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ROBINSON CRUSOE'S ISLAND
This description of Juan Fernandez is taken from Two Years Before the Mast, a delightful and true sea-story. The author began to love the ocean when he was a small boy. As his eyes were too weak to let him go on with his studies at Harvard College, he decided to give them a rest and he went to sea as a common sailor. For two years he cruised about in the Pacific Ocean. One of the most interesting places he visited was Juan Fernandez.
Many years before Dana made this visit, a Scottish sailor who had quarreled with his captain was put ashore at Juan Fernandez. His name was Alexander Selkirk. He lived alone on the island for more than four years before he was rescued by a passing ship. Accounts of his adventures were read by Daniel Defoe and gave him the idea of writing a story about a sailor cast ashore on a desert island. The result was Robinson Crusoe.
Tuesday, November 25th, at daylight we saw the island of Juan Fernandez directly ahead, rising like a deep blue cloud out of the sea. We were then probably nearly seventy miles from it; and so high and so blue did it appear that I mistook it for a cloud, resting over the island under it, until it gradually turned to a deader and greener color, and I could mark the inequalities upon its surface. At length we could distinguish trees and rocks; and by the afternoon this beautiful island lay fairly before us, and we directed 10 our course to the only harbor. Arriving at the en
trance soon after sundown, we found a Chilian manof-war brig, the only vessel coming out. She hailed us, and an officer on board, whom we supposed to be an American, advised us to run in before night, and 5 said that they were bound to Valparaiso. We ran immediately for the anchorage, but, owing to the winds which drew about the mountains and came to us in flaws from every point of the compass, we did not come
to an anchor until nearly midnight. We had a boat 10 ahead all the time that we were working in, and those
aboard were continually bracing the yards about for every puff that struck us, until about twelve o'clock, when we came to in forty fathoms water, and our an
chor struck bottom for the first time since we left 15 Boston - one hundred and three days. We were
then divided into three watches, and thus stood out the remainder of the night.
I was called on deck to stand my watch at about three in the morning, and I shall never forget the 20 peculiar sensation which I experienced on finding
myself once more surrounded by land, feeling the night breeze coming from off shore, and hearing the frogs and crickets. The mountains seemed almost
to hang over us, and apparently from the very heart 25 of them there came out, at regular intervals, a loud
echoing sound, which affected me as hardly human. We saw no lights, and could hardly account for the sound, until the mate, who had been there before, told us that it was the "Alerta” of the Spanish soldiers who were stationed over some convicts confined in caves nearly halfway up the mountain. At the expiration of my watch I went below, feeling not a 5 little anxious for the day, that I might see more nearly, and perhaps tread upon this romantic, I may almost say, classic island.
When all hands were called, it was nearly sunrise, and between that time and breakfast, although quite 10 busy on board in getting up water casks, etc., I had a good view of the objects about me. The harbor was nearly land locked, and at the head of it was a landing place, protected by a small breakwater of stones, upon which two large boats were hauled up, with a 15 sentry standing over them. Near this was a variety of huts or cottages nearly an hundred in number, the best of them built of mud and whitewashed, but the greater part only Robinson Crusoe like — of posts and branches of trees. The governor's house, as it is 20 called, was the most conspicuous, being large, with grated windows, plastered walls, and roof of red tiles; yet, like all the rest, only of one story. Near it was a small chapel, distinguished by a cross: and a long, low, brown-looking building, surrounded by something 25 like a palisade, from which an old and dingy-looking Chilian flag was flying. This, of course, was dignified
by the title of Presidio. A sentinel was stationed at the chapel, another at the governor's house, and a few soldiers armed with bayonets, looking rather ragged, with shoes out at the toes, were strolling about among 5 the houses, or waiting at the landing place for our boat to come ashore.
The mountains were high, but not so overhanging as they appeared to be by starlight. They seemed to
bear off towards the center of the island, and were 10 green and well wooded, with some large, and, I am
told, exceedingly fertile valleys, with mule tracks leading to different parts of the island.
I cannot here forget how my friend S and myself got the laugh of the crew upon us by our eagerness to 15 get on shore. The captain having ordered the quarter
boat to be lowered, we both sprang down into the forecastle, filled our jacket pockets with tobacco to barter with the people ashore, and when the officer
called for "four hands in the boat,” nearly broke 20 our necks in haste to be first over the side, and had
the pleasure of pulling ahead of the brig with a towline for a half an hour, and coming on board again to be laughed at by the crew, who had seen our maneuver.
After breakfast the second mate was ordered ashore 25 with five hands to fill the water casks, and to my joy
I was among the number. We pulled ashore with the empty casks; and here again fortune favored me, for the water was too thick and muddy to put into the casks, and the governor had sent men up to the head of the stream to clear it out for us, which gave us nearly two hours of leisure. This leisure we employed in wandering about among the houses, and 5 eating a little fruit which was offered to us. Ground apples, melons, grapes, strawberries of an enormous size, and cherries abound here. The latter are said to have been planted by Lord Anson. The soldiers were miserably clad, and asked with some interest 10 whether we had shoes to sell on board. I doubt
very much if they had the means of buying them. They were very eager to get tobacco, for which they gave shells, fruits, etc. Knives also were in demand, but we were forbidden by the governor to let any one have 15 them, as he told us that all the people there, except the soldiers and a few officers, were convicts sent from Valparaiso, and that it was necessary to keep all weapons from their hands.
The island, it seems, belongs to Chili, and had been 20 used by the government as a sort of Botany Bay, for nearly two years; and the governor - an Englishman who had entered the Chilian navy — with a priest, half a dozen taskmasters, and a body of soldiers, were stationed there to keep them in order. This 25 was no easy task; and only a few months before our arrival, a few of them had stolen a boat at night,