By Kirsty Topping
IT HAS long been believed that the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was a Scottish sailor.
But a new book is claiming that the model for the famous castaway was in fact an Englishman.
Writer Katherine Frank claims that Defoe’s inspiration came not from Alexander Selkirk, a sailor from Lower Largo in Fife who spent four years marooned on a Pacific Island, but Robert Knox, and English adventurer who was held captive in Sri Lanka for 19 years in the 17th century.
In Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the creation of a myth, she argues that Defoe even plagerised parts of a memoir written by Knox for another of his books, Captain Singleton, and says that Knox’s memoirs contain more similarities between him and Crusoe than have ever been found between the fictional character and Selkirk.
“Know was a slave trader. Defoe made Crusoe a slaver – and Selkirk certainly wasn’t.
“And when he’s held captive, Knox finds a bible and finds solace in the bible, just as Crusoe does. Selkirk didn’t have a bible and actually came close to suicide.
“And when he has malaria Knox is grateful for being tended to by
“a black boy’ as he says. This isn’t Man Friday but the other black boy in the first part of the book – the part that’s usually overlooked. Selkirk was absolutely alone on the island. “
Defoe was known to have a copy of Knox’s book and according to Frank was
“a congenital plagiarist and sharp practitioner in all his dealings.”
A spokesman for VisitScotland said the claims would not affect the history of Lower Largo.
“There is no doubt that the tale of Robinson Crusoe bears a remarkable similarity to the real life adventuresof Alexander Selkirk,’ he said.
“However, regardless of how much of his story actually influenced Daniel Defoe when writing his most famous book, Selkiek was a fascinating character and a legend in his own right.
“Visitors to Lower Largo will continue to be inspired by his story and he is worthy of his place in Scottish history. “
Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and author of another book on Defoe, The English Spy, was cautious about the claims.
“Defoe soaked up a lot of information on Scotland as a spy, propagandist, travel writer and general hack.
“Also he genuinely did travel beyond Edinburgh, seeing things for himself and he would have known about Knox and Selkirk. But whatever the source, it’s what Defoe made of it that matters. “
Selkirk is long held to be the
“real Robinson Crusoe.” The Fifer sailed with William Dampier but following a dispute over the seaworthiness of the vessel, he asked to be put ashore.
He spent the next four years on an uninhabited island in the Juan Fernandez archipelago, off the coast of Chile.
Monuments to him can be found in his home town in Fife, where a statue shows him as Crusoe, and on the island itself, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. A nearby island was named Alejandro Selkirk Island in his honour.
Knox was born in London and took refuge in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, after the mast of the ship he and his father were traveling on was lost.
His father offended the King of Ceylon and the entire crew was held captive for nearly 20 years. Knox escaped and later wrote a book about his experience.
Defoe was also born in London. During his life he wrote more than 500 books, pamphlets and journals on topics ranging from crime to the supernatural.
He wrote Robinson Crusoe while in his 60s and died at the age of 71 in 1731.