Long John Silver Trust letter regarding proposed statue of Alexander Selkirk/Robinson Crusoe in Bristol (published in the Bristol Times, Tuesday 1st July)

Dear Eugene,

I hope you’re keeping well and not over working.

I was delighted to see in last night’s ‘Post a proposal, with funding of nearly £100k, for a Selkirk/Crusoe sculpture in Clifton marking Goldney’s friendship with Woodes Rogers.

As you know, we at the Long John Silver Trust have long campaigned for more representation of Bristol’s maritime and literary past, and this opportunity to celebrate our links with a landmark in British literature seems almost too good to be true.

If the residents of Victoria Square don’t want it though, could we please have it in Castle Park? There are already many fine works of public art there and an internationally renowned figural addition would be just the jolly job I suspect.

I know the Llandoger Trow has long claimed to be the meeting place of Selkirk and Daniel Defoe (the writer of Robinson Crusoe in 1719) but all of my research indicates another meeting place, in Castle Park!

The Scottish seaman Alexander Selkirk was the 7th son of a 7th son, but his early life was awkward and he ran away from home and joined the ill fated Darien expedition, where Scotland tried to set up its first colony strategically placed close to the isthmus of Panama – he was a lucky survivor.

He was not so lucky the next time, he set sail on Dampier and Stradling’s quest for a Spanish treasure ship and was left marooned on Juan Fernandez Island after quarreling with his shipmates over the seaworthiness of the ship he was on. He was subsequently proved right but was left to dwell on his decision for an agonising and lonely 4 years and 4 months.

He was rescued in 1709 by Woodes Rogers’ privateering cruise which was also on a quest for treasure during the Spanish War of Succession, Dampier was now Rogers’ pilot and commended Selkirk as a sailing master and he joined Rogers’ crew immediately, playing a full role in their adventures until ultimately sharing in the spoils.

On return to Britain, Selkirk escaped the press gang and made his way to Bristol with his pal Rogers, staying first in his house in Queen Square before securing lodgings in the Cock and Bottle Inn in what is now Castle Park. According to old Bristol history books, Selkirk enjoyed his celebrity; often dressing in his goatskins and parading before the public, these books also state that he met Defoe in the Star Coffee House which was located above Bristol Castle’s old dungeon keep.

It must have been quite a contrast as Defoe wore the fashions of the day, putting on his powdered wig and lace finery and only going out on a Sunday – the only day ‘Sunday Gentleman’ could escape their creditors!

Local people gave their ‘sworn affy davy’s’ (to paraphrase Long John Silver) that Selkirk handed over his papers to Defoe and that it was these that inspired him to write Robinson Crusoe.

As for Selkirk, after staying for over a year in Bristol he had to run away again after beating up a fellow sailor in a brawl in St Stephen’s Parish.

He went back to Fife, married, brawled, ran away again, married again without divorcing his first wife, and then ran away to sea again this time joining the Royal Navy. He died of disease aboard HMS Weymouth off of the Guinea coast tracking down the world’s most successful pirate ‘Black Bart Roberts’.

So there ‘tis, if Clifton residents really don’t want him, can we all enjoy him in Castle Park? And if you don’t think Selkirk deserves another statue – there’s already a fine one of him in Lower Largo in Fife – then can we please have one of Long John Silver?

ATB

Mark

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Above: Dr Thomas Dover (former slave ship surgeon and captain) went as second captain on Rogers’ voyage to represent the backer’s interests. This mural is in the Glenside Museum (Dover was the first to offer his services FOC to St Peter’s hospital in 1695, the lure of money in the African Trade overcame him though)

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Above: Daniel Defoe (Bristol and its famous associations 1900ish)

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Above: The Cock and Bottle Inn (1888)

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