Juan Fernandez took its name from the man who discovered it in 1563, together with the sister islands of Santa Clara and Mas-a-fuera. He was a Spanish pilot. In consideration of his enterprise, the Government leased Juan Fernandez to him. He soon tired of his bargain. Subsequently, Captain Stradling of the Cinque Ports galley, had a disagreement with his crew when in these waters, and as a result, forty-five men deserted and took up their abode on the island. In February, 1700, Dampier called there. All but five of the adventurers joined his ship. In October, 1704, the Cinque Ports returned to ascertain the fate of the men who remained on the island. Only two survived, the other three had been captured by the French between whiles.
On the occasion of his second visit, Captain Stradling again experienced trouble with his crew. In this latter instance, however, it was confined to one man only, Alexander Selkirk, upon whose experiences, real and imaginary, Defoe based his engrossing narrative of “Robinson Crusoe.”
Selkirk said that, rather than serve longer under Captain Stradling, he would prefer to live on the island. Stradling took him at his word, and put him ashore with a small quantity of stores and provisions. Before the ship weighed anchor, Selkirk repented his hasty decision, and begged hard to be taken off again. His prayers fell on deaf ears. He was left to work out his salvation in solitude. To this little incident boys owe the most fascinating book ever written for their benefit. But for it, Selkirk’s name might never have been inscribed on the Roll of Fame. For more than four years he had to be content to make the island his abode. He was finally taken off by the Duke privateer under Captain Wood Rogers, February 12th, 1709.
In 1868, the officers of H.M.S. Topaz affixed a copper tablet to a huge rock on top of a hill to the right of the Yungue, whence a beautiful view of the sea can be obtained, north and south. This spot is known as Alexander Selkirk’s Look-out.
The following is the inscription: “In memory of Alexander Selkirk, a mariner, native of Largo in the County of Fife, Scotland, who was on this island in complete solitude 4 years and 4 months. He was landed from the Cinque Ports galley of 96 tons and 10 guns, A.D. 1704, and was taken off by the Duke privateer 12 February, 1709. He died Lieut. of the Weymouth 1723, aged 47 years. This tablet was erected on Selkirk’s Look-out by Commander Powell and Officers of H.M.S. Topaz A.D. 1868.”
In 1668 the buccaneer Sharp anchored in Cumberland Bay, and found seals on shore in large numbers, together with many sea lions. Wild pigs were also so abundant that, besides what they killed for their immediate sustenance, they salted down 100 carcasses.
In 1687, five men of a pirate vessel, commanded by Captain Edward Davis, voluntarily took up their abode on the island. They remained there until 1690, when they were taken off by Captain Story of the Welfare.
Buccaneers frequently made Juan Fernandez their rendezvous, and, there seems little doubt, deposited some of their ill-gotten gains there. An old Chilian supplied me with particulars of an incident that supports this view. In 1716, so he said, his grandfather had told him, a barque unloaded several boatloads of treasure there, the operation being superintended by a Spaniard, who was reputed to be a grandee. He and a black remained behind to see to its safe disposal. Six months later, the barque brought another cargo of booty. No sailor was permitted to leave the ship, except those who manned the boat or carried the treasure ashore. After the plunder had been shared out, the leader of the buccaneers had it hidden snugly away. At the entrance of the cache, he buried an axe, a cutlass, and a crowbar. Near by is the grave of his slave companion, who died from the effects of a blow sustained during a quarrel with his brother pirates. An ancestor of my Chilian friend helped bury this man.
Anson, who anchored in Cumberland Bay to refit his shattered squadron in 1741, found large quantities of vegetables growing in wild luxuriance, including cabbage, celery, watercress, radishes, etc. Before leaving, he added to the resources of the island by planting peach stones and cherry stones all over a wide area. He thought Juan Fernandez a most charming spot. Probably through his representations when he reached home, some idea of forming an English settlement was entertained. Spain got to hear about it; and in 1750 took formal possession of the island. Later on, when Chile threw off the Spanish yoke, it passed into her charge.
For much of the foregoing information, I am indebted to my good friend De Rodht.