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The Story of Robinson Crusoe Island

Alexander Selkirk's life story of being marooned on an uninhabited island was a source of inspiration for writer Daniel Defoe's classic novel "Robinson Crusoe."

Robinson Crusoe Island is one of the Juan Fernandez Islands, situated 416 miles west of San Antonio, Chile. The island was the home to Alexander Selkirk, a castaway sailor, for four years from 1704 to 1709. The island may have inspired Daniel Defoe to write his fictional novel “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719, based on Alexander Selkirk. The story is based on just one survivor during that period who might have been known by Defoe. The island was renamed from to "Robinson Crusoe Island" from the former "Mas a Tierra" in 1966 by the Chilean government in order to reflect the literary stories linked to it and in an effort to attract more tourists.

Geography And Climate Of The Robinson Crusoe Island

Robinson Crusoe Island is characterized by mountains and undulating terrains which were formed by the ancient lava flow building up from the several volcanic activities. The highest point on the island is at El Yunque, measuring 3,002 feet above the sea level. The steep valleys and ridges on the island have been formed by intense erosion. A narrow peninsula, Cordon Escarpado, has been formed on the southwestern part of the island. A volcanic activity on the Robinson Crusoe Island may have taken place in 1743 but the event has yet to be confirmed. A day long eruption began on the island on February 20, 1835 at the submarine vent about a mile north of Punta Bacalao. The island is characterized by subtropical climate regulated by the cold Humboldt waves. The temperatures on the island ranges from 3 degrees Celsius to 34 degrees Celsius with an annual mean temperature of 15.4 degrees Celsius. The island experiences high rainfall during winter with occasional frost.

Flora And Fauna Of The Robinson Crusoe Island

The regions of Fernandez, including the Juan Fernandez archipelago, are florist regions. The islands are within the Antarctic Florist Kingdom and are also included in the Neotropical Kingdom. The Robinson Crusoe Island has been part of World Biosphere Reserve since 1977 and has been considered to be of great scientific significance due to its endemic plant species and several faunal species. The Lactoridaceae is the major endemic plant species found on the the island. The Juan Fernandez firecrown is one of the endemic and threatened bird species found on the island.

History Of The Robinson Crusoe Island

The Island was named after Juan Fernandez who was the first Spanish sailor and explorer to land on the island in 1574. The island was also known as Mas a Tierra. In 1704, Alexander Selkirk was marooned as a castaway on Robinson Crusoe Island. He stayed on the island in loneliness for more than four years. Selkirk requested to be left on the island after he raised concern about the seaworthiness of his ship. The island was also described as a small detention center but was soon abandoned as the island became deserted before it became a colony in late 19th century. The Island was hit by the tsunami in February 2010, following an earthquake of a magnitude of 8.8. Several people lost their lives and the coastal villages were washed away.

Alexander Selkirk: The Marooned Sailor

Alexander Selkirk was a Royal Navy officer who spent about four years and four months on Robinson Crusoe Island as castaway between marooned by his captain. Alexander survived the ordeal but succumbed to tropical illnesses years later while serving in West Africa. Growing up, Alexander was an unruly youth. He joined the voyage to the South Pacific during the War of Spanish Succession. One of such expeditions called for a provision at the Robinson Crusoe Island where Alexander asked to be left there. All he was left with were a knife, a bible, clothing, and gunpowder. Selkirk quickly became adept at hunting and making use of resources that were present on the island. He was eventually rescued by Woodes Rogers with his survival widely published after his return to England. He became an inspiration to novelist Daniel Defoe.

Why Was Selkirk Castaway On The Island?

After parting ways with William Damper, Captain Stradling steered the Cinque Port to Mas a Tierra, one of the Juan Fernandez Islands. Selkirk had a genuine concern about the safety of their ship and he wanted to make necessary repairs before they could sail. He told Stradling that he would rather stay on the island rather than accompany them in a leaky vessel. Having been a troublemaker throughout the expedition, Stradling took Selkirk on his offer and dropped him on the island with just a cooking pot, a knife, hatchet, bible, and some clothing. Although Selkirk regretted his rashness, Stradling refused to let him back to the ship. True to his concerns, Cinque Ports did not make it to its destination. It was found off the coast of the present-day Colombia while Stradling and some crew were forced to surrender to the Spanish and were taken to Peru where they were harshly treated.

Selkirk’s Life On The Island

Selkirk’s life on the island away from humans was an interesting episode. Initially, he settled along the shores of the island where he ate spiny lobsters and checked the ocean daily for any help. During this time he suffered loneliness, misery, and remorse. The sea lions that came to the beach for their mating season pushed him to the interior of the island. His life improved once he moved to the interior of the island. He could access more food with feral goats who were introduced by earlier sailors providing him with milk and meat. The cabbage leaves and dried pepper berries provided spices for his food. He would be attacked at night by rats but he would domesticate feral cats which helped him keep away the rats. He was able to build two huts from pepper tree of which one he used as his kitchen and the other as a bedroom. When his clothes wore out, he made new ones from goat skin. He found comfort from reading the bible and singing psalms. During his stay on the island, two Spanish vessels came to anchor but he could not risk being captured.

The Much Awaited Rescue

Selkirk’s much-awaited rescue came on February 2, 1709, by a ship that was piloted by William Damper. He was incoherent with joy after four years and four months without a human companion. The leader of the expedition was Woodes Rogers who jokingly referred to Selkirk as the governor of Robinson Crusoe Island. Selkirk was physically strong and was experiencing a peace of mind at the time of his rescue. After his rescue, Selkirk returned to privateering with a lot of vigor and full of vengeance.

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