VOYAGES IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Expedition of Wood Rogers—Adventures of Alexander Selkirk—Galapagos Island—Puerto Seguro—Return to England—Expedition of George Anson—Staten Island—Juan Fernandez—Tinian—Macao—Taking of the vessel—Canton river—Results of the Cruise.
The war of the Spanish succession was at its height, when some privateers of Bristol determined to fit out ships to attack the Spanish vessels, in the Pacific Ocean, and to devastate the coasts of South America. The two vessels chosen, the Duke and Duchess, under Captains Rogers and Courtenay, were carefully equipped, and stocked with everything necessary for so long a voyage, the famous Dampier, who had acquired a great reputation by his daring adventures and piracies, did not disdain to accept the title of chief pilot, and although this trip was richer in material results than in geographical discoveries, the account of it contains a few curious particulars worthy of preservation.
The Duke and Duchess set sail from the Royal Port of Bristol on the 2nd April, 1708. To begin with, we may note one interesting fact. Throughout the voyage a register was at the service of the crew, in which all the incidents of the voyage were to be noted, so that the slightest errors, and the most insignificant oversights could be rectified before the facts of the case faded from memory.
Nothing of note occurred on this voyage till the 22nd December, when the Falkland Islands, previously noticed by few navigators, were discovered. Rogers did not land on them, but contented himself with observing that the coast, although less precipitous, resembled that of Portland.
"All the hills," he added, "with their well-wooded and gradually sloping sides, appeared fertile, and the shore is not wanting in good harbours."
Now these islands do not possess a single tree, and the good harbours, as we shall presently see, are anything but numerous, so we can judge of the exactitude of the observations made by Rogers. Navigators have done well not to trust to them.
After passing this archipelago the two vessels steered due south, and penetrated as far as south lat. 60° 58'. Here, there was no night, the cold was intense, and the sea so rough that the Duchess sustained a few injuries. The chief officers of the two vessels assembled in council, agreed that it would be better not to attempt to go further south, and the course was changed for the west. On the 15th January, 1709, Cape Horn is said to have been doubled, and the southern ocean entered.
Up to this date the position of the island of Juan Fernandez, was differently given on nearly all maps, and Wood Rogers, who intended to harbour there, take in water, and get a little fresh meat, came upon it almost unawares.
On the 1st February, he embarked in a little boat to try and find an anchorage. Whilst his people were awaiting his return, a large fire was noticed on shore. Had some Spanish or French vessels cast anchor here? Would it be necessary to fight for the water and food required? Every preparation was made during the night, but in the morning no ship was in sight. Conjectures were already being hazarded as to whether the enemy had retired, when the end was put to all surmises by the return of the boat, bringing in it a man clad in goatskins, whose personal appearance was yet more savage than his garments.
It was a Scotch mariner, Alexander Selkirk by name, who in consequence of a quarrel with the captain of his ship, had been left on this desert island four years and a half before. The fire which had attracted notice had been lighted by him.
During his stay on the island of Juan Fernandez, Selkirk had seen many vessels pass, but only two, both Spanish, had cast anchor. Discovered by the sailors, Selkirk had been fired upon, and only escaped death by the agility with which he managed to climb into a tree and hide.
He told how he had been put ashore with his clothes, his bed, a pound of powder, some bullets, a little tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a Bible, with a few other devotional books, his nautical instruments and books.