The story of Robinson Crusoe was written by Daniel Defoe, who came to Kinsale in autumn 1690 as a junior figure in John Churchill’s expeditionary force to capture the harbours of Cork and Kinsale. He dropped out and remained here for about a year following the campaign. He met Alexander Selkirk later in Bristol.
The story is based on the experiences of Selkirk, a seaman from Fife in Scotland who sailed from Kinsale in September 1703 aboard a ship, CINQUEPORTS, which was paired with another, The GEORGE, in a Pioneering venture financed in part by a local merchant Edward Southwell.
Seamen like Selkirk aboard theses ships were never paid salary or benefit but rather worked “on percentage” of the prospective spoils, a system which worked well when the spoils were taken but the reverse when failures were encountered. The story of Robinson Crusoe can be explained by the fact the following about two years of hard life at sea Selkirk’s ship had come up with almost nothing. He quarrelled with the captain and abandoned the enterprise at a small island off the coast of Chile (Juan Hernandez) where they had pulled in to get water. Except for animal like, the island was deserted. As it turned out Selkirk’s abandonment was fortuitous since it was shipwrecked soon after with great loss of life and Spanish jail terms for the few that washed up ashore soon after.
The character Man Friday is based on the real experiences of another individual who was also abandoned on Juan Hernandez, but 10 years before Selkirk and in completely different circumstances. He was a South American Indian who was named `Willie ` by his ship mates. He was, apparently, a skilful hunter and so when his ship came to the island to replenish its water supplies, the shipmates told Willie not to bother with the water but to go up in to the hills and hunt for some game instead. All was going fine until a look out spotted Spanish sails on the horizon. They had to flee the island and there was no time for Willie to get back to the ship. He probably saw the ship leaving the island without him on it. Willie was rescued off the island a few years later by another ship calling there for water.
So, the two principal characters in Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe were both real people and were both indeed abandoned on the island but not at the same time. Willie was off the island about 6 years before Selkirk arrived.
Defoe met up with Selkirk at Bristol and learned the story there. He knew about the gap between the two men’s time on the island but shuffled the dates to make a better story. Willie was named Man Friday in the novel as it was the day on which Crusoe found him.