Home > South America > Chile > Pacific Islands > The Juan Fernández Archipelago > Archipelago Juan Fernández Overview > History
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Spanish navigator Juan Fernandez discovered the archipelago in what is guessed to be approximately 1574 en route to Valparaíso. Over the years, the islands were then used as a stop-off point and hideout for various explorers, pirates, and seal hunters, seeking refuge or the valuable pelts of the local fur seals. However, the islands didn't have any permanent residents until the Spanish settlement of San Juan Bautista was developed in 1750 on the island then known as Masatierra.

Perhaps the longest and definitely the most famous inhabitant on the island before that was Scotsman Alexander Selkirk, who after quarreling with the captain of his ship, the Cinque Ports, insisted on being put ashore here in 1704. Selkirk managed to survive on the deserted island for four years in utter isolation, wearing the hides and eating the meat of goats that had previously been introduced to the archipelago by the Spaniards. It wasn't until 1708 that Selkirk spotted the ships that were to be his saving grace—the Duke and Duchess, navigated by British Commander Woodes Rogers and privateer William Dampier, who took Selkirk home to Scotland. Years later, Selkirk's adventures inspired Daniel Defoe's epic novel, Robinson Crusoe, though the location of Defoe's story was changed to the Caribbean.

After wars of independence between Chile and Spain, 42 Chilean political prisoners were exiled here for several years after their defeat in 1814, taking shelter in caves which are today known as the Caves of the Patriots.

Just over one-hundred years later in 1915, the islands provided the backdrop for the historic WWI confrontation between the British navy and the German cruiser, the Dresden. The Germans scuttled their own vessel in Bahía Cumberland before the British had the chance to sink it.

By Karen Nagy
Karen Nagy is a staff editor/writer at V!VA. She studied travel writing and learned the joys of Mediterranean island-hopping in Greece, and went on...
03 Jul 2009

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