Fame and Fate

The first account of his stay on Juan Fernandez appeared in crewmember Edward Cooke's A Voyage to the South Sea and Round the World (1712), which was followed later in the same year by Rogers' A Cruising Voyage Round the World (1712). 

Given his £800 share of the proceeds from his portion of Rogers' voyage, when prominent essayist Richard Steele wrote an article about him for The Englishman, Selkirk appeared set for a life of ease and celebrity, but fame does not seem to have suited him. 

After court proceedings for an assault on a shipwright in Bristol in September 1713 Selkirk returned to Fife where he lived as a recluse in a cave in his father's garden before eloping to London with a dairymaid named Sophia Bruce early in 1717. While there are suggestions that they may have married, though a will, drawn up on the eve of Selkirk's return to sea named 'his loveing and well beloved friend Sophia Bruce of Pellmell London Spinster', as his executrix and heir. 

Those arrangements were short-lived. Selkirk joined HMS Weymouth as master's mate in October 1721, married a widow named Frances Candis, in Plymouth two months later and drew up a new will, leaving everything to his new bride. 

From there the Weymouth departed for an anti-piracy patrol in West African waters. The ship's log records Selkirk's death on 13 December 1721 as yellow fever ravaged the crew. He was subsequently buried at sea.

A legal battle over Selkirk's estate saw Sophia Bruce fail to secure an injunction against her rival.

Selkirk is best remembered, however, as the model for Daniel Defoe's portrait of the castaway in The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), though the author relocated Crusoe's island to the Caribbean. Will, the Moskito Indian left behind when his ship made a hasty departure from Juan Fernandez in 1681 was, in many ways, closer too the mark.Most literary scholars now accept that his story was one of many survival narratives that Defoe drew on.


© Ian Hughes 2017