|63269. Sat Apr 01, 2006 10:42 am
Two of the most famous books in the English language were based on the life of William Dampier. What are they?
THE BIBLE AND SHAKESPEARE (-150)
(Well, one can dream...)
Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels.
Dampier was the man responsible for both abandoning and (four years later) rescuing Alexander Selkirk, the real-life model for Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" (1719).
Jonathan Swift was inspired to write Gulliver's Travels by Dampier's best-seller A New Voyage Round The World (1697). He refers in the Preface to 'cousin Dampier' and the 'Yahoos' are based on Dampierís description of Australian aborigines.
Orphaned at 16, William Dampier (1652-1715) was apprenticed to a ship-master and went to sea.
Sea captain, navigator, explorer, cartographer, scientific observer, pirate and buccaneer, he circumnavigated the world three times and came to have an unusual degree of influence on men much more famous than he is including: Darwin, Nelson, Alexander von Humboldt, Captain Cook, Captain Bligh and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Swift and Defoe.
Dampier dined with the diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys. Coleridge called him Ďa man of exquisite mindí. Charles Darwin called his books Ďa mine of informationí and affectionately referred to him as Ďold Dampierí in his diary, even though he had been dead for well over 100 years. Cook and Nelson studied his navigational innovations, Franklin admired his meteorological observations and almost every explorer in the 18th and 19th centuries carried with them a copy of Dampierís masterpiece.
Dampier was the first Englishman to set foot on Australian soil, the first man to make the connection between winds and currents and the first to make integrated wind-maps of the world.
In 1704, Dampier obtained a commission from the British government to lead a privateering expedition and set off to the Pacific to prey on Spanish and Portuguese shipping aboard the Cinque Ports, captained by Thomas Streadling. The sailing master (First Mate) of the ship was the 27 year old Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk and Streadling were both violent and argumentative men. Against Selkirkís advice, Streadling recklessly decided to round Cape Horn at the height of the storm season and were three times beaten back by ferocious seas. The crew, already sick with scurvy and frightened that the ship would break apart, became mutinous, but Streadling would not relent. On the 4th attempt, the ship successfully rounded the Horn and put in at the uninhabited Mas a Tierra, one of the Juan Fernandez islands, 400 miles off the west coast of Chile, sometimes used by pirates to refit their ships and collect fresh fruit and water. Today, it is known as Robinson Crusoe Island.
Certain that the ship was unseaworthy to continue, Selkirk demanded he be left alone on the island to await rescue. He packed up his bedding, a firelock rifle with powder and bullets; tobacco; a hatchet, knife and kettle; a Bible, some other books and his mathematical instruments and the ship set sail without him. As the longboat pulled away from the shore, he had second thoughts and tried to call it back but Streadling ignored him and sailed on. Selkirk was there alone for four years and four months. In 1709, the English privateer Duke captained by Woodes Rodgers, arrived at the island. The pilot of the ship was none other than William Dampier. On the way back, partly as a result of Selkirkís superb seamanship, the Duke captured a richly loaded Spanish merchantman of which Selkirk was made captain for the voyage home. The prize money made Selkirk a rich man, but he never readjusted to society. He returned to Scotland where he spent the next 15 years living in a cave. In 1720, a year after he was immortalised by Daniel Defoe, he returned to sea with the Royal Navy aged 45, only to die from drinking infected water off the coast of Africa.
Dampierís voyage on the Duke was his last buccaneering adventure. After abandoning Selkirk, the Cinque Ports sank off the coast of Peru with the loss of all hands except for Dampier and seven other men, who were promptly captured and thrown into a Peruvian jail. When they finally reached England, Dampierís crew charged him with cowardice, brutality and drunkenness and his captainís rank was taken away. He died a pauper in 1715 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
TS Eliot is buried in the same church where William Dampier was christened in 1651 Ė St.Michael's in East Coker, Somerset.
Dampier was born in the hamlet of North Coker in the parish of East Coker near Yeovil, Somerset. East Coker is famous as the title of one of the Four Quartets by TS Eliot. Eliotís forebear, Andrew Eliot, had left East Coker for the New World in the 17th century. TS Eliot moved back from America to England in 1914 and wrote the poem after visiting the village in 1937. His ashes are buried in the church where his ancestor was baptised in 1697. East Coker has other nautical and adventuring connections, in the 18th century locally grown flax was used to make sailcloth supposedly for Nelsonís ships and in the 20th century East Coker hemp provided rope that was used on the successful 1953 Everest expedition. Before the Norman Conquest, East Coker was owned by the mother of Harold II, who was killed at Hastings.
In St Michaelís there is a brass plaque commemorating Dampier and a stone plaque commemorating TS Eliot.
Q: WILLIAM DAMPIER
A: LEMUEL GULLIVER AND ROBINSON CRUSOE
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