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.
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.
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.