THE sea has always been the cradle of the English race, and over six hundred years ago an old chronicler wrote of our great sea tradition that “English ships visited every coast,” and that “English sailors excelled all others both in the arts of navigation and in fighting.” In this respect, the west of England has probably played a greater part in our maritime development than any other portion of the United Kingdom, and the names of her most famous seamen—Drake, Raleigh, and Hawkins among others—are now almost household words. There are, however, many other nautical celebrities among her sons, whose names deserve a more prominent place in our naval annals, and such an one is Captain Woodes Rogers. Not only does he rank as a splendid navigator and magnificent seaman, but he also filled an important rôle as a colonial administrator and governor, and was one of the pioneers in the development of our colonial empire. He is, indeed, one of the most picturesque and romantic figures of the first half of the eighteenth century, and his rescue and account of Alexander Selkirk’s privations on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez undoubtedly provided Defoe with materials for “Robinson Crusoe.” It is not too much to assume that had there been no Woodes Rogers, Defoe’s charming and immortal romance, which has delighted millions of readers, might never have been written.Nevertheless, Rogers is rather an elusive personage, and the writer of the appreciative article on him in the “Dictionary of National Biography” was unable to glean any particulars of his birth, parentage, or marriage. Thanks to recent research it is now possible to supply some of these details. It is certain that his ancestors had been settled at the old seaport of Poole, Dorset, since the beginning of the sixteenth century, and among the mayors of Poole the name is prominent during the reign of Elizabeth. His great-grandfather, John Rogers of Poole, married Ann Woods, and from this union the name of Woods (afterwards spelt Woodes) Rogers was perpetuated for at least three generations, until the death of Woodes Rogers’s infant son in 1713. Woodes Rogers the second, the father of the subject of this book, was a sea-captain, born at Poole in 1650. He eventually removed to Bristol, where his family consisted of two daughters and two sons, the eldest[Pg ] of whom, Captain Woodes Rogers, was probably born there in 1679, but the precise date is uncertain. All that we know is that Rogers, like his father, followed a sea career, and in the records of Bristol he is described as a “mariner,” from which we may assume that he was connected with the Merchant Venturers of that Port. He is probably to be identified with the Captain Rogers whom the famous navigator Captain William Dampier mentions in his “Voyages” published in 1699, as “my worthy friend,” and from whom he included three contributions in his book: (i) A long letter on the African hippopotamus as he (Rogers) had seen them in the “River Natal” (ii) A description of the trade winds from the Cape of Good Hope to the Red Sea (iii) An account of “Natal in Africk as I received it from my ingenious friend Captain Rogers, who is lately gone to that place, and hath been there several times before.” This gives a lively account of the manners and customs of the natives, and the natural history of the country.
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