Great Bushcraft Classics:’The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann R Wyss

My beautifully illustrated (by Mervyn Peake) copy is gifted to ‘Lynn, from Uncle Gordon, Istanbul, 1955’, with a golden tan cover printed in rich burgundy and dark green palms, ships and huts.  Dogs, guns and ‘savages’ grace the inside cover.

Throughout this swashbuckling family adventure our heroes master the tropical island they become stranded on by, in a nutshell, shooting dead anything that moves and carrying back to treehouse/cave camp anything that doesn’t.  while possibly not the best choice for the sensitive or vegan reader, if you can be prepared to look beyond the white supremacism and hypocritical exploitation of its time, this book delivers some bushcraft gems.  Here they are in all their glory.

  • Myrica cerifera berries for candle wax tallow – boiling the berries in a gourd container then skimming off the wax, then heating wax again, then dipping cotton or similar wick until many layers are built up’Myrica_cerifera_main
  • Cassava/tapioca root preparation – squeezing the poisonous sap out and making bread from the flour
  • Sharkskin armlets and anklets and rope for harvesting coconuts fom palm trees
  • Agave plant as a source of tinder and thread (from leaf filaments) and as a healing wound dressing.
  • Calabash gourds to make crockery and spoons
  • Caoutchouc/india-rubber tree oozes a resinous substance which the Robinsons make waterproof boots out of by painting on layers over a clay foot mould.
  • Sago palm – gives a flour and sago grubs for roasting on  a stick over the fire.
  • Tobacco smoke to harvest honey
  • New Zealand flax (Phormium Tenax) for fibre and rough clothing.  they prepare this by retting it in a pool of stagnant water for 2 weeks then bleaching in the sun, then carding the fibres with combs made of long nails.
  • making a canoe from the cork like bark of a mystery tree in one sheet.

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