5. Alexander Selkirk: The Man who Inspired Robinson Crusoe.
At the age of 19, Alexander Selkirk left his home in Scotland to become a privateer. By 1704, he was the sailing master of The Cinque Ports, a ninety-ton privateers vessel. The Cinque Ports, however, was rotting and unseaworthy. So when the ship moored off the Pacific island of Mas a Tierra, 400 miles off the coast of Chile, Selkirk tried to make the captain see sense and abandon the ship. Mas a Tierra was remote but well stocked with food and water. Selkirk’s idea was the crew waited it out on the island until a friendly ship rescued them.
Instead, the captain abandoned Selkirk with his possessions and some basic supplies and sailed off. For a while, the shaken mariner kept to the seashore waiting for a ship- until the island’s seal population drove him into the interior. There, Selkirk built a shelter and occupied himself by taming the island’s community of wildcats who obliged him by driving off any rats. Selkirk also befriended the island’s goats who became his companions- as well as a source of food and clothing.
Selkirk might have been rescued twice- if the ships in question had not been Spanish. Instead, he had to watch them sail away- or else, risk certain death as an enemy privateer. However, in 1709, he sighted the colors of an English ship. Selkirk lit a beacon, and to his relief, a boat was sent to investigate. As luck would have it, one of the crew, William Dampier had sailed with Selkirk before and so was able to vouch for the wild looking castaway. Dampier also told him he had had a lucky escape from the Cinque Ports. Not long after abandoning him, it had sunk off the coast of Peru, and the survivors had been left to rot in a Peruvian jail.
Selkirk re-embarked on his career as a privateer and finally returned to Scotland in 1712 with Â£800 in his pocket. His story caused a sensation, and in 1719, Daniel Defoe published his fictionalized version of it: Robinson Crusoe. However, Selkirk did not remain on land long to enjoy his money or his fame. In 1720, he joined the Royal Navy- only to die of fever off the coast of Africa the following year.