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Even Scots seem perplexed by the statue. They stare at it, take a photograph and keep walking. The limited amount of factual material about the spirited lad has been mined numerous times, from the early s to and R. The past four years have seen the publication of three distinct and well-researched books. Virtually all of these accounts lean heavily on one source, the records of the church or kirk elders at the Largo Kirk, known as the Kirk Session Minutes, which I found at the St.

On a spitting gray day, I went to the basement of the library, where two very proper women in the special collections department had me stow my bags, briefcases and ballpoint pens, and issued me a No.

The Real Robinson Crusoe

I sat at a blond wood table with gooseneck reading lamps as a librarian placed before my incredulous eyes not rolls of microfilm, but the actual Kirk Session Minutes, marked , in a rebound brown cover about 13 inches long and 8 inches wide. The unlined pages were like beige parchment, stiff though hardly brittle, with slight water damage that had darkened and frayed the edges. Amazingly, I was allowed to handle them without gloves, which, the librarian explained, actually tend to make readers more clumsy and more likely to tear delicate pages.

By November 7, , he was in trouble again. His kid brother, Andrew, made the mistake of laughing at him when he accidentally took a drink of salt water out of a can. Did he deliberately change his name at sea to distance himself from his past, or did someone misunderstand him? Or, as some researchers say, did consistent spelling of names simply not matter much back then?

Some saw him as a cruel, indecisive and incompetent sailor who once narrowly escaped being eaten by his own men in the Pacific and who was court-martialed after losing the British warship HMS Roebuck off the coast of Australia. He was often drunk on duty and would infuriate his crews by letting captured ships go free without distributing loot to his men. Consequently, when commercial shipowners or governments captured pirates, they were rarely shown mercy. The ships were small by Royal Navy standards and full of desperate men who perhaps noticed that even the staffing of the ships foretold the danger they faced.

George , Souhami writes, was supplied for eight months of travel and carried five anchors, two sets of sails, 22 cannons, small arms, 30 barrels of gunpowder and five times more men than it could comfortably accommodate—a testament to the numbers needed to crew captured ships, but also a morbid acknowledgment that dozens would be lost to disease, battle and desertion.

But literally on the first night, while still in Ireland, a drunken Dampier had a violent argument with one officer, and dissension quickly spread. By October the men were sick of brick-hard sea biscuits, dried peas and salt meat.

They longed for fresh meat and vegetables, but settled for an occasional shark, dolphin or weary bird. As on most ships of the day, the men often slept in wet clothes and mildewed bedding. The ships were incubators for typhus, dysentery and cholera.

Amonth later, 15 men had fever, and others were wracked by scurvy, caused by a vitamin C deficiency, which Souhami says claimed more lives than contagious disease, gunfire or shipwreck. Things got only worse when Capt. Charles Pickering died of a fever in late November and command of the Cinque Ports was given to his lieutenant, Thomas Stradling, a young upperclass seaman the crew disliked. There were fights and nearmutinies as the ship cruised the coast of Brazil. The meat and grain were filled with roaches and rat droppings. The Cinque Ports holed up at a rendezvous point on one of the islands in the archipelago west of Valparaiso, but the crew was threatening mutiny against Stradling.

Dampier showed up just in time to put down the rebellion by promising a tighter rein on cocky Stradling. But shortly he, too, faced dissent among his sailors, who wanted him to attack more ships. George and Cinque Ports left the island in March to continue their plundering along the coasts of Peru and Mexico, where tempers continued to flare. In May the Cinque Ports split off from the St. George and spent the summer pirating on its own. By September the ship was so leaky that men were pumping out water day and night; Selkirk believed that it was so riddled with worms that its masts and flooring needed immediate repair.

That month the ship returned to the relative safety of the island, a secluded and uninhabited place where the men could regain their health and sanity. Soon Selkirk would look at the island and see salvation. At a small suburban airport outside crowded Santiago, Chile, six of us stand anxiously beside a drafty hangar staring at an eight-passenger Piper Navajo prop plane. Mechanics are crawling over its dismantled left engine.


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A councilman from the island waits with me, joined by a history teacher, a young mother, and two Santiago policemen on a cushy work assignment. Thus assured, I put my trust in a craft whose outer skin seems no thicker than a beer can. With surprisingly little turbulence, we finally climb over the city of six million humming past the jagged Andes and across the ocean at 6, feet, just above foamy white clouds.

Mystery of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe, solved - Telegraph

After two hours of hypnotic engine drone, Schaeffer points to a growing gray dot on the horizon. The Chilean government renamed it RobinsonCrusoeIsland in As we bank high above the reddish moonscape on the extreme western promontory of the square-mile island, rugged volcanic mountains are visible in the distance, with seemingly great spots for hiking or diving. A sailor in the s, however, would have seen nothing but trouble— grim, sheer-faced coves rising 80 feet straight up, and not a sandy beach in sight.

San Juan Bautista John the Baptist village pop. San Juan Bautista is part sleepy South Pacific fishing village, part eco-tourism hideaway. Along deeply rutted dirt roads, there are eight or nine summer cabins and basic bed-and-breakfast operations— several hundred tourists came to the village last year—with a few in-home convenience stores, three churches Evangelical, Mormon and Catholic , a leaky gymnasium, a lively school serving first through eighth grade, a city hall, a small Crusoe museum with translations of the novel in Polish and Greek, and an adjoining library with a satellite Internet connection, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The homes are wooden bungalows for the most part, weathered but neat, with small yards and big leafy palm or fruit trees.

Alexander Selkirk

Nearly everyone has TV, which consists of two Santiago channels. My guide, Pedro Niada, a witty and well-read fellow who moved here with his wife from Santiago some years ago, estimates that 70 percent of the families still make their living from trapping lobster, but that number is declining. After a month on the island, the Cinque Ports was stocked with turnips, goats and crayfish, yet no less wormeaten.

Stradling ordered the men to set sail and leave CumberlandBay. Selkirk refused and told the men to do the same, believing the ship could never withstand the open sea or the battles the men so craved.


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  • Stradling mocked his navigator, and that set off Selkirk like he was back in Largo. After a bitter argument, Stradling must have felt he could not back down. Selkirk was put ashore with his bedding, a musket, pistol, gunpowder, hatchet, knife, his navigation tools, a pot for boiling food, two pounds of tobacco, some cheese and jam, a flask of rum and his Bible.

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    He had made the biggest decision of his life. No longer just a complainer, he had taken action. But no sooner had he waded into CumberlandBay than he was overwhelmed with regret and fear. He had badly overplayed his hand. Not one of the men had joined him. Selkirk pleaded with Stradling to be allowed back, but the captain was quite enjoying the moment. So, in an attempt to save his own life he demanded to be put ashore on the next island they encountered. He took with him a little clothing, bedding, a musket and power, some tools, a Bible and tobacco.

    He resigned himself to a long stay and began to make island life habitable with only rats, goats and cats for company in his lonely vigil. Selkirk rushed to the shore, realising a little late that they were Spanish. Their landing party fired, forcing him to flee for his life although he managed to evade capture and the Spaniards eventually departed. Finally On 1st of February , two British privateers dropped anchor offshore. Selkirk had spent four years and four months of isolation on the island, yet seemed stable when he was found. The experience had, in fact, saved his life.