The original Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe ( c. 1660-24 April 1731)


It could be very much possible that Daniel Defoe might’ve never even written Robinson Crusoe if it wasn’t for an argument that he had with Alexander Selkirk.

On an expedition to the South Seas, Selkirk was the ship’s first mate, and in the heat of the dispute with the captain, demanded to be put ashore. He was-on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, off the cost of Chile.

What was the entire row about? Nobody knows. But one thing is certain. It led to Selkirk living in the island for nearly four and a half years, until he was rescued and taken back to England.


Selkirk remained along the shoreline at first, during which he would eat spiny lobsters and scan the area daily for rescue. He suffered from solitude, misery and regret.

He was driven out to the interior of the island when hordes of raucous sea lions gathered on the beach for the mating season. Once inland, his life took a different turn. It was much better now that more foods were available- meat and milk were provided by the feral goats that were introduced by earlier sailors, while turnips, cabbage leaves, dried pepper berries and a variety of spices were also available.

Often times, rats would attack him at night. But Selkirk was able to sleep soundly and in safety after he had learnt to domesticate feral cats.

 Selkirk proved resourceful in using materials that he found on the island: he forged a new knife out of barrel hoops left on the beach, he built two huts out of pepper trees, one of which he used for cooking and the other for sleeping, and he employed his musket to hunt goats and his knife to clean their carcasses.
His gunpowder dwindled. This required him to chase prey on foot. It is said that he was once badly injured when he tumbled from a cliff, lying helpless and was almost immobile for a whole day. He was spared from suffering a much worse fate when his prey cushioned his fall. This prevented a potential broken back.
Selkirk reading his Bible
The lessons Selkirk learned from his father who was a tanner were of great use to him. When his clothes wore out, he made new ones from hair covered goatskins using a nail for sewing. He had no need to replace unusable shoes, as his feet were toughened and calloused. He sang psalms and read the Bible, finding it a comfort in his situation and a prop for his English.

Being a journalist, Defoe heard about Selkirk’s story, and used the pirate’s story as the basis for his own tale-about a pious man marooned for 24 years.

Robinson Crusoe

The island Selkirk lived on was named Más a Tierra (Closer to Land) at the time and was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. It has been supposed that Defoe may have also been inspired by the Latin or English translation of a book by the Andalusian-Arab Muslim polymath Ibn Tufail, who was known as “Abubacer” in Europe. The Latin edition of the book was entitled Philosophus Autodidactus and it was an earlier novel that is also set on a deserted island.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s