On February 2, 1709, British sailor Alexander Selkirk was rescued by William Dampier after spending five years marooned on a desert island. Although the experience itself was undoubtedly grueling and difficult, it eventually provided the inspiration for one of literature’s most beloved stories: Robinson Crusoe.
The Life of Alexander Selkirk
Selkirk was born to a shoemaker in Scotland in 1676. After running away from home at the age of 19, he eventually made his way to the sea and proved himself to be an able sailor earning him a promotion to captain. He accepted this post during a voyage led by Dampier aboard the Cinque Ports-a privateering vessel funded by English investors to plunder Spanish ships off the coast of South America.
Abandoned On A Remote Island
However, as would become typical in Selkirk’s life on the sea, tensions ran high aboard the ship due to alleged mismanagement and conflicts between Captain Stradling and Selkirk increased over time until they reached a boiling point. As punishment for insubordination and mutiny, Selkirk demanded that he be set ashore on Más a Tierra Island off of South America’s coast with only some basic supplies and his weapons.
Despite being marooned solitarily without any human contact for five years, Selkirk proved himself resilient, surviving on parrot meat and wild fruits that had been brought ashore by Pacific tides along with his musket providing him with ample seafood for sustenance.
Tragedy Makes The Best Story
In 1709 upon being rescued enthusiastically by Dampier, whom he believed initially to be either a Spanish or Dutch pirate, his experience inspired Daniel Defoe to create Robinson Crusoe. Published later that same year, Crusoe became an instant success amongst Europeans as scandalous tales of adventure swept across Europe, sparking its popularity among readers everywhere from Paris to London alike. Sobering though it may seem when looking back at history, without Alexander Selkirk’s courage and resilience against all odds in facing unforgiving seas, there would not have been such an illustrious story as that of Robinson Crusoe today!