Poole: Where Robinson Crusoe was Discovered

Poole where Robinson Crusoe was Discovered


S.C. Roy


Editor-in-Chief, Science and Culture

Indian Science News Association, Kolkata 700009, India


We visited Brownsea Island, a beautiful island that lies at the mouth of Poole Harbour, in the county of Dorset in England. Poole Harbour, by the way, is the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney, Australia. But I DID NOT KNOW that here at Poole Robinson Crusoe was discovered. As the story goes, in August of 1708, Woodes Roger, persuaded by William Dampier, a navigator and a friend of Roger’s father, set sail with two little ships, the Duke and the Duchess, to explore treasure and adventures in the South Sea. Commanding the two frigates, the Duke and the Duchess, and captaining the first, Rogers spent three years circumnavigating the globe. Dampier was aboard as Roger’s sailing master. Roger was aware of a disease ‘scurvy’ (name scurvy was not known at that time) which can be prevented consuming limes and stocked his ship with enough limes to prevent the disease

Thus the disease scurvy could be cured with use of limes were known about 40 years before the discovery of James Lind who is credited for his discovery in 1747 that citrus fruits cured scurvy from the epidemiological studies conducted on twelve sailors on board the Salisbury. As described in the book “Foundations of Epidemiology" by A.M. Lilienfeld and D. E. Lilienfeld, Lind took 12 patients having scurvy with their conditions as similar as possible and prescribed the following: "They had one diet common to all. Two of these were ordered each a quart of cyder a day, two others took 25 gutts of elixir vitriol (sulfuric acid) for gargling ... two of the worst patients were put under a course of sea water. .. Two others took two spoonfuls of vinegar thrice a day. Two others were given each two oranges a day and one lemon every day. The two remaining patients took of an electuary made of garlic, mustard seed, red raphon, balsam of Peru, and gum myrrh. The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible food effects were perceived from the use of the oranges and lemons; one of those who had taken them being at the end of six days fit for duty. The other was the best recovered of any in his condition; and being now deemed pretty well, was appointed nurse to the rest of the sick". However, this is the first scientific study to prove that citrus food cures scurvy (Vitamin C was unknown then).

Back to our original story of voyage of Rogers: After reaching the Pacific Ocean, provision of limes was exhausted and seven persons died out of vitamin deficiency. Dampier somehow managed to guide the ships to a little-known island, called Juan Fernandez, to replenish supplies of fresh produce. In February 1709, as they neared the island, they were amazed to spot a fire at a distance. Roger sent a boat next morning and discovered that the fire came from a Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk who was stranded in an isolated island there for more than four years surviving on what nature could provide, and praying to God for rescue.

Incidentally, Alexander Selkirk was born in Scotland in 1676 and fled at an early age for sea hopping to try his fortune through piracy against Spanish vessels off the cost of South America. He was cast away in September 1704 in an uninhabited island Mas a Tierra (now known as Robinson Crusoe island) in the South Sea 400 miles off the west coast of Chile. Recent archaeological studies confirm the evidence of the campsite of an early European occupant in the coast as described.

Rogers found Selkirk, as noted in his journal, to be ‘wild-looking’ and wearing ‘goatskins’, who had with him some clothes and bedding, a firelock, some powder, bullets, tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a Bible and books. Roger who had grown up in Poole shared this adventurous story of Selkirk with his friends in which Daniel Defoe was one of them. This story apparently inspired Daniel Defoe, to write the classic novel Robinson Crusoe. It is not known whether Defoe actually met Alexander Selkirk but from the similarity of appearance of Selkirk as described by Rogers with Defoe’s imagined character in the novel, it is believed that the character Robinson Crusoe was built in the backdrop of Alexander Selkirk’s adventure.



Alexander_Selkirk_Statue.jpg (1215×1465)robinson_crusoe_book_a_p

Stark similarity between the statue of Alexander

Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe as portrayed by

Daniel Defoe in his novel is seen in the cover of the

book Robinson Crusoe.



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