Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

The Real Robinson Crusoe

Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

The Real Robinson Crusoe

Article excerpt

WHEN a cantankerous, foul-mouthed seaman named Alexander Selkirk told the skipper of an 18th century privateer what to do with his ship and to let him off at the next sighting of land, the captain was more than happy to be rid of the troublesome Scot.

But the landfall on which Selkirk was put ashore was not the coast of South America he'd expected a it was an uninhabited dot in the South Seas somewhere between Easter Island and the coast of Chile that was another 600km to his east.

Selkirk would spend four years and four months alone on his island a only to return to England in the early 1700s to become, in more sanitised form, a hero to children world-wide, and later the genesis of a score of films and TV shows.

For it was Selkirk who became fellow Scots writer Daniel Defoe's legendary Robinson Crusoe.

The hard-drinking and quarrelsome Selkirk was mate aboard the Cinque Ports, and when the ship sprang a leak during a raid on the west coast of South America, he had a blazing row with the captain about repairs. It was during this argument that Selkirk asked to be put ashore.

The captain cruelly headed for uninhabited Juan Fernandez, and despite last minute pleas that he'd changed his mind, Selkirk was abandoned there with his clothes, hammock, a shotgun, some tobacco, a hatchet, knife, kettle and a Bible.

He soon found how inhospitable his island would be. Sea lions bellowed through the night, rats nibbled at his toes and ears as he tried to sleep, and rain squalls regularly swept the island.

And he would have gone mad but for his brutish physical and inner strength that saw him through 52 months of solitude in remarkably good stead.

When his meagre gunpowder supply ran out, Selkirk took to catching fish, lobsters and turtles with his hands and even running down and slaying with his knife the wild goats left by previous visitors to Juan Fernandez.

Because he had no matches, he kept a cooking fire alight in a cave he called home, and if this went out he re-started it by rubbing dry sticks together.

The wild goats gave him not only meat, but skins to make breeches and shirts when his clothes wore out a using a nail as a needle, and threads salvaged from discarded clothing for stitching. …

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