Have you read Robinson Crusoe? Then you must have felt the pain and misery of a man forsaken on a lonely island. And the odds he faced against the onslaught of the inclement nature and how he won in the end must have stirred your heart.
But however fascinating Robinson Crusoe might sound, he was but a fictional character. In fact there really was a man who endured and suffered probably more than the fictional character he inspired.
That man was Alexander Selkirk.
The son of a Scotsman tanner, Alexander Selkirk is said to have been an unruly youth. His indecent behavior in the local church earned him displeasure of the village elders. He escaped their wrath by running away to sea
The Lonely Ordeal
As a seaman Selkirk had joined the buccaneer expeditions to the South Seas And in 1703 he was on the galley Cinque Ports as a sailing master serving under Thomas Stradling. His voyage was a part of the expedition of famed privateer and explorer William Dampier who commanded St. George.
Selkirk was of rebellious nature which did not go well with Capt Thomas Stradling. A disagreement between the two so enraged Stradling that he left Alexander Selkirk on an island of the uninhabited archipelago Juan Fernandez in 1704.
Incredible Struggle For Survival
Stranded on the unfriendly island, Selkirk faced a bleak future. He had no food and his meager belongings included only a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible and some clothing. A less intrepid man may have perished in such circumstances, but Selkirk proved highly resourceful in the face of the most arduous situation he faced.
With his musket he hunted wild animals. He used the carpentry tools to build a hut and fashioned clothing from the hides of the animals he had killed. Selkirk's only hope of escape from this dreary island was that sooner or later some ship should pass nearby. So he kept a sharp lookout. But the two ships that did come to the island for fresh water belonged to Spain, then an enemy of England. So Selkirk hid himself from them, fearing that if found by the Spaniards, he would face a fate more terrible than his exile.
Rescue and Fame
Four years and four months passed before Selkirk's hope was realized at last on 2 February 1709. Selkirk was rescued by the ship Duke captained by none other than William Dampier with whose ship Selkirk had started the fateful voyage.
When Selkirk at last reached England he became instantly famous.
Daniel Defoe fashioned his famous Robinson Crusoe on Selkirk's adventures.
William Cowper immortalized him by his poem The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk, which gave rise to the common phrase, "monarch of all I survey".
Famous journalists interviewed Selkirk and wrote about him in popular newspapers.
The Final Voyage
After his return Selkirk is said to have married a widowed innkeeper but he was not content to live a homely life for long. In March 1717 he again went off to sea. He was serving as a lieutenant on board the Royal ship Weymouth when he died at sea on December 13, 1721. He was buried at sea off the west coast of Africa.
But the saga of Selkirk hasn't ended.
On the New Year's day of 1966 the island where Selkirk had lived was named Robinson Crusoe Island while the westernmost island of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago was named Alejandro Selkirk Island. A statue of Selkirk donated by a descendant of the Selkirk family was unveiled outside his original house on 11 December 1885.
The memory of Alexander Selkirk is never to fade. It is a reminder of how a man with an indomitable spirit can face the most daunting challenges and still come out a winner.