2017 is VisitEngland’s year of literary heroes and we know one city that has inspired countless poets and novelists over the centuries...you guessed it, Bristol. Thanks to its rich maritime history, the city is responsible for many a yarn of swashbuckling pirates, explorers and daring voyages.

Nearly 300 years ago, a meeting in Bristol between a journalist and a rescued sailor spawned one of the most enduring tales in literature, the world-famous Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. The story, published in 1719, is considered to be the first ever English novel and was greatly influenced by events that happened in Bristol.

Here are 4 things you didn’t know about the city’s links with the literary masterpiece…

The Matthew

Image - The Matthew sailing up the Avon Gorge, credit Shawn Spencer Smith

1. Alexander Selkirk (the inspiration for Crusoe) was rescued by a Bristol privateer

Governor Woodes Rogers was a well-known Bristolian privateer. He circumnavigated the globe between 1708 and 1711, and is most famous for rescuing castaway Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned on Juan Fernandez Island for 4 years and 4 months. A plaque commemorating Woodes Rogers can be seen on his former house in Queen Square.

Queen Square

Image - Queen Square, Bristol, credit Visit England

2. Prominent Bristol figures funded the voyage which rescued Selkirk

In 1742, Clifton Court in Clifton Village was built for prominent Bristol Industrialist Nehemiah Champion and his wife Martha Goldney. Martha’s father, Thomas Goldney II helped fund the expedition that rescued Selkirk. Goldney II bought most of the Goldney Estate in 1705 – including Goldney Hall - now a wedding venue and student accommodation for the University of Bristol. It was also the set for John Watson’s wedding in the BBC’s Sherlock.

University of Bristol

Image - part of Goldney Hall, University of Bristol

3. Daniel Defoe met Alexander Selkirk in Bristol

Selkirk stayed in Bristol for over a year after his return, where legend says he met Daniel Defoe. It is thought he stayed at the Cock & Bottle Inn (now Castle Park). Some historians believe the two met in the Star Inn or Star Coffee house in the dungeon keep above Bristol Castle (no longer standing). Others think it was the Llandoger Trow.

Llandoger Trow

Image - Llandoger Trow pub

4. The adventures of Robinson Crusoe inspired other great novels with encounters in Bristol

Recognised as the first English novel, Crusoe created a public hankering for the genre and it was followed by other world-renowned tales where Bristol also plays a part.

  • Gulliver’s Travels in 1728 by Jonathan Swift (they set sail from Bristol)
  • The Rime of Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798) who lived in Bristol
  • The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, Seaman by Bristol adventurer William Williams (1815)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883) for which the city was a great inspiration. To hear more about Bristol’s connections with Treasure Island and the dirty deeds of Long John Silver, explore the walking trail or take part in a Treasure Island Story Walk.

Treasure Island trail

Image - Treasure Island Story Walk, credit Jon Chamberlain


The Matthew
Historic Ship
The Matthew Bristol

Based in Bristol’s floating harbour for much of the year, the Matthew is popular for harbour tours as well as longer sailing trips.

Queen Square
Municipal Park
Queen Square - Copyright Destination Bristol

A magnificent Georgian park area in the heart of Bristol, surrounded by trees and cobbled streets.

Clifton Village
Shopping in Clifton Village Bristol

Georgian shopping Quarter full of upmarket, independent shops which is a delight to explore.

University of Bristol
Outdoor Space
Great Hall Dinner

With its impressive property portfolio, the University offers a diverse array of excellent venues for conferences, meetings and social events.

Llandoger Trow
the Llandogger Trow Bristol

One of the oldest pubs in Bristol, serving traditional pub food and drinks

Castle Park and St Peter's Church
Castle Park Bristol - St Peter's Church

A picturesque park offering a quiet place to sit or stroll, right alongside the tranquil waters of the city harbour

Treasure Island Story Walk
Treasure Island Story Walk

See hidden caves and spy holes, and discover the dark and dirty deeds of Long John Silver, Blind Pew, and a host of pirates and buccaneers!