Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is an epic adventure novel detailing one man’s life as a castaway on a deserted island. However, it was on this day in 1709 that the man who inspired Defoe’s novel was rescued.
Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor and sometimes privateer. Now, there’s one key difference between Crusoe and Selkirk. While Crusoe had survived a shipwreck, Selkirk got stranded on the island by other means. In September of 1704, Selkirk was aboard a ship that docked on an island in the uninhabited archipelago of Juan Fernández, 420 miles off the coast of Chile to gather supplies. The ship had recently been engaged in battle with the Spanish, and Selkirk did not believe the ship was safe enough to sail, and that he’d rather be left on Juan Fernández than board the leaky ship. What he probably meant by this was that the crew should stay on the island for a while and make repairs.
The captain of the ship took him literally and told Selkirk that he could stay on the island. Selkrik tried to take back what he had said, but the captain had the crew remove Selkirk’s personal effects and left him behind. Amusingly, Selkirk did have the last laugh, as the leaky ship did sink and the survivors (including the captain) were captured and imprisoned by the Spanish.
Selkirk spent the next four years and four months living on the island. He built himself two huts (one for cooking, the other for sleeping) and fed himself by eating the native plants and eating the island’s native animals. His only source of comfort was his bible, which he read every day to keep himself entertained and to make sure he didn’t lose his grasp on the English language. Twice during his stay on Juan Fernández, ships arrived on the island and Selkirk thought he had been saved…until he realized these ships were Spanish galleons. During both of these run-ins with the Spanish, Selkirk had to go into hiding to keep from being captured.
Finally, on February 2, 1709 two privateer ships, the Duke and the Duchess, docked on the island. Selkirk was ecstatic and came running to the beach to introduce himself to the ships’ landing party. The Duke‘s captain Woodes Rogers jokingly called him the island’s governor. Selkirk helped the landing party hunt and found them cures for scurvy. This endeared him to Captain Rogers, who quickly made him the ship’s second mate. The Duke and the Duchess returned to the seas, with Selkirk aboard, and resumed robbing Spanish ships and ports, which Selkirk took much delight from.
Selkirk finally returned to England on October 1, 1711 and his story became all the rage, doubtlessly inspiring Dafoe’s 1719 novel. Selkirk would remain in England for four years before joining the Royal Navy. In December of 1721, he would die of Yellow Fever while serving in an anti-piracy patrol off Africa’s west coast. He was buried at sea.
So, on the 305th anniversary of Selkirk’s rescue, let’s drink a cocktail named for the character he inspired. Robinson Crusoe is a basic combination of rum and pineapple juice. The name is quite fitting, as this drink uses the alcohol that Selkirk and Crusoe might have had on hand during their sojourns and the juice of one of the fruits available on Juan Fernández.
- 1 1/4 White Rum
- 1 1/4 pineapple juice
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: But something touched me deep inside…