Monday, October 13, 2014

Robinson Crusoe: contrarian and dreamer, but right

In October 1704 Alexander Selkirk was marooned on Mas a Tierra, an uninhabited island some 400 miles off the coast of Chile.

From Google Maps

But this probably wasn't the first time he had left his ship, the Cinque Ports, one of a pair of licensed privateers. Some months before, many of the crew (including, it's surmised, Selkirk, who as the ship's master was an expert) had quarrelled with the replacement captain over the worm-eaten condition of the vessel and, it's said, Selkirk had been warned in a dream that it would fail and be lost. Two-thirds of the company went ashore at the Juan Fernandez islands (of which Mas a Tierra was the largest) before being persuaded to return.

The next time, Selkirk (whose real name was Selcraig) went ashore on what is now known as Robinson Crusoe Island, but the others didn't follow and the captain, to make an example of him, refused to have him back.

The ship was lost soon afterwards. Some sources say it sank with the loss of most of the crew; Partington (The British Cyclopedia of Biography, 1838, p. 918).says it was surrendered to the Spaniards because it was perilously unseaworthy.

The curmudgeonly Scot was right, after all.


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