, yous cant see the forest for the trees..Ben you must wonder if the effort was worth it, total lack of respect and appreciation, crawl out your own ass’s people… Don’t turn a great site, with great ideals, into another run of mill personalized battle ground.. Cause frankly my dam- coolandDI-Silverhill.. i don’t give a dear….
I really enjoyed this article. A well written and interesting piece. Please ignore all the irrelevant comments and keep up the good work!
Another perfectly good comment thread ruined by off-topic, religious nonsense.
Excellent Article! DI as usual.
I wonder how many people knew Robinson Crusoe was based on a true story?
I sure didn’t…
Then more Christians should stop letting fundamentalists screw over our country, instead of letting good Americans who aren’t of one political party be labeled “anti-american, terrorist sympathizers, evil, baby-killers.” That is wholly un-American. Until the “good” Christians stand up and fight against these people who place Unjust War above helping the less-fortunate in our country, as Jesus would have done, then maybe I’ll start capitalizing any references to a book.
Not capitalizing a word, is not disrespectful. Using the word in juxtaposition with an insult, is disrespectful.
As an American, I would support your natural right to believe in anything you wanted to, but I get uptight when those “christians” would try to force everything on the rest of us, via a State sponsored religion. And that is EXACTLY what they’re trying to do.
Very DI, but you left one critical question unanswered. Did he have any pie?
Mr. Taylor, that’s some fantasmic research! Though I would have loved some more details about the goat lovin’ (I thought that the Scots only did it with sheep…I guess you learn something new everyday!), it was nice to learn more about this interesting character and story! Keep up the good work, I enjoy your writing style. I bet you use the shift button to capitalize don’t you!
Inti, CollandDI (hee hee), and anyone else taking attention away from this article to crusade on this site for your beliefs; please exchange emails and do it on your own time. Mr. Taylor and his “new writer scent” are being sullied by your “stank of hate.”
Very, very DI – I had no idea that Robinson Crusoe was based on a real story! Very neat – I can’t wait to email a link to this article to my husband. Robinson Crusoe is one of his favorite stories.
i found this to be true when i returned from the battlefield
Unfortunately, people do not spend as much time writing comments as other; the price of teacups in China; some people type comments quickly, so don’t judge their spelling; if you’ve ever seen a non-sequitur; so no need to be so picky; people use semicolons to show they have been to college; the Bible is the title of a book, therefore should be capitalized; do not blame me for grammar errors, for I do not care; do not point out grammar mistakes because everyone makes them; this was a very interesting article, and I enjoyed it very much; DI Ben.
Anywayz, mi poent is dat it doezn’t matzer howe maney mistaces yu heve.
And I think that Bible should be capitalized. It is a title as stated before. However, not capitalizing bible doesn’t really matter in my opinion. My dad’s a pastor but people have their preferences after all.
You complain that people are belittling your beliefs then so brazenly snub other beliefs. What has this got to do with a man marooned on a deserted island surviving for over four years?
Excellent article by the way. It’s a shame that many people will probably never know the truth behind this amazing story.
Amazing article! DI and new! I also had no idea that Robinson Crusoe was based in fact.
P.S. When referring to the religious text, the word “Bible” is a proper noun and should be capitalized. It’s English, not religion.
According to Wikipedia, about 633.
I actually own an original copy of that book by Woodes Rogers, published in 1711. If anyone is interested in investing in antique books, we could talk.
*shiver* I didn’t need that thought in my head.
Besides that, DI! Something new every update.
Thank you for the really interesting article. I had heard that Crusoe was based on a real person, but I never knew any details. (Only comments relative to the article’s topic should be posted.)
I always thought that book was fictional… guess not.
Hey, just started reading this sight today. Love it! Great DI article.
Note: The word “bible” is a noun “the sacred writings of any religion”, and in this context is not capitalized.
There are solitudes of more than one kind. The first time I escaped from the Presbyterian kingdom into which I was born, and in which the King was not God, but his anointed representative, I felt a greater solitude than I had ever experienced. Having always felt quite alien to those around me, a trait not uncommon among preacher’s children, I was still singularly unprepared for my sense of total isolation.
I had made my escape on a bicycle, a one-speed with fat tires. My father was no longer a minister, having been not quite defrocked. But he was still a dangerous king from my perspective. I had, in my entire lifetime of twelve years, heard continuously of God, had heard countless ceremonial prayers, (indeed, I never heard my father pray once from the heart, even on his deathbed when I was a half century old) but I had never heard a compelling reason to believe, which did not evaporate when thought caught up with turbulent emotions.
I certainly had no thought of God as I pedaled up and down the seemingly endless hills of Pacific Coast Highway heading to Mexico, more than a hundred miles distant. It took a few more attempts and two more years before I made it into Mexico.
But this first attempt affected me quite profoundly. Isolation had never been strange to me, but this sense of solitude and lonliness was of an almost unbearable intensity, even with passersby in clear view in all the cars that traveled by me on that highway.
So I conversed with Chuckie almost continuously. Chuckie was my friend. He was quite a help. He may have been invisible, but I knew in my mind’s eye what he looked like. And even his voice was very much like mine. I knew that he would stay with me.
So it was quite a surprise, when I was arrested two days later, during a predawn visit to a donut shop in Oceanside, with Mexico tantalizingly close, that Chuckie abandoned me. I missed him but I couldn’t really blame him. He just couldn’t be around my dad. I sort of thought maybe when I escaped again, I’d run into him, but I never did.
Certainly a DI boy!!!!! Way to go, Ben!
really, really, WOW!!