Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Real Robinson Crusoe

I watched Castaway this weekend. I love that movie. It's amazing how a movie about a guy alone on an island can be so interesting. Considering that this is a modern day Robinson Cruseo, I looked into the real person that inspired that story. Here is a quick recap, though longer versions can be found here, here, and here.

Concerned that his ship was not sea-worthy, Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailer requested to be put ashore on an island 400 miles off the coast of Chile. He fully expected another ship to come along soon to come to his rescue very quickly.

As the ship was sailing away from the island, he instantly regretted his decision and ran after the boat to no avail. All he took with him was a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible, and his clothing. As time passed, he solitude grew more and more, and he prepared for a long stay alone on the island.

In that time, he built his own shelter and weapons to hunt. He befriended the cats to help keep away the rats at night. When his clothing wore out, he made new ones out of goat's skin. Selkirk's feet became so toughened and calloused that he no longer needed shoes. His healthy diet of fruit, goat meat and milk, and vegetables that had been planted years before by the Spanish, along with vigorous exercise kept him in remarkably healthy shape. Slowly he began to revel in the solitude. After awhile, Selkirk stopped speaking altogether.

He was rescued 4 years and 4 months later by a privateer ship. He had not spoken in so long, he had forgotten some vocabulary and the crew had a difficult time understanding him. Selkirk re-embarked on his career as a privateer and within a year he was master of the ship that rescued him. In 1712 he returned to Scotland £800 richer. In 1713 he published an account of his adventures which were fictionalised six years later by Daniel Defoe in his now famous novel: ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

Alexander Selkirk never adjusted to civilization. He returned to Scotland a rich man from the capture of the Spanish ship, but he made his home in a cave where he lived a reclusive life for the next fifteen years. At the age of forty-five, Selkirk returned to the sea as a first mate on the English man-of-war ‘Weymouth’. He died after drinking water infected with a tropical disease.

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