Artefacts belonging to ‘real-life Robinson Crusoe’ form part of new Fife exhibition

Artefacts belonging to Fife-born seaman Alexander Selkirk – widely recognised as the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe – are to go on display in Dunfermline.

Friday, 25th December 2020, 4:55 pm

A knife handle and a powder horn will feature in the exhibition.

The artefacts, part of the collection managed by OnFife (Fife Cultural Trust), were in the hands of Selkirk’s family before being given to the museum collections in 1970.

Alexander Selkirk was born in Lower Largo in 1676 and spent most of his life at sea as a privateer – a sailor authorised to raid enemy ships in times of war.

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A powder horn, believed to have belonged to Fife-born seaman Alexander Selkirk, which is to go on display in Dunfermline.

Following a spat with his captain in 1704, Selkirk asked to be put ashore on Juan Fernandez Island, since renamed Robinson Crusoe Island, 420 miles west of Chile, where he lived for four years.

Among his possessions were a pistol, gunpowder, a knife, a hatchet, navigation instruments, a bible, a flask of rum and enough food for a few days.

The powder pouch, less than one foot long, came home with Selkirk; the knife’s blade, having snapped from its handle, is lost to this day on the island.

Selkirk was eventually rescued by another privateer in 1709.

He joined the crew and returned to Britain a wealthy man, thanks to his share of the ship’s loot. His memoirs are widely thought to have inspired Defoe.

The chairman of Fife Cultural Trust, Dr David Caldwell, who led an archaeological dig on Robinson Crusoe Island in 2005, says the objects can transport the viewer to a far-off place.

He said: “Many of us, sitting in an office or, these days, at home, have looked out the window and thought ‘I wish I wasn’t here, but on a Pacific island, leading a different life’.

“This idea of being stranded on a desert island, free from every day constraints, is something that is quite deep in our psyche and we owe it all to Selkirk and Defoe.”

The objects are part of an exhibition called Explore! Travellers & Trailblazers, which will open at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries once Covid restrictions are lifted.

Artefacts from six continents will feature in the family-friendly show.

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