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Alexander Selkirk


Alexander Selkirk (Robinson Crusoe) statue, East Neuk. Lower Largo, Fife Coast

Alexander Selkirk was born in Largo, Scotland, the son of a tanner and leather worker. In 1695 he ran away to sea and by 1703 was the Master of the Galley. Later he joined William Dampier on a privateering expedition in the Pacific. In September 1704, after a quarrel with the Captain Selkirk requested that he be put ashore on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, four hundred miles west of Valparaiso, Chile.

The island was overrun by rats, which would gnaw at Selkirk’s hands and feet while he slept. Fortunately, the island had colonies of wild cats. Some of these he domesticated and at night his loving cats would surround his bedside protecting him from the rats. Selkirk is also recorded as having taught one of the cats to dance on its hind legs to the tune on his bone flute.

Selkirk remained on the island until Captain Woodes Rogers discovered him in 1709. He did not return to England until 1711 where he met the essayist, Richard Steele who wrote his story in a publication, "The Englishman;" later to become the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk did finally return home to Scotland where he lived the life of a recluse with his beloved cats for company, but later went to sea again. He died at sea in 1721 at the age of forty-five.

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