Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721)


Scots mariner and castaway Alexander Selkirk (a.k.a. Alexander Selcraig, 1676–1721), the probable inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Life & Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, was born in Fife, the seventh son of a shoemaker and tanner. 

Reputedly "an unruly youth" with a "quarrelsome disposition" he ran away to sea against his father's wishes in 1693 after being charged with "indecent conduct in church". Selkirk did not reappear in Fife until 1701. After his return from sea, he fell foul of the parish authorities again after he assaulted his brother Andrew and had to be restrained from taking a pistol to him. 

Details of his early years at sea are vague, but in May 1703 he was appointed the sailing master of Charles Pickering's privateer galley Cinque Ports, which suggests he was, by that stage, a highly regarded and skilled seaman. 

The Cinque Ports accompanied William Dampier's St George when it left Kinsale on 11 September bound for the South Sea. Pickering died ff the coast of Brazil and was succeeded as captain by Thomas Stradling. 

After the Cinque Ports arrived at Juan Fernandez for rest and refreshment in February 1704, following a stormy passage around Cape Horn, forty-two of the crew refused to go further under Stradling and Selkirk may have been one of them. 

When Dampier arrived three days later in the St George, he managed to negotiate a reconciliation, but the expedition was plagued by indecision and missed opportunities.  

To Juan Fernandez

© Ian Hughes 2017