SELKIRK, Alexander (1676-1721), Scottish sailor, born in Largo in the Fife
region. He first went to sea in 1695. In 1703 he became sailing master on the ship Cinque
Ports, one of the two vessels of a privateering expedition under the English navigator
William Dampier on the ship
Cinque Ports, a sixteen
gun, ninety ton privateer. While the expedition was near the Juan Fernández Islands, off the coast
of Chile, Selkirk had a dispute with the captain of his ship. At his own request, he was
put ashore in October 1704 on one of the islands.
Selkirk spent four years and four months of isolation on the island, yet
seemed stable when he was found. Finally On 1st of February 1709,
two British privateers dropped anchor offshore. Alexander lit his signal
fire to alert the ships, who dispatched a rather astonished landing
party to find a ‘wildman’ dressed in goat skins. Remarkably the
privateers’ pilot was William Dampier, who had led the Selkirk’s
original expedition and was able to vouch for the ‘wildman’. The
experience had, in fact, saved his life. From William Dampier he learnt
that he had been right to leave the ‘Cinque Ports’, which had sunk off
the coast of Peru with all of its crew drowned except the captain and
another seven men, who had survived only to be captured and left to rot
in a Peruvian jail.
continued his career as a sailor, and at the time of his death he was master's mate on the
English man-of-war Weymouth. The story of his solitary sojourn on Más a Tierra Island
(now Isla Robinson Crusoe) was related in a number of versions by early 18th-century
writers such as the British essayist Sir Richard Steele. It also suggested to the English
novelist Daniel Defoe the plot of his novel - Robinson Crusoe (1719).
Selkirk could never
really readjust to life on the land, and, in 1720, a year after he was
immortalised by Defoe, he joined the Royal Navy only to die of fever off
the coast of Africa.