Selkirk was a pirate and a buccaneer who sailed on the South Seas on looting expeditions for gold and treasure. In 1703 he joined an expedition whose object was to plunder French and Spanish ships in the seas of South America. The captain was William Dampier, a manic character with a vicious temper and the crew were 'Foreigners, Tinkers, Taylors, Haymakes, Pedlers, and Fidlers'. Conditions on the ship were appalling; scurvy, dysentery and typhus flourished and most of the crew died or went mad. Those who remained threatened mutiny but Dampier dumped the ringleader on the Verde Islands with his sea chest and a servant and the ship sailed on. Eventually they reached the island of Juan Fernandez 400 miles off the coast of Chile. After refitting the ship Selkirk realised that nothing would rid it of the worm and misery with which it was riddled and he opted to maroon himself rather than continue on a doomed voyage. Suddenly solitude and silence were imposed and his only relationship was to the island and to himself. At first he thought often of suicide and dared not sleep for fear of being devoured but he soon learnt to survive; he killed goats with cudgels and used their skins for coats and shoes, found a cave, extracted stain from a porcupine and used the quill to draw a map. He hollowed out a canoe and circumnavigated the island. Gradually he found that company was not essential and that he was the Governor of this island, afraid of nothing it contained, only of who might arrive to challenge his hegemony. In 1709 Selkirk spotted two ships from his cliff-top lookout. They saw his fire and the next morning had landed on Juan Fernandez to be greeted by an unrecognisable savage-looking man incoherent with emotion. Selkirk endured a painful few weeks as he watched his dominion being plundered, he then sailed back with them to civilisation
- Audio cassette
- 05 Apr 2001
- London, United Kingdom
About Diana Souhami
Diana Souhami is the author of many widely acclaimed books including Gertrude and Alice, described by John Richardson as 'a brilliant and witty chronicle of one of the happiest marriages in modern literary history'. She has also written plays for radio and television.