Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Selkirk Rescued

Per Rampant Scotland, Alexander Selkirk, the probable inspiration for Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" was rescued from the island of Juan Fernandez, off the coast of Chile on February 1, 1708.

In an 1836 publication of this work by John Ballantyne, which includes Walter Scott's brief bio of Defoe, there is a discussion of Selkirk in the appendix:

'Woodes Rogers, who relieved Selkirk from his solitude, was commodore of a commercial expedition round the world, which sailed February 1709, and returned to Britain 1711. A project for the re-settlement of the Bahama Islands having been submitted to Mr. Addison (then secretary of state) in 1717, the measure was determined on, and Rogers was appointed to head the expedition. He died governor of those islands in 1732. The following is the account he gives of his meeting, off the island of Juan Fernandez, with Alexander Selkirk:—


"On February 1st, 1709, we came before the island of Juan Fernandez, having had a good observation the day before, and found our latitude to be 5 degrees 10 minutes south. In the afternoon, we hoisted out our pinnace; and Captain Dover, with the boat's crew, went in her to go ashore, though we could not be less than four leagues off. As soon as the pinnace was gone, I went on board the Duchess, who admired our boat attempting going ashore at that distance from land. It was against my inclination: but to oblige Captain Dover, I let her go. As soon as it was dark, we saw a light ashore. Our boat was then about a league off the island, and bore away for the ships as soon as she saw the lights. We put our lights aboard for the boat, though some were of opinion, the lights we saw were our boat's lights; but, as night came on, it appeared too large for that. We fired our quarter-deck gun and several muskets, showing lights in our mizen and fore-shrouds, that our boat might find us whilst we were in the lee of the island: about two in the morning our boat came on board, having been two hours on board the Duchess, that took them up astern of us; we were glad they got well off, because it began to blow. We were all convinced the light was on the shore, and designed to make our ships ready to engage, believing them to be French ships at anchor, and we must either fight them, or want water. All this stir and apprehension arose, as we afterwards round, from one poor naked man, who passed in our imagination, at present, for a Spanish garrison, a body of Frenchmen, or a crew of pirates. While we were under these apprehensions, we stood on the back side of the island, in order to fall in with the southerly wind, till we were past the island; and then we came back to it again and ran close aboard the land that begins to make the north-east side.


" We still continued to reason upon this matter; and it is in a manner incredible, what strange notions many of our people entertained from the sight of the fire upon the island. It served, however to show people's tempers and spirits; and we were able to give a tolerable, guess how our men would behave, in case there really were any enemies upon the island. The flaws came heavy off the shore, and we were forced to reef our topsails when we opened the middle bay, where we expected to have found our enemy; but saw all clear, and no ships, nor in the other bay next the north-east 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 guessed there had been ships there, but that they were gone on sight of us. We sent our yawl ashore about noon, with Captain Dover, Mr. Fry, and sis men, all armed : Meanwhile we and the Duchess kept turning to get in, and such heavyflaws came off the land, that we were forced to let go our topsail-sheet, keeping all hands to stand by our sails, for fear of the winds carrying them 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; we sent our pinnace with the men armed, to see what was the occasion of the yawl's stay; for we were afraid that the Spaniards had a garrison there, and might have seized them. We put out a signal for our boat, and the Duchess showed a French ensign. Immediately our pinnace returned from the shore, and brought abundance of cray-fish, with a man clothed in goats' skins, who looked wilder than the first owners of them.


He had been on the island four years and four months, being left there by Captain Stradling in the Cinque Ports; his name was Alexander Selkirk, a Scotchman, who had been master of the Cinque Ports, a ship that came here last with Captain Dampier, who told me, that this was the best man in her. I immediately agreed with him to be a mate on board our ship : It was he that made the fire last night when he saw our ships, which he judged to be English. During his stay here he saw several ships pass by, but only two cane to anchor. As he went to view them, he found them to be Spaniards, and retired from them, upon which they shot at him : Had they been .French he would have submitted; but chose to risk his dying alone on the island, rathcr 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 feared they would spare no stranger, that might be capable of discovering the South Seas.


" 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 to the woods, where he climbed to the top of a tree, at the foot of which they made water, and killed several goats just by, but went off again without discovering him. Me told us that he was born in Scotland, and was bred a sailor from his youth. The reason of his being left here, was a difference between him and his captain; which, together with the ship's being leaky, made him willing rather to stay here than go along with him at first; but when he was at last willing to go, the captain would not receive him. He had been at the island before, to wood and wafer, when two of the ship's company were left upon it for six months, till the ship returned, being chased thence by two French South-Sea ships. he had with him his clothes and bedding, with 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 huts with pimento-trees, covered them with long grass, and lined them with the skins of goats, which he killed with his gun as he wanted, so long as his powder lasted, which was but a pound; and that being almost spent, he got fire by rubbing two sticks of pimento wood together upon his knee. In the lesser hut, at some distance from the other, he dressed his victuals; and in the larger, he slept, and employed himself in reading, singing psalms, and praying; so that he said, he was a better Christian, while in this solitude, than ever be was before, or than, he was afraid, he should ever be again.


" At first he never ate anything 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 pimento-wood, which burnt very clear, served him both for fire and candle, and refreshed him with its fragrant smell. He might have had fish enough, but would not eat them for want of salt, because they occasioned a looseness, except cray-fish, which are as large as our lobsters, and very good : These he sometimes boiled, and at other times broiled; 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 killed while there, and caught as many more, which he marked on the ear, and let go. When his powder failed, he took them by speed of foot; for his way of living, continual exercise of walking and running, cleared him of all gross humours ; so that he ran with wonderful swiftness through the woods, and up the rocks and hills, as we perceived when we employed 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 distanced and tired both the dog and the men, caught the goats, and brought them to us on his hack.


" He told us, that his agility in pursuing a goat had once like to have cost him his life; he pursued it with so much eagerness, that he catched hold of it on the brink of a precipice, of which he was not aware, the bushes hiding it from him; so that he fell with the goat down toe precipice, a great height, and was so stunned and bruised 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 twenty-four hours, and was scarce able to crawl to his hut, 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 sowed there by Captain Dampier's men, and have now overspread some acres of ground. He had enough of good cabbage from the cabbage-trees, and seasoned his meat with the fruit of the pimento-trees, which is the same as Jamaica pepper, and smells deliciously. He found also a black pepper, called Malageta, which was very good to dispel wind, and against griping in the guts.



" He soon wore out all his shoes and clothes by running in the woods; and, at last, being forced to shift without them, his feet became so hard, that he ran everywhere without difficulty; and it was some time before he could wear shoes after we found him; for not being used to any so long, his feet swelled, when he Came first to wear them again.



" After he had conquered his melancholy, he diverted himself sometimes with cutting his name on the trees, and the time of his being left, and continuance there. He 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 to 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 many of them became so tame, that they would lie about him in hundreds, and soon delivered him from the rats. He likewise tamed some kids; and, to divert himself, would, now and then, sing and dance with them, and his cats : So that by the favour of Providence, and vigour 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 goatskins, 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 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 seemed 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 it was 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 some black plums, which are very good, but hard to come at; the trees which bear them growing on high mountains and rocks. Pimento-trees are plenty here; and we saw some of sixty feet high, end about two yards thick; and cotton-trees higher, and near four fathoms round in the stock. The climate is so good, that the trees and grass are verdant all the year round. The winter lasts no longer than June and July, and is not then severe, there being only a small frost, and a little bail; but sometimes great rains. The heat of the summer is equally moderate; and there is not much thunder, or tempestuous weather of any sort. He saw no venomous or savage creature on the island; nor any sort of beasts but goats, the first of which had been put ashore here, on purpose for a breed, by Juan Fernandez, a Spaniard, who settled there with some families, till the continent of Chili began to submit to the Spaniards; which being more profitable, tempted them to quit this island, capable, however, of maintaining a good number of people, and being made so strong, that they could not be easily dislodged from thence."



We are indebted for the following additional particulars, respecting the life and fate of this singular character, to the research of the late A. Gibson Hunter, Esq. of Balskelly, in Scotland; who, we believe, was in possession of his will, and some other curious relics. Through this gentleman we learn, that Selkirk was born at Largo in Fife, in the year t67G, where he possessed some trifling landed property. When young, he manifested a violent and turbulent disposition, which was not probably improved during his bucaneering trips, but received a sudden and permanent check by his solitary confinement on this desolate island. He went mate with Captain Stradling, in the Cinque Ports, on a trading voyage round the world, in 1704. In the course of which, a difference arising betwixt him and his captain, the causes of which must now remain for ever unexplained, Selkirk, with all the hardihood of a seaman's character, desired to be landed on the island of Fernandez. Here he remained in perfect solitude, existing as he has described himself, until discovered by Captain Rogers. Selkirk died on board a king's ship, the Weymouth, of which he was mate, in 1725; leaving his effects, by will, to sundry " loving female friends," with whom he had contracted intimacies in the course of his peregrinations. His chest, his gun, and his drinking cup, the last made of a cocoa-nut shell, are, or were till lately, the property of his descendants at Largo.'

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