Alexander Selkirk - The Kingdom Of Fife

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Alexander Selkirk

Famous Fifers

Robinson Crusoe is a very popular fictional autobiography first published in 1719.

It was written by Daniel Defoe and most likely influenced by the real-life Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived four years on a Pacific island called "Más a Tierra" and where, in 1966, its name was changed to Robinson Crusoe Island.

Alexander Selkirk was born in Lower Largo, the son of a shoemaker and tanner in 1676. In his youth he displayed a quarrelsome and unruly disposition and was summoned to appear before the Kirk Session on 27 August 1695 but ran off to sea before that date.

He became engaged in buccaneer expeditions to the South Seas and joined with the expedition of the famous privateer and explorer William Dampier in 1703. While Dampier captained the 'St George', Selkirk served on the galley 'Cinque Ports' often sailing alongside under command of Thomas Stradling.

In October 1704, and after the ships had parted ways because of a dispute between Stradling and Dampier, the 'Cinque Ports' still under command of Stradling, was sailed to the uninhabited archipelago of Juan Fernández off the coast of Chile for restocking of supplies and fresh water and where Selkirk had expressed grave concerns about the seaworthiness of the vessel and tried to convince crew members to desert with him and remain on the island. In this gamble, he was counting on rescue by a another ship visiting the island soon.

Stradling became aware of his troublemaking among the crew and where he decided to grant Selkirk's desire and decided to maroon Selkirk on the island. None of the other crewmen went with him and he was left there alone.

Selkirk instantly regretted his decision and had tried to chase the departing boat and calling to the crew to take him back on board but to no avail. Selkirk lived the next four years and four months without any human company. All he had with him was a musket, gunpowder, some carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible and some clothing. Selkirk's assessment of the vessel proved correct and the 'Cinque Ports' later floundered with the loss of most hands.

On the island, Selkirk initially confined his activity to the beaches and coastline on account of hearing strange sounds from inland and where he feared the presence of ferocious and dangerous beasts. He camped in a small cave, ate 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 from this location and compelled him to explore the island's interior. From that point forward, Alexander Selkirk's basic knowledge and meagre existence became better. His fears of large and vicious animals proved groundless and although rats initially attacked him during the night, he had, over a period of time, domesticated feral cats and who permitted him to sleep in safety. He discovered feral goats introduced to the islands and who, in captivity, provided him with meat and milk. He cultivated wild turnips, cabbage and black pepper berries and built two huts from the wood of pimento trees and used his musket to hunt goats and his knife to clean their carcasses and cut meat.

Ultimately, his clothing became that taken from the goats and sewn using a nail. The lessons he had learned as a child from his father, a tanner, helped him greatly during his stay on the island but never included shoes. His toughened, callused feet had made shoes superfluous. He had made new knives from barrel rings found on the beach.

As his meagre supply of gunpowder for his musket was exhausted, he had become nimble footed and more able to chase prey on foot. In one case, he had been badly injured during such a chase and where he had chased and followed his quarry over a cliff and had lain unconscious for about a day. Mercifully, he had landed upon his prey and this had softened the impact.

He read from the Bible frequently, finding comfort in it.

Two vessels had arrived and departed before his final escape from the island but both had been Spanish and where, as a Scotsman and former privateer, he had risked a terrible fate if captured. He had hid himself from these crews at one point in a tree at the bottom of which some of the Spanish crews who were pursuing him "made water" but did not discover him.

His long-anticipated rescue occurred on 2nd February 1709 by way of the 'Duke', a privateering ship piloted by the above-mentioned William Dampier. Selkirk was discovered by the Captain Woodes Rogers, Master of the 'Duke' and who referred to Selkirk as Governor of the island. Now rescued, Selkirk was almost incoherent in his joy. Using his stealth and agility, Selkirk caught two or three goats each day and helped restore the health of Rogers' men. Rogers eventually made Selkirk his mate, giving him independent command of one of his ships.

Woodes Rogers' later wrote a complete account of this voyage and called it, 'A cruising voyage round the World: first to the South-Sea, thence to the East-Indies, and homewards by the Cape of Good Hope.' It was published in 1712 and naturally included details about the Selkirk ordeal. The journalist Richard Steele interviewed Selkirk about his adventures and wrote a much-read article about him in 'The Englishman' journal.

Early in 1717, Alexander Selkirk returned to Lower Largo where he met Sophia Bruce, a sixteen year old dairymaid and eloped to London after just a few months yet did not marry. Later in 1717, he went back to sea, and while visiting Plymouth, he married a widowed innkeeper.

Robinson Crusoe remains a popular fictional autobiography written by Daniel Defore and first published in 1719. The story was likely influenced by the real-life Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived four years on the Pacific island called "Más a Tierra"

According to the ship's log, Alexander Selkirk died at 8pm on 13 December 1721 while serving as a Lieutenant aboard the Royal Navy Ship 'Weymouth' and where he probably succumbed to the yellow fever claiming many during that voyage. He had been buried at sea off the West coast of Africa.

Several people who had spoken to Selkirk after his rescue and including Captain Rogers and the journalist Steele, reported being impressed by the tranquillity of mind and vigour of the body that Selkirk had attained while on the island. Rogers stated that "one may see that solitude and retirement from the World is not such an insufferable state of life as most men imagine, especially when people are fairly called or thrown into it unavoidably as this man was." Steele noted that "This plain man's story is a memorable example, that he is happiest who confines his wants to natural necessities; and he that goes further in his desires, increases his wants in proportion to his acquisitions"

In 1863, the crew of HMS Topaze placed a bronze tablet on a spot called Selkirk's lookout on a hill of an island in memory of his stay yet never sure whether this was the actual island.

On 1st January, 1966, Selkirk's island was officially renamed Robinson Crusoe Island. At the same time, the most western island was renamed Alejandro Selkirk Island but it's unlikely whether Alexander Selkirk ever saw it because it lies ninety-seven miles west of where he was most likely marooned.

On 11 December 1885, after a speech by Lord Aberdeen, Lady Aberdeen unveiled a bronze statue and plaque of Alexander Selkirk outside a house on the site of Selkirk's original home on the Main Street of Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland. David Gillies of Cardy House, Lower Largo, a descendant of the Selkirks, had donated the statue and T. Stuart Burnett ARAS had designed it. (Top Picture). Second picture is the Crusoe Hotel in Lower Largo as seen from the small quay.

Top Photograph by Sylvia Stanley in September 2009.
Lower Photograph of the Crusoe Hotel by Alandon.
Text by Alandon.

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