The most popular school of Crusoe believes that Defoe drew inspiration from 18th century travel literature that described the isolation of Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk.
In 1704, trouble arose when Selkirk began quarrelling with Captain Stradling, who was in control of the ship in Dampier’s fleet upon which he was serving. The ship had suffered severe damage from its numerous encounters with rival Spanish ships, and Selkirk believed it was in no shape to make the journey back to England safely.
When Stradling disagreed, Selkirk asked to be dropped off at the next island they came across. That island happened to be Màs a Tierra in the Juan Fernandez Islands, 640 km off the coast of Chile, now renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe by the Chilean government. Selkirk’s instincts were good, though unbeknownst to him; the ship did indeed meet its end in the South Pacific with few crewmembers surviving.
Selkirk was left ashore with some simple survival items (hatchet, knife, firelock and powder) and a few personal belongings (clothing, bedding, tobacco, a bible, and his mathematical books and instruments). The terrain of Màs a Tierra was mostly wooded and rocky, with a large volcano occupying a great portion of the island. Selkirk spent his early nights on the beach, until a herd of sea lions invaded the coast for mating season. He feared their sharp teeth and immense size, so he took shelter in a cave and watched them from afar. He was struck by the nature of the animals he encountered, so unfamiliar with humans that they did not fear them……..