Ever since the novelist has put pen to paper, they have looked towards the acts of unique and courageous individuals as inspirations for their literary endeavors. One such instance involves the English writer William Defoe and a sailor named Alexander Selkirk, who hailed from a small coastal village in Fife, Scotland. The two supposedly met up at the Llandoger Trow, where Selkirk was to relay his seafaring exploits, which would become Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe.
Selkirk was a member of the English vessel Cinque Ports, commandeered by William Dampier. The ship’s main directive was to purloin goods from opposing nations along the eastern coast of South America. After incurring heavy damages in a battle, a disagreement broke out between commander and subordinate. The result was that Selkirk was to be abandoned on a large island 400 miles from the coast of Chile.
The island was uninhabited, except for a herd of wild goats and a clowder of feral cats. He was marooned with a single musket (with powder and shot), a bible, a hatchet, and other tools. Selkirk managed to survive for the next four years and four months. He was able to sustain himself by utilizing the goats for food and clothing and the cats for warmth and pest control.
He was eventually rescued by the English sailing vessel Duke and taken back to Britain. Selkirk was able to turn his ordeal into a popular novel that allowed him to become celebrated and wealthy, but the same could not be said of Captain Dampier and his crew. Not long after deserting Selkirk, the Cinque Ports sank off the coast of Peru.
Nearly two hundred years later, on December 11, 1885, a statue of Selkirk was erected in his birthplace in Lower Largo. It was sculpted by the Scottish artist Thomas Stuart Burnett, and depicts the castaway clothed in goatskins gazing out at the Firth of Forth estuary. Burnett is also known for his work on the figurines of the Walter Scott Memorial, located along Princes Street, Edinburgh. Sadly, there is no homage to the cats that assisted in Selkirk’s survival.