In which our intrepid hero correlates obscure details.

As you can probably guess from the sidebar, Damn Interesting is one of my favourite sites. At irregular intervals, they pop up interesting (usually historical, occasionally scientific) tales from real life. If you can ignore the “first”-posters, the comments are often interesting, too.

Their most recent entry is on a man named Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was marooned off the coast of Chile for nearly four-and-a-half years at the beginning of the 18th Century.

Shipping out at the age of fifteen to avoid a charge of “undecent beaiviar” (sic), he served as master navigator aboard the Cinque Ports. Some time later, however, as the crew took harbour at the island of Juan Fernandez, off the Chilean coast:

[T]he captain was anxious to return to his ship and his voyage. Selkirk insisted, however, that the ship was no longer seaworthy, and that the leaking hull would succumb to the temperament of the ocean or enemies. He urged captain and crew to remain on the island and wait for help, but they ignored him. Selkirk’s defiance grew, until finally [Captain] Stradling ordered that Selkirk be left on the island with only his sea chest, bedding, and clothing. Moments later the ship and the crew set sail while Selkirk watched in anguish from the lonely shore of [Juan Fernandez].

Over the next four years and four months, Selkirk survived on goat meat (it was common practice to leave goats on remote islands to provide food for sailors, should they find themselves marooned), and used their skins to provide clothing when his own wore out. Damn Interesting reader BarryW also points to evidence of Selkirk’s “other uses” for goats…

The story ends with Selkirk’s influence on “castaway” fiction:

Writer Daniel Defoe, approaching sixty and burdened by the cost of his daughter’s wedding, published a fictionalized account of Selkirk’s ordeal as Robinson Crusoe in 1719, his four hundred and twelfth publication. Its popularity mandated two sequels. […]

The world became fascinated with the tale of Crusoe, yet few readers knew of the complicated man who inspired the timeless novel. In 1966 the Chilean government changed the name of Alexander Selkirk’s scrap of earth to Robinson Crusoe Island, a bittersweet monument to his fictionalized counterpart.

In addition to the usual fascination I find at Damn Interesting stories, the reference to Robinson Crusoe Island really caught my eye. Two years ago, the tiny island hit the headlines with tales of an expedition to retrieve several billion dollars’ worth of treasure believed to be hidden somewhere on the remote Chilean territory.

Although I lost the links, I wrote about it here, in December 2005. I wonder if the two are related…

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