The Man Who … Missed the Union: The Real Robinson Crusoe Discovered in 1709 #History #Scotland

Defoe Crusoe

While Daniel Defoe was an English spy was in Edinburgh at the heart of the Union Crisis of 1706 to 1708, the Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk, was marooned on the remote island of Más a Tierra.

Defoe would later turn Selkirk’s story into Robinson Crusoe in 1719. Before that, someone else wrote about meeting Selkirk in London in 1711.

An account of Selkirk’s rescue is found in Woodes Rogers, A Cruising Voyage Round the World: First to the South-seas (1712), which is clearly in part based on the ship’s log:

[Monday] Jan 31. [1709]
These 24 hours we had the Wind between the S. and S W by W. At seven this morning we made the Island of Juan Fernandez.; it bore W S W. dist. about 7 Ls. at Noon W by S. 6 Ls. We had a good Observ. Lat, 34. 10. S.

[Tuesday] February 1. [1709]
About two yesterday in the Afternoon we hoisted our Pinnace out; Capt. Dover with the Boats Crew went in her to go ashore, tho we could not be less than 4 Ls off. As soon as the Pinnace was gone, I went [from the Duke] on board the Duchess, who admir’d our Boat attempted going ashore at that distance from Land: ‘twas against my Inclination, but to oblige Capt. Dover I consented to let her go.

As soon as it was dark, we saw a Light ashore; our Boat was then about a League from the Island, and bore away for the Ships as soon as she saw the Lights. We put out Lights abroad for the Boat, tho some were of opinion the Lights we saw were our Boat Lights; but as Night came on, it appeared too large for that.

We fired one Quarter-Deck Gun and several Muskets, showing Lights; in our Mizen and Fore-Shrouds, that our Boat might find us, whilst we ply’d in the Lee of the Island. About two in the Morning our Boat came on board, having been two hours on board the Dutchess, that took ‘em up astern of us: we were glad they get well off because it begun to blow. We are all convinc’d the Light is on the shore, and design to make our Ships ready to engage, believing them to be French Ships at anchor, and we must either fight ‘em or want Water, &c.

Alexander Selkirk Rescue

[Wednesday] Febr. 2. [1709]
We stood on the back side along the South end of the Island, in order to lay in with the first Southerly Wind, which Capt. Dampier told us generally blows there all day long. In the Morning, being past the Island, we tack’d to lay it in close aboard the Land and about ten a clock open’d the South End of the Island, and ran close aboard the Land that begins to make the North-East side. The Flaws came heavy off shore, and we were forc’d to reef our Top-sails when we open’d the middle Bay, where we expected to find our Enemy, but saw all clear, and no Ships in that nor the other Bay next the N W. End[.] These two Bays are all that Ships ride in which recruit on this Island, but the middle Bay is by much the best. We guess’d there had been Ships there, but that they were gone on sight of us. We sent our Yall ashore about Noon, with Capt. [Thomas] Dover, Mr. Frye, and six men, all arm’d; mean while we and the Dutchess kept turning to get in, and such heavy Flaws came off the Land, that we were forced to let fly our Topsail-Sheet, keeping all Hands to stand by our Sails, for fear of the Wind’s carrying ‘em away: but when the Flaws were gone, we had little or no Wind. These Flaws proceeded from the Land, which is very high in the middle of the Island. Our Boat did not return, so we sent our Pinnace with the Men arm’d, to see what was the occasion of the Yall’s stay; for we were afraid that the Spaniards had a Garison there, and might have seiz’d ‘em. We put our a Signal for our Boat, and the Dutchess show’d a French Ensign. Immediately our Pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man cloth’d in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them.

Alexander Selkirk CaveAlexander Selkirk’s Cave

He had been on the Island four Years and four Months [i.e., since late 1704], being left there by Capt. Stradling in the Cinque-Ports; his Name was Alexander Selkirk a Scotch Man, who had been Master of the Cinque-Ports, a Ship that came here last with Capt. Dampier, who told me that this was the best Man in her; so I immediately agreed with him to be a Mate on board Our Ship, ‘Twas he that made the Fire last night when he saw our Ships, which he judg’d to be English.

During his stay here, he saw several Ships pass by, but only two came in to anchor. As he went to view them, he found ‘em to be Spaniards, and retir’d from ‘em; upon which they shot at him. Had they been French, he would have submitted; but chose to risque his dying alone on the Island, rather than fall into the hands of the Spaniards in these parts, because he apprehended they would murder him, or make a Slave of him in the Mines, for he fear’d they would spare no Stranger that might be capable of discovering the South-Sea. The Spaniards had landed, before he knew what they were, and they came so near him that he had much, ado to escape; for they not only shot at him, but pursued him into the Woods, where he climb’d to the top of a Tree, at the foot of which they made water, and kill’d several Goats just by, but went off again without discovering him.

He told us that he was born at Largo in the County of Fife in Scotland, and was bred a sailor from his Youth.

The reason of his being left here was a difference betwixt him and his Captain; which, together with the Ships being leaky, made him willing rather to stay here, than go along with him at first; and when he was at last willing, the Captain would not receive him. He had been in the Island before to wood and water, when two of the Ships Company were left upon it for six Months till the Ship return’d, being chas’d thence by two French South-Sea Ships.

He had with him his Clothes and Bedding; with a Firelock, some Powder, Bullets, and Tobacco; a Hatchet, a Knife, a Kettle, a Bible, some practical Pieces, and his Mathematical Instruments and Books. He diverted and provided for himself as well as he could; but for the first eight months had much ado to bear up against Melancholy, and the Terror of being left alone in such a desolate place. He built two Hutts with Piemento Trees, covered them with long Grass, and lin’d them with the Skins of Goats, which he kill’d with his Gun as he wanted, so long his Powder lasted, which was but a pound; and that being near spent, he got fire by rubbing two sticks of Piemento Wood together upon his knee.

In the lesser Hutt, at some distance from the other, he dress’d his Victuals, and in the larger he slept, and employ’d himself in reading, singing Psalms, and praying; so that he said he was a better Christian while in this Solitude than ever he was before, or than, he was afraid, he should ever be again.

At first he never eat any thing till Hunger constrained him, partly for grief, and partly for want of Bread and Salt; nor did he go to bed till he could watch no longer: the Piemento Wood, which burnt Very clear, serv’d him both for Firing and Candle; and refreshed him with its fragrant Smell.

He might have had Fish enough, but could not eat ‘em for want of Salt, because they occasion’d a Looseness; except Crawfish, which are there as large as our Lobsters, and Very good: These he sometimes boil’d, and at other times broil’d; as he did his Goats Flesh, of which he made very good Broth, for they are not so rank as ours: he kept an Account of 500 that he kill’d while there, and caught as many more, which he mark’d on the Ear and let go.

When his Powder fail’d, he took them by speed of foot; for his way of living and continual Exercise of walking and running, cleared him of all gross Humours, so that he ran with wonderful Swiftness thro the Woods and up the Rocks and Hills, as we perceiv’d when we employ’d him to catch Goats for us.

We had a Bull-Dog, which we sent with several of our nimblest Runners, to help him in catching Goats; but he distanc’d and tir’d both the Dog and the Men, catch’d the Goats, and brought ‘em to us on his back. He told us that his Agility in pursuing a Goat had once like to have cost him his Life; he pursu’d it with so much Eagerness that he catch’d hold of it on the brink of & Precipice, of which he was not aware, the Bushes having hid it from him; so that he fell with the Goat down the said Precipice a great height, and was so stun’d and bruis’d with the Fall, that he narrowly escaped with his Life, and when he came to his Senses, found the Goat dead under him. He lay there about 24 hours, and was scarce able to crawl to his Hutt, which Was about a mile distant, or to stir abroad again in ten days.

He came at last to relish his Meat well enough without Salt or Bread, and in the Season had plenty of good Turnips, which had been sow’d there by Capt. Dampier’s Men, and have now overspread some Acres of Ground. He had enough of good Cabbage from the Cabbage-Trees, and season’d his Meat with the Fruit of the Piemento Trees, which is the same as the Jamaica Pepper, and smells deliciously. He found there also a black Pepper call’d Malagita, which was very good to expel Wind, and against Griping of the Guts.

He soon wore out all his Shoes and Clothes by running thro the Woods; and at last being forced to shift without them, his Feet became so hard that he run every where without Annoyance: and it was some time before he could wear Shoes after we found him; for not being us’d to any so long, his Feet swell’d when he came first to wear ‘em again.

After he had conquered his Melancholy, he diverted himself sometimes by cutting his Name on the Trees, and the Time of his being left and Continuance there. He was at first much pester’d with Cats and Rats, that had bred in great numbers from some of each species which had got ashore from Ships that put in there to wood and water. The Rats gnaw’d his Feet and Clothes while asleep, which oblig’d him to cherish the Cats with his Goats-flesh; by which many of them became so tame, that they would lie about him in hundreds, and soon delivered him from the Rats.

He likewise tam’d some Kids, and to divert himself would now and then sing and dance with them and his Cats: so that by the Care of Providence and Vigour of his Youth, being now but about 30 years old, he came at last to conquer all the Inconveniences of his Solitude, and to be very easy. When his Clothes wore out, he made himself a Coat and Cap of Goat-Skins, which he stitch’d 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 wore 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 sow’d himself Shirts with a Nail, and stitch’d ‘em with the Worsted of his old Stockings, which he pull’d out on purpose. He had his last Shirt on when we found him in the Island.

At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his Language for want of Use, that we could scarce understand him, for he seem’d to speak his words by halves. We offered him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but Water since his being there, and ‘twas some time before he could relish our Victuals.

He could give us an account of no other Product of the Island than what we have mentioned, except small black Plums, which are very good, but hard to come at, the Trees which bear ‘em growing son high Mountains and Rocks. Piemento Trees are plenty here, and we saw some of 60 foot high, and about two yards thick; and Cotton Trees higher, and near four fathom round in the Stock.

The Climate is so good, that the Trees and Grass are verdant all the Year. The Winter lasts no longer than June and July, and is not then severe, there being only a small Frost and a little Hail, but sometimes great Rains. The Heat of the Summer is equally moderate, and there’s not much Thunder or tempestuous Weather of any sort.

He saw no venomous or savage Creature on the Island, nor any other sort of Beast but Goats, &c. as above mention’d; the first of which had been put ashore here on purpose for a Breed by Juan Fernando a Spaniard, who settled there with some Families for a time, till the Continent of Chil began to submit to the Spaniards; which being more profitable, tempted them to quit this Island, which is capable of maintaining a good number of people, and of being made so strong that they could not be easily dislodg’d.

[…] We did not get to anchor till six at night, on Febr. 1. and then it fell calm: we row’d and tow’d into the Anchor-ground about a mile off shore, 45 fathom Water, clean Ground; the Current sets mostly along shore to the Southward. This Morning we clear’d up Ship, and bent our Sails, and got them ashore to mend, and make Tents for our sick Men. The Governour (tho we might as well have nam’d him the Absolute Monarch of the Island) for so we called Mr. Selkirk, caught us two Goats, which make excellent Broth, mix’d with Turnip-Tops and other Greens, for our sick Men, being 21 in all, but not above two that we account dangerous […]’

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on May 6, 2016.

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