The Pirate Who Collected Plants

Famous People Dampier Influenced

In England, Dampier’s bestselling books about his voyages generated a new enthusiasm for travel writing. But his influence extended far beyond his homeland’s borders. Dampier’s detailed natural observations fueled the imaginations of writers and inspired the work of some of the most famous scientists and explorers of all time.

This 1890 painting of Charles Darwin is on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy.

Credit: Unknown/Turin Museum of Human Anatomy

  • Charles Darwin: Almost 150 years after Dampier visited the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin brought Dampier’s books with him on his famous voyage to South America on The Beagle—the journey that led to his formulation of the theory of evolution. Darwin called Dampier’s detailed observations “a mine” of information. 
  • James Cook: This legendary English explorer used Dampier’s maps of winds and currents on his journeys and urged his officers to read Dampier’s Discourse on Winds. In fact, Dampier’s maps served as the foundation for many 18th-century maps of the trade winds. 
  • [[nid:3826]]Daniel Defoe: The author of Robinson Crusoe based his main character on Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish privateer who Dampier helped rescue from Juan Fernandez Island. Defoe is also known by the name of Charles Johnson, who created images of several pirates, including Blackbeard, Roberts, and Bonny and Read, in his book, A General History of the Pyrates.  
  • Jonathan Swift: When writing Gulliver’s Travels, Swift was inspired by descriptions in his copy of Dampier’s New Voyage. He even named one character after Dampier.

By the end of his life, William Dampier was a recognized explorer and naturalist. But he was never able to shake free of his association with pirates. Perhaps that is why so many people have never heard this remarkable story of the pirate who collected plants.

Dampier rescued Alexander Selkirk from Juan Fernandez island around 1708.