In 2015 strange headlines began to pop up in news sources across the world. According to them, Google Earth discovered a man who had been trapped on a desert island for 7 years. Google satellites finally rescued him after a user noticed an SOS sign he created on the island. The story turned out to be a hoax, but there are many real cases of people who found themselves stranded on far away islands as literal castaways. Many of which later escaped and became influential figures, or inspired best selling books. So today we look at ten of the most interesting real life castaways.

10: Philip Ashton

In 1722 a young man was kidnapped by pirates. He was born in Massachusetts, and had been fishing near the coast of Nova Scotia. But for some reason a group of pirates thought this poor fisherman was a treasure worth having. And he must have been a fun guy, because they kept him prisoner for 9 long months. But the pirates were led by the notorious captain Edward Low – once described by Arthur Conan Doyle as a man of “amazing and grotesque brutality”. So the young Philip Ashton was desperate to escape.

When the ship stopped off at a remote desert island, he jumped at the chance – literally jumping overboard and hiding in the dense jungle. The pirates did search for him, but eventually gave up and sailed away. Finally he was free – free in the sense that he was trapped alone on a remote island. For the next 16 months he would have to fend for himself, barely getting by on fruit and turtle eggs. Then finally he was rescued by a passing merchant ship. When Philip Ashton published his life story, people mistook it for fiction. They simply could not believe it was a true tale of survival.

9: Marguerite de La Rocque

In 1542 a French captain was leading 3 ships on a voyage to North America. Joining him was his sister Marguerite. But on reaching Canada, he marooned her on a small island all alone. It is said that he was in love with her, and on the voyage she grew close to another man. So in a typical act of being French, he left her to a certain death on the island. Known as the Isle of Demons, it was a cold and brutal place. But against all odds, Marguerite survived, hunting and killing all kinds of animals. She even claimed to have killed a bear. And 2 years later she was rescued. Modern historians don’t know where exactly the Isle of Demons is, or how much of the story is true. According to legend, the island was home to mythical creatures – like ghostly wolves.

8: Fernão Lopes

The island of Saint Helena is one of the most remote places on Earth. That’s why Napoleon was eventually imprisoned there. But 300 years before that, it’s first ever inhabitant arrived on the island. He was a Portugese soldier called Fernao Lopes, who during the Portugese invasion of India, defected. For a while he sided with the natives, but was soon captured. Lopes was brutally tortured, having his right hand, nose, and ears cut off. But that wasn’t the end of his pain.

Put on a ship, the aim was to bring him back to Portugal for imprisonment. Luckily, the ship stopped off at Saint Helena, and somehow he escaped. That’s how he became the island’s first resident. For 30 years he lived there in total solitude, dying on Saint Helena. At one point he was rescued and given a full pardon. But by his own choice, was sent back to the island. He was a weird guy.

7: Narcisse Pelletier

Narcisse Pelletier was an incredibly French sailor, who in 1858 was shipwrecked and marooned. Being badly injured and just 14, the rest of his crew abandoned him on a small Australian island. Then, on death’s door, he was rescued by a group of aboriginals. They adopted him into their community, even giving him a new name, and for 17 years he lived among them. Eventually he was rediscovered and taken back to France. But this was done against his will, and Pelletier no longer saw himself as French, proudly boasting the ritualistic scars across his body.

6: Poon Lim

Poon Lim was a very unlucky man – or very lucky depending on how you view it. In 1942 he was working on a British merchant ship near South America. But with the war at it’s height, a German submarine attacked the ship, sinking it. All but 6 died instantly. Among the survivors was Poon Lim, who alone drifted on a wooden raft. Onboard he had 45 liters of water, but was 460 kilometers from dry land. The water and supplies lasted just 50 days – but he survived at sea for 133 days. He did this by collecting rain water and fishing. When at last he was found by fishermen off the coast of Brazil, he had drifted 750 miles. He was barely alive, but in time recovered well. In fact, he was the sole survivor of his shipwreck.

5: Chunosuke Matsuyama

In 1935 a strange artifact was discovered. It was a message in a bottle, found on a Japanese shoreline. Written by a Japanese sailor in 1784, it tells of a shipwreck, the crew being stranded on a remote island. With little supplies, the castaways gradually died off. So they buried what they had of value, and wrote this message on tree bark. It’s unclear if they escaped or all died – but the message seems to have been adrift for 150 years. This makes it the oldest message in a bottle ever known to have been discovered.

4: Tongan castaways

In 1965 a group of six teenage boys decided to run away. From the small nation of Tonga, their catholic boarding school was too strict for them – so they stole a boat and sailed out into the ocean. This to me seems like a bad idea, but to be fair, I didn’t go to a Tongan boarding school. Anyway, they got caught in a storm and were shipwrecked on a tiny island called Ata. Nobody else lived on the island, and it was assumed the boys died in the storm.

So for more than a year they had to survive there alone, as castaways. The boys hunted for food, built wooden huts and created a raft. The raft broke up in the water and they had to swim back. But luckily, a passing ship spotted them in 1966. They had been on the island for 15 months. But that wasn’t the end of their story. Even today the Tongan castaways remain famous across continents.

3: Juana Maria

The tribe of Nicoleño once lived on a small island just off California. But with no immunity to European diseases, their population gradually declined. By the early 1800s, very few remained, and eventually, there was only one. For 18 years she lived alone on the island, a castaway in her ancestral home. During this time, traders visited the island, and on returning, claimed to see a woman there. But the island was considered abandoned. People believed it was just a local legend. But she was very real, hunting meat and taming wild dogs all on her own. When the rumors of her existence grew strong enough, a ship was sent to find her. Brought to mainland California, she died of disease soon after – which anyone could have predicted.

2: Leendert Hasenbosch

In 1726 British sailors stopped off at the island of Ascension, when they discovered a camp. This was unexpected, since nobody lived on the island. Inside the tent was found a diary written in Dutch. Once translated, it told the story of a Dutch sailor who was marooned as a punishment for being gay. Left there just a year before, he ran out of water and had to drink turtle blood. It is thought he soon died of thirst. If not for the diary, his story would have been forgotten – but news of it spread across Europe.

1: Alexander Selkirk

Alexander Selkirk is the most iconic of all castaways in history, having inspired all kinds of fictional characters. He was a Scottish pirate, who in 1704 made a terrible mistake. Complaining about the quality of their ship, he declared he would rather stay on an abandoned island than a leaky ship. So to teach Selkirk a lesson, the captain marooned him on a remote island. He was given a hatchet, a musket, a knife, a cooking pot, and a bible. But even with these he was expected to soon die. Yet he survived on the Mas a tierra for 4 years.

Teaching himself to hunt, he remained surprisingly well fed, until being rediscovered by another pirate captain called Woodes Rogers. Back in England, his story was highly publicized, bringing attention not only to him but other castaways also. His story even inspiring the character Robinson Crusoe. In fact, the island he was marooned on is now officially called Isla Robinson Crusoe. And it turns out he was right. The ship that abandoned him sank at sea, with surviving crew members ending up in prison.

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