John Howell.

The life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts online

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Online LibraryJohn HowellThe life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts → online text (page 1 of 4)
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James Egbert, Printer.

• 1841.




Alexander Selkirk was born in the year 1676,
and was the seventh son of John Selkirk, shoemaker and
tanner, in Largo, Scotland. His mother looked upon
him as one that would pass through some great events^
and she resolved to have him push his fortune at sea,
where he went in his nineteenth year, to escape the rebuke
of his unruly conduct. He was from home six years ;
and again being guilty of very bad behavior, and having
beaten a young infirm brother, and raised a riot in his fa-
ther's house, he was publicly reprimanded: upon this, he
left home, and being a skilful seaman, was appointed


Sailing Master, in a vessel called the Cinque Ports — a
small sailor which went in company with captain Dam-
pier to the South Sea.

Having quarrelled with his captain, and having had
a dream that his ship would be wrecked, he resolved to
quit it, and was set on shore at the uninhabited island
of Juan Fernandez, He had scarcely left the boat, when
he sorely repented, and he " never heard a sound more
dismal than their parting oars."

From the beginning to the end of September, the ves-
sel remained undergoing repairs. The disagreement,
instead of being made up, became greater every clay, and
streno-thened the resolution which Selkirk had made to
leave the vessel. This was accordingly concluded on,
and just before getting under way, he was landed with
all his effects ; and he leaped on shore with a faint sen-
sation of freedom and joy. He shook hands with his
comrades, and bade them adieu in a hearty manner,
while the officer sat in the boat urging their return to
the ship, which order they instantly obeyed ; but no
sooner did the sound of their oars, as they left the beach,
fall on his ears, than the horrors of being left alone, cut
off from all human society, perhaps forever, rushed


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upon his mind. His heart sunk within him, and all
his resolution failed. He rushed into the water, and
implored them to return and take him on board with
them. To all his entreaties his comrades turned a deaf
ear, and even mocked his despair; denouncing the choice
he had made of remaining upon the island, as rank mu-
tiny, and. describing his present situation as the most
proper state for such a fellow, where his example would
not affect others.

For many days after being left alone, Selkirk was
under such great dejection of mind, that he never tasted
food 'until urged by extreme hunger ; nor did he go to
sleep until he could watch no longer ; but sat with his
eyes fixed in the direction where he had seen his ship-
mates depart, fondly hoping that they would return
and free him from his misery. Thus he remained seated
upon his chest, until darkness shut out every object
from his sight. Then did he close his weary eyes,
but not in sleep ; for morning found him still anxiously
hoping the return of the vessel.

When urged by hunger, he fed upon seals and such
shell-fish as he could pick up along the shore. The
reason of this was the aversion he felt to leave the beach,


and the care he took to save his powder. Though
seals, and shell-fish were but sorry fare, his greatest
cross was the want of salt and bread, which made him
loathe his food until he got used to it.

It was in the beginning of October (1704,) which in
those southern latitudes is the middle of spring, when
nature appears in a thousand varieties of form and fra-
grance, quite unknown in northern climates; but the
agitation of his mind, and the forlorn situation in which
he was now placed, caused all its charms to be unre-

It was in this trying situation, when his mind, de-
prived of all outward occupation, was turned back upon
itself, that the whole advantages of that great blessing,
a religious education in his youth, was felt in its con-
soling influences, when every other hope and comfort
had fled.

This circumstance ought to lead young people to
prize their social and religious privileges, as they know
not but that some day, like Selkirk, their lot may be cast
far from home, and from pious family opportunities, the
absence of which were then so much regretted by
this lonely man.


By slow degrees he became easy to his fate ; and as
winter approached, he saw the necessity of procuring
some kind of shelter from the weather; for even in that
temperate climate, frost is common during the night,
and snow is sometimes found upon the ground in the

The building of a hut was the first thing that roused
him to exertion ; and his necessary absence from the
shore gradually weaned his heart from that aim which
had alone filled all his thoughts and proved a help of
his obtaining that peace of mind he afterwards enjoyed ;
but it was eighteen months before he became fully
composed, or could be one whole day absent from the
beach, and from his usual hopeless watch for some ves-
sel to relieve him from his melancholy situation.

During his stay, he built himself two huts with the
wood of the pimento tree, and thatched them with a
species of grass, that grows to the height of seven or
eight feet upon the plains and smaller hills, and produ-
ces straw resembling that of oats. The one was much
larger than the other, and situated near a spacious wood.

This he made his sleeping room, spreading the bed
clothes he had brought on shore with him upon a frame


of his own construction ; and as those wore out, or were
used for other purposes, he supplied their places with
goat skins. His pimento bed-room he used also as his
chapel ; for here he kept up that simple but beautiful
form of family worship which he had been accustomed to
in his father's house. To distinguish the Sabbath, he
kept an exact account of the days of every week and
month, during the time he remained upon the island.

The smaller hut, which Selkirk had erected at some

distance from the other, was used by him as a kitchen in

which he dressed his victuals. The furniture was very

scanty ; but consisted of every convenience his island

could afford. His most valuable article was the pot or

kettle he had brought from the ship, to boil his meat in ;

the spit was his own handiwork, made of such wood as

grew upon the island; the rest was suitable to his rudely

built house. Around his dwelling browsed a parcel of

goats remarkably tame, which he had taken when

young, and lamed, but so as not to injure their health,

while he kept down their speed. These he kept as a

store, in the event of a sickness or any accident befalling

him, that might prevent him from catching others ; his

sole method of doing vdiich, was running them down by


speed of foot. The pimento wood, which burns very-
bright and clear served him both for fuel and candle.
It gives out an agreeable perfume while burning.

He obtained fire after the Indian method, by rubbing
two pieces of pimento wood together until they caught
fire. This he did, as being ill able to spare any of his
linen for tinder, time being of no value to him, and
the labour rather an amusement. Having recovered his
peace of mind, he began likewise to enjoy greater varie-
ty in his food, and was continually adding some new
thing to his store. The craw-fish, many of which
weighed eight or nine pounds, he broiled or boiled as
his fancy led, seasoning it with pimento, (Jamaica pep-
per) and at length came to relish his food without salt.

As a substitute for bread, he used the cabbage-palm,
which was plenty on the island ; turnips, or their tops,
and likewise a species of parsnip, of good taste and
flavor. He had also Sicilian radishes and watercresses,
which he found in the neighboring brooks, as well as
many other vegetables found on the island, which he
ate with his fish or goat's flesh.

Having food in abundance, and the climate being
healthy and pleasant, in about eighteen months he be


came easy in his situation. The time hung no longer
heavy upon his hands. His devotions and frequent
study of the Scriptures, soothed and elevated his mind:
and this, coupled with the vigor of his health, and a
constant serene sky, and temperate air, rendered his life
one continual feast. His feelings were now as joyful as
they had before been sorrowful. He took delight in
every thing around him ; fixed up the hut in which he
lay, with fragrant branches, cut from a spacious wood,
on the side of which it was situated, and thereby formed
a pleasant bower,^ fanned with continual breezes, soft and
balmy as poets describe, which made his repose, after the
fatigues of the chase, very gratifying.

Yet happy and contented as he became, there were
cares that broke in upon his pleasing thoughts, as it
were to place his situation on a level with that of other
human beings; for it is the lot of man to care while he
dwells on earth. During the early part of his residence,
he was much annoyed by multitudes of rats, which
gnawed his feet and other parts of his body, as he slept
during the night. To remedy this evil, he caught and
tamed after much exertion and patient toil, some of the
cats that ran wild on the island. These new friends

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soon put the rats to flight, and became themselves the
companions of his leisure hours. He amused himself
by teaching them to dance, and do a number of an-
tic feats* They multiplied so fast too, under his foster-
ing hand, that they lay upon his bed, and upon the floor
in great numbers : and although freed from his former
troublesome visitors, yet, so strangely are we formed,
that when one care is removed, another takes its place.

These very protectors became a source of great unea-
siness to him : for the idea haunted his mind, and made
him at times melancholy, that, after his death there
would be no one to bury his remains, or to supply the
cats with food, his body must be devoured by the very
animals which he at present nourished for his conve-

The island abounds in goats, which he shot while
his powder lasted, and afterwards caught by speed of
foot. At first he could only overtake kids : but latterly,
so much did his frugal life, joined to air and exercise,
improve his strength and habits of body, that he could
run down the strongest goat on the island in a few min-
utes, and tossing it over his shoulders, carry it with ease
to his hut. All the by-ways and easy parts of the


mountains became familiar to him. He could bound
from crag to crag, and slip down the precipices with

With these helps, hunting soon became his chief a-
musement. It was his custom, after running down the
animals, to slit their ears, and then allow them to escape.
The young he carried to the ^reen lawn beside his hut,
and employed his leisure hours in taming them. They
in time supplied him with milk, and even with amuse-
ment, as he taught them as well as the cats to dance;
and he often afterwards declared, that he never danced
with a lighter heart, or greater spirit, any where, to the
best of music, than he did to the sound of his own voice,
with his dumb companions. ^'

As the northern part of the island where Alexander
lived, is composed of high craggy precipices, many of
which are almost too hilly to climb, though generally
covered with wood, the soil is loose and shallow, so that
on the hills the largest trees soon perish for want of
nourishment, and are then very easily overturned.
This was the cause of the death of a seaman belonging
to the Dutchess, who being on the high ground in
search of goats, caught hold of a tree to aid his ascent,


when it gave way and he rolled down the hill. In his
fall he grasped another of considerable bulk, which like- ,
wise failed him, and he was thrown amongst the rocks
and dashed to pieces. Mr. Butt also met with an acci-
dent, merely by leaning his back to a tree nearly as
thick as himself, which stood upon a slope, almost with-
out any hold of the soil.

Our adventurer, himself nearly lost his life from a
similar cause. When pursuing a goat, he made a
snatch at it on the brink of a precipice, of which he was
not aware, as some bushes concealed it from them ; the
animal suddenly stopped ; upon which he stretched for-
ward his hand to seize it, when the branches gave way,
and they both fell from a great height. Selkirk was so
stunned and bruised by the fall, that he lay deprived of
sensation and almost of life. Upon his recovery, he
found the goat lying dead beneath him. This happened
about a mile from his hut. Scarcely was he able to
crawl to it when restored to his senses ; and dreadful
were his sufferings during the iirst two or three of the ten
days that he was confined by the injury. This was the
only disagreeable accident that befel him during his
lonof residence on the island.


W. Rogers says that Selkirk lay above the goat de-
prived of sensation, for 24 hours ; Sir R, Steele mentions
three days. Selkirk, computed the length of time by
the moon's growth from the last observation which he
had made on the evening before his fall.

He occasionally amused himself by cutting upon the
trees his name, and the date when he was left on the
island, and at times added to the first the period of his
continuance ; so averse is man to be utterly forgotten by
his fellow-man. Perishable as the material was upon
which he wrought, still the idea was pleasing to his
lonely mind, that when he should have ended his lone-
ly life, some future navigator would learn from these
rude memorials, Alexander Selkirk had lived and died
upon the island. He had no materials for writing
wherewith to trace a more ample record. Upon Lord
Anson's arrival, however at Juan Fernandez, in the
year 1741, there was not. so far as he observed, one of
these names or dates to be discovered upon any of the

Abbe Raynal is not correct, when he says that Sel-
kirk lost his speech while upon the island. All that
Cook asserts is, that, at his first coming on board, he



spoke his words as it were by halves, from want of
practice; while he states distinctly, that he carried on
conversation from the first and that his hesitating man-
ner gradually wore off.

As to his clothing it was very rude. Shoes he had
none, as they were soon worn out. This gave him
very little concern, and he never troubled himself in
contriving any thing to supply their place. As his oth-
er clothes decayed, he dried the skins of the goats he
had killed, to make into garments, sewing them with
slender thongs of leather, which he cut for the purpose,
and using a sharp nail for a needle. In this way he
made for himself a cap, jacket, and short breeches.
The hair being left upon the skin, gave him a very
strange appearance ; but in this dress he ran through the
underwood, and received as little injury as the animal
he pursued. Having linen cloth with him, he made it
into shirts, sewing them by means of his nail, and the
thread of his worsted stockings, which he untwisted for
that purpose. Thus rudely equipped, he thought
his wants sufficiently supplied, fashion having no long-
er any rule over him. His goats and cats being his
sole companions, he was at least neighbor-like, and


looked as wild as they ; his beard was of great length,
as it had been untouched since he left the ship. Still
his mind was at ease, and he danced and sang amongst
his dumb companions, for hours together ; perhaps as
happy a man, nay happier, than the gayest ball-room
could have presented, in the most civilized country
upon earth.

One day, in his ramble along the beach, he found
a few iron hoops, which had been left by some vessel,
as unworthy to be taken away. This was to him a
discovery that imparted more joy than if he had found
a treasure of gold or silver ; for with them he made
knives when his own was worn out, and bad as they
were, they stood him in great stead. One of them,
which he had used as a chopper, was about two feet in
length, and was long kept as a curiosity, at the Golden
Head Coflfee-house, near Buckingham Gate, in England.
It had been changed from its original simple form,
having when last seen, a buck's horn handle with some
verses upon it.

Alexander Selkirk, at different times during his stay,
saw vessels pass the island ; but only two ever came to
an anchor. At these times he concealed .himself; but,


being anxious on one occasion to learn whether the ship
was French or Spanish, he approached too near, and
was perceived. A pursuit immediately commenced,
and several shots were fired in the direction in which he
fled ; but fortunately none of them took effect, and he
got up into a tree unobserved. His pursuers stopped
near it, and killed several of his goats, but the vessel
soon left the island. Cook says, " The prize being so
inconsiderable, it is likely they thought it not worth
while to be at great trouble to find it." Had they been
French, Alexander would have given himself up to
them ; but, being Spaniards, he chose rather to stay up-
on the island, and run the risk of dying alone, and even
of being devoured by his own cats, than fall into their
hands, as they would, as he supposed, either have mur-
dered him in cold blood, or caused him to linger out a
life of misery in the mines of Peru or Mexico, unless he
chose to profess himself a Roman Catholic, and even
then he would have been compelled to pass his weary
days in one of their coasting vessels in the Pacific Ocean ;
for as we have already mentioned, it was one of their
maxims never to allow an Englishman to return to Eu-
rope, who had gained any knowledge of the South Seas.



This adventure made him resolve to use more cau-
tion in future ; never a day passed but he anxiously
looked out for some sail over the vast expanse of ocean
that lay before him ; for, even in all his tranquillity and
peace of mind, the wish to leave the island never entire-
ly ceased to occupy his thoughts, and he would still
have hailed the arrival of an English ship with rapture*

On the 31st of January, 1709, behold ! two English
ships did heave in sight of Alexander Selkirk's domin-
ions who was as usual, anxiously watching the watery
waste. Slowly the vessels rose into view, and he could
scarcely believe the sight real ; for often had he been
deceived before. They gradually approached the island,
and he at len^fth ascertained them to be En owlish. Great
was the tumult of passion that rose in his mind ; but the
love of home overpowered them all. It was late in the
afternoon when they first came in sight, and lest they
should sail again without knowing that there was a per-
son on the island^ he prepared a quantity of wood to
burn as soon as it was dark. He kept his eyes fixed
upon them until night fall, and then kindled his fire,
and kept it up till morning dawned. His hopes and
fears having banished all desire for sleep, he employed

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himself in killing several goats, and in preparing an en-
tertainment for his expected guests, knowing how ac-
ceptable it would be to them after their long run, with
nothing but salt provision to live upon.

When the day at length opened, he still saw them,
but at a distance from the shore. His fire had caused
great wonder on board, for they knew the island to be
uninhabited, and supposed the light to have proceeded
from some French ships at anchor, with which nation,
England was then at war. In this conclusion they pre-
pared for action, as they must either fight or want wa-
ter and other refreshments, and stood to their quarters
all night ready to engage ; but, not perceiving any ves-
sel,, they next day, about noon, sent a boat on shore, with
€apt. Dover, Mr. Fry, and six men, all armed, to ascer-
tain the cause of the fire, and to see that all was safe.

Alexander saw the boat leave the Duke, and pull for
the beach. He ran down joyfully to meet his country-
men, and to hear once more the human voice. He
took in his hand a piece of linen tied upon a small pole
as a flag, which he waved as they drew near, to attract
their attention. At length he heard them call to him,
inquiring for a good place to land, which he pointed out,


and flying as swift as a deer towards it, arrived first,
where he stood ready to receive them as they stepped
on shore. He embraced them by turns; but his joy
was too great for utterance, while their astonishment at
his strange appearance, struck them dumb. He had at
this time his last shirt upon his back : his feet and legs
were bare, his thighs and body covered with the skins
of wild animals. His beard, which had not been sha*
ved for four years and four ncionths, was of a great
length, while a rough goat's-skin cap covered his head.
He appeared to them as wild as the first owners of the
skins which he wore. At length they began to con-
verse, and he invited them to his hut : but its access was
so very intricate, that only Captain Fry went with him
over the rocks which led to it. When Alexander had
entertained him in the best manner he could, they re-
turned to the boat, our hero bearing a quantity of his
roasted goat's-flesh, for the refreshment of the crew.
During their repast, he gave them an account of his
adventures and stay upon the island, at which they were
much surprised. Captains Dover and Fry invited him
to come on board ; but he declined their invitation,
until they had satisfied him that Dampier had no com-

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mand in this expedition ; after which he gave a reluctant

So great was his aversion to Dampier as a command-
er after the experience he had of him, that he would
rather have remained upon his island, its lonely posses-
sor, now that he was reconciled to his fate, than have
endured the hardships and trials he had before expe-
rienced under that navigator. This feeling must have
arisen, not from any quarrel or personal dislike to Dam-
pier, but from a knowledge of his former misconduct in
his adventures, arising from his want of constancy in
carrying through any object which he professed to have
in view.

When he came on board the Duke, Dampier gave
him an excellent character, telling Captain Rogers that
Selkirk had been the best man on board the Cinque
Ports. Upon this recommendation, he was immediately
engaged on board the Duke. In the afternoon, the ships
were cleared, the sails bent and taken on shore to be
mended, and to make tents for the sick men. Selkirk's
strength and vigor were of great service to them. He
caught two goats in the afternoon. They sent along with
him their swiftest runners and a bull-dog ; but these he



soon left far behind, and tired out. He himself, to the
astonishment of the whole crew, brought the two goats
upon his back to the tents.

The two captains remained at the island until the
12th of the month, busy refitting their ships, and getting
on board what stores they could obtain. During these
ten days, Alexander was their huntsman, and procured
them fresh meat. At length all being ready, they set
sail, when a new series of difficulties of another kind,

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Online LibraryJohn HowellThe life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts → online text (page 1 of 4)