‘An Exact Observer of all things in Earth, Sea and Air’

He wrote the first bestselling travel books which inspired Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, and gave us many new words from barbeque, chopsticks, cashew and avocado to sub-species.  He has more than 1,000 words in the OED. He circumnavigated the world three times and visited all 5 continents. He visited the Galapagos 150 years before Darwin and Australia 80 years before Cook. He described plants and animals never seen by a European. Nelson’s sailors studied his Discourse of Winds, Tides and Currents. He was quoted by Darwin, Nelson, Humboldt and Cook.  He documented the effects of marijuana, described how soy sauce was made and drank the Spanish version of a cappuccino. He rescued Alexander Selkirk.

His burial site is unknown and he is largely forgotten.

Who is this extraordinary man, this pioneering navigator, naturalist, explorer and travel writer – who was also in his time, a buccaneer? When a memorial brass was proposed in 1907, a local worthy objected, calling him ‘a pirate ruffian that ought to have been hung.’ A true man of his times, combining piratical derring-do with a passion for scientific discovery, meticulous observation and an unending hunger for new knowledge. And, Good Lord,

He did not see the white man at the apex of a triangle of humanity preordained to rule and exploit other peoples as of divine right. He  saw no reason why all races could not reach comparable levels of  attainment, and believed each could learn from the other  (456)

What a man. What an age.   What a book.


3 thoughts on “‘An Exact Observer of all things in Earth, Sea and Air’

    1. Absolutely amazing man, and it’s a mystery why he isn’t better known. Perhaps because he didn’t have the blessing of the Royal Navy. Or maybe they were just too busy fighting off the Spanish and trying to grab the silver they’d plundered to be bothered about other distant countries – until they needed a dumping ground for convicts.

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