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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Life on the real Robinson Crusoe Island

1 October 2012 

Life on the real Robinson Crusoe Island

By Gideon Long
BBC News, Santiago

Gideon Long visits Robinson Crusoe island and explores its connection
with Defoe's famous novel 

Daniel Defoe's famous novel was inspired by the true story of an 18th Century castaway, but the real Robinson Crusoe island bears little resemblance to its fictional counterpart.

Think of the island on which Robinson Crusoe is shipwrecked in Daniel Defoe's famous book and you're likely to think of a sun-drenched Caribbean idyll with sandy beaches and palm trees. In short, not a bad place to be shipwrecked.
But the island that supposedly inspired the book is nothing like that. It's in the Pacific, nearly 700km off the coast of Chile, and is frequently shrouded in mist.

Robinson Crusoe Island is the largest of the Juan Fernandez Islands, a tiny archipelago that is now Chilean territory. Its link to Daniel Defoe's book dates back to 1704 when a British buccaneer ship called at the island.

The ship was leaking badly and its crew was sick and exhausted. One of the sailors, a young Scotsman called Alexander Selkirk, said it was madness to continue their voyage and argued his case with the captain.

What happened next is unclear. Either Selkirk refused to rejoin the ship, or was forced off it by the captain. Either way, he remained on the tiny, uninhabited island as the ship sailed off into the distance.

Selkirk lived here alone for the next four years and four months, surviving on fish, berries and wild goats until another British ship passed by in 1709. By then, he must have been quite a sight. The captain of that ship described him as "a man Cloth'd in Goat-Skins, who look'd wilder than the first Owners of them". (...)

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