1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Selkirk, Alexander

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SELKIRK (or Selcraig), ALEXANDER (1676–1721), Scottish sailor, the prototype of “Robinson Crusoe,” seventh son of John Selcraig, shoemaker and tanner of Largo, Fifeshire, was born in 1676. In his youth he displayed an unruly disposition, and, having been summoned on the 27th of August 1695 before the kirk-session for his indecent behaviour in church, “ did not compear, being gone away to the seas.” In May 1703 he joined Dampier in a privateering expedition to the South Seas, going with the “Cinque Ports” galley as sailing master. In September 1704 the “Cinque Ports” put in at Juan Fernandez Island, west of Valparaiso; here Selkirk had a dispute with his captain, Thomas Stradling, and at his own request was put ashore with a few ordinary necessaries. Before the ship left he begged to be readmitted, but this was refused, and Selkirk remained alone in Juan Fernandez four years and four months, till on the 31st of January 1709 he was found, and on the 12th of February following taken off, by Captain Woodes Rogers, commander of the “Duke” privateer (with Dampier as pilot), who made him his mate and afterwards gave him command of one of his prizes, “The Increase” (March 29th). Selkirk returned to the Thames on the 14th of October 1711; he was back at Largo in 1712, in 1717 we find him again at sea, and in 1721 he died as master's mate of H.M.S. “Weymouth” (December 12th).

See Woodes Rogers, Cruising Voyage round the World (1712), and Edward Cooke, Voyage in the South Sea and round the World (1712), the earliest descriptions of Selkirk's adventures; also Providence Displayed, or a Surprising Account of one Alexander Selkirk . . . written by his own Hand (reprinted in Harl. Miscell. for 1810, v. 429); and Funnell's Voyage round the World (1707). Steele made Selkirk's acquaintance, and gave a sketch of the adventurer and his story in the Englishman for the 3rd of December 1713. In 1719, shortly after a second edition of Rogers' Voyage had appeared (1718), Defoe published Robinson Crusoe. While this is clearly indebted in its main outlines to Selkirk's story, most of its incidents are, of course, fairly independent of the latter; thus the decidedly tropical description of Crusoe's island and the whole narrative of the cannibals' visits, &c., agree rather with one of the West Indies than with Juan Fernandez.

The best modern biography is the Life and Adventures of Alexander Selkirk by John Howell (1829). In 1868 a tablet was put up on Juan Fernandez at a point on the hill road called “Selkirk's Look-out,” where in a gap in the trap rock a magnificent view may be had of the whole island, and of the sea north and south, over which the exile must have often watched for an approaching sail. It bears the following inscription:—“In memory of Alexander Selkirk, mariner, a native of Largo in the county of Fife, Scotland, who was on this island in complete. solitude for four years and four months. He was landed from the ‘Cinque Porte’ (sic) galley, 96 tons, 16 guns, 1704 A.D., and was taken off in the ‘Duke’ privateer, 12th February 1709. He died lieutenant of the ‘Weymouth’ 1723 A.D., aged forty-seven years. This tablet is erected near Selkirk's look-out by Commodore Powell and officers of H.M.S. ‘Topaze,’ 1868 A.D.