Alexander Selkirk

Alexander Selkirk bigraphy, stories - Scottish sailor and castaway

Alexander Selkirk : biography

1676 – 13 December 1721

Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 13 December 1721), also known as Alexander Selcraig, was a Scottish sailor who spent four years as a castaway after being marooned on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean.

An unruly youth, Selkirk joined buccaneering expeditions to the South Seas, including one commanded by William Dampier, which called in for provisions at the Juan Fernández Islands off Chile. Selkirk judged correctly that his craft, the Cinque Ports, was unseaworthy, and asked to be left there.

By the time he was rescued, he had become adept at hunting and making use of the resources found on the island. His story aroused great interest at home, and Daniel Defoe’s fictional Robinson Crusoe was based in part on him.


Selkirk has been memorialised in his Scottish birthplace. On 11 December 1885, after a speech by Lord Aberdeen, his wife, Lady Aberdeen, unveiled a bronze statue and plaque in memory of him outside a house on the site of his original home on the Main Street of Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland. David Gillies of Cardy House, Lower Largo, a descendant of the Selkirks, donated the statue created by Thomas Stuart Burnett ARSA., Scots Independent (2006).

The Scotsman is also remembered in his former island home. In 1863 the crew of placed a bronze tablet at a spot called Selkirk’s Lookout on a hill of Más a Tierra, Juan Fernández Islands, to mark his stay. On 1 January 1966 Chilean president Eduardo Frei Montalva renamed Más a Tierra Robinson Crusoe Island, after Defoe’s fictional character, in order to attract tourists. At the same time, the smaller of the two main Juan Fernández Islands known as Más Afuera became Alejandro Selkirk Island, although Selkirk probably never saw that island as it is located to the west.

In other literary works

  • William Cowper’s "The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk" is about the feelings of Selkirk as he lived all alone on the island. This poem gave rise to the common phrase monarch of all I survey via the verse:

I am monarch of all I survey, My right there is none to dispute; From the centre all round to the sea, I am lord of the fowl and the brute.

  • Charles Dickens used Selkirk as a simile in Chapter Two of The Pickwick Papers: "Colonel Builder and Sir Thomas Clubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks—’Monarchs of all they surveyed. This is a reference to William Cowper’s poem.
  • In his poem "Inniskeen Road: July Evening", the poet Patrick Kavanagh likens his loneliness on the road to that of Selkirk:

Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight Of being king and government and nation. A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

  • In "Etiquette", one of W. S. Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, Selkirk is used as a model for the English castaways:

These passengers, by reason of their clinging to a mast, Upon a desert island were eventually cast. They hunted for their meals, as Alexander Selkirk used, But they couldn’t chat together—they had not been introduced.

  • Selkirk is mentioned in Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. During his visit to the Juan Fernández Islands, Slocum runs across a marker commemorating Selkirk’s stay.
  • In Allan Cole and Chris Bunch’s Sten science fiction series, Book Two, The Wolf Worlds, the Scottish character Alex bemoans their predicament after crash landing: A slackit way f’r a mon,’ Alex mourned to himself. ‘Ah dinnae ken Ah’d ever be Alex Selkirk.


Archaeological findings

An archaeological expedition to the Juan Fernández Islands in February 2005 found part of a nautical instrument that could have belonged to Selkirk. The object was "a fragment of copper alloy identified as being from a pair of navigational dividers" dating from the early 18th (or late 17th) century. He is the only person known to have been on the island at that time who is likely to have had dividers, and was said by Woodes Rogers to have such instruments in his possession. The artefact was discovered while excavating a site not far from Selkirk’s Lookout where the famous castaway is believed to have lived.