5 Historic Island Castaways Who Survived To Tell Their Tales
Last week the BBC announced that a helicopter spotted two boats of castaways in the Marshall Islands. One was a boat of three fishermen. The other was a 14-year-old boy.
The fishermen spent a month adrift after their engine failed. The boy was only missing 11 days.
The strange detail of these rescues was that neither boat knew of the other. Rescuers found them about five miles apart.
Stacked against these five stories of real castaways, the three men and the boy’s story read like a Sunday boating adventure.
Starting with the oldest story first, each story is incredible in its own right, but the last one will blow your mind.
Marguerite de La Rocque – 1542
As problematic as this story is, frayed by the winds of time, it’s still fascinating.
For starters, when La Rocque left France for the New World, history is unclear if she left with her uncle, brother or cousin. We know she left with a male family member named Jean-Francois de La Roberval, a nobleman of France. We also know that La Rocque was too young to marry, so she was in Roberval’s custody.
Roberval did not prefer the romance she developed with a young man on the boat, so he stranded her on an island recorded as the Isle of Demons.
She and her lover survived on the island long enough for her to give birth. Then she lived long enough to watch the baby die of malnutrition. The young man suffered the same fate.
When Basque fishermen discovered her, she claimed to have survived by hunting wild animals on the island.
She returned to France to tell her tale, which was retold by the Queen of Navarre in a book call Heptamerón.
Alexander Selkirk – 1704
October 1704: Alexander Selkirk served as sailing master aboard the St. George.
In the South Pacific, the St. George stopped for provisions in Juan Fernandez Islands, where Selkirk diagnosed the boat as unseaworthy.
He disembarked the boat, pleading with his shipmates to stay with him on the islands. They left him there, where he expected another ship to pass in no time. He was super wrong.
Four and a half years later, after living off feral goats and wild turnips, he boarded another ship.
Back home, Selkirk’s story inspired the story of Robinson Crusoe.
Philip Ashton – 1722
Fifteen years later, in the Caribbean, Phillip Ashton escaped the capture of pirates on the island of modern day Roatan.
Today the island off the coast of Honduras is a tourist destination. Back then, it was unsettled but for two men, Ashton and the other castaway he discovered there.
Until Ashton met that man he had nothing with which to hunt. For three glorious days, the men reveled in the company of another human being.
Then the man went missing. He’d left to find food but didn’t return. He’d left behind gunpowder, knives and tobacco, a party for Ashton, who used the supplies to catch turtles.
Three years later, finally back in the United States after a rescue, few believed Ashton’s story of survival.
Otokichi – 1832
October 11th, 1832: The rice transport vessel, the Hojunmaru, left modern-day Mihama, Japan with Otokichi aboard. He was 14 at the time, a crew member.
A storm blew the ship off course, far into the Pacific. For 14 months they drifted without a rudder.
Were it not for the scurvy that affected most of the crew, they had plenty of rice and water on which to survive. Only three of them, Otokichi included, survived long enough to make landfall.
They landed in modern day Cape Alca, in Washington. There, the Makah Indians cared for them until the Hudson Bay Company was able to pick them up.
The captain of that vessel, John McLoughlin, seeing an opportunity to create a trade route with Japan first took his new friends to London to pitch his idea to the Crown. The Brits weren’t into it.
Instead, they shipped the three to Macau, where they met a German missionary. That man, Karl Gutzlaff, learned enough Japanese from them to translate a copy of the bible into Japanese.
It took years before Otokichi was able to return to Japan, and then only in secret, claiming to be from China. Japan would have imprisoned him as a deserter.
Later in life, Otokichi facilitated trade between British traders and the Japanese. He retired n Singapore with the money from his deals.
Narcisse Pelletier – 1858
August 1857: Narcisse Pelletier left Marseilles, France on the Saint Paul headed for Bombay, and then Hong Kong.
En route, the ship’s rations started to run low so the Captain rerouted through the treacherous water. They ran into a reef, near Heron Island, off Papua New Guinea.
There was a larger island near Heron, where the captain sent a crew (including Pelletier) to find provisions. Islanders attacked them, taking some of the crew captive. Pelletier escaped with one other man.
The islanders pursued them, but the crew of the Saint Paul fought them off with firearms. The Captain left with about a dozen men, including Pelletier, on a longboat.
How Pelletier wound up on the Cape York Peninsula in Australia is unclear, but three aboriginal women found him. Their group adopted Pelletier, renaming him “Amglo.”
In 1875, a crew from the John Bell found Pelletier in a group of Aborigines. They traded goods in exchange for Pelletier’s life, an account Pelletier would later describe as a kidnapping since he didn’t want to leave his Aboriginal family.
Pelletier spoke no English, the language spoke by the crew and remembered little of the French he once spoke.
After a stop in Sydney and many questions along the way, he eventually made it home to Paris where he returned to a European lifestyle.