The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson (German: Der Schweizerische Robinson) is a novel by Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812, about a Swiss family of immigrants whose ship en route to Port Jackson, Australia, goes off course and is shipwrecked in the East Indies. The crew of the ship is lost, but the family and a number of domestic animals survive. They make their way to shore where they build a settlement, undergoing a number of adventures before they are rescued; some of them refuse rescue and remain on the island.

The Swiss Family Robinson
Frontispiece fly4.jpg
Frontispiece by John Gilbert from the 1851 American edition
AuthorJohann David Wyss
Original titleDer Schweizerische Robinson
TranslatorWilliam H. G. Kingston
IllustratorJohann Emmanuel Wyss
GenreAdventure fiction
PublisherJohann Rudolph Wyss (the author's son)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and paperback)

The book is the most successful of a large number of "castaway novels" that were written in response to the success of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719). It has gone through a large number of versions and adaptations.


Written by Swiss writer, Johann David Wyss, edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss, and illustrated by another son, Johann Emmanuel Wyss, the novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Wyss' attitude towards its education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and many chapters involve Christian-oriented moral lessons such as frugality, husbandry, acceptance, and cooperation.[1]

Wyss presents adventures as lessons in natural history and physical science. This resembles other educational books for young ones published about the same time. These include Charlotte Turner Smith's Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Farther: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), and A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). But Wyss' novel is also modeled after Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, an adventure story about a shipwrecked sailor first published in 1719.[1]

The book presents a geographically impossible array of large mammals and plants that probably could never have existed together on a single island, for the children's education, nourishment, clothing and convenience.

Over the years there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed, or deleted. Perhaps the best-known English version is by William H. G. Kingston, first published in 1879.[1] It is based on Isabelle de Montolieu's 1813 French adaptation and 1824 continuation (from chapter 37) Le Robinson suisse, ou, Journal d'un père de famille, naufragé avec ses enfants in which were added further adventures of Fritz, Ernest, Jack, and Franz.[1] Other English editions that claim to include the whole of the Wyss-Montolieu narrative are by W. H. Davenport Adams (1869–1910) and Mrs H. B. Paull (1879). As Carpenter and Prichard write in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford, 1995), "with all the expansions and contractions over the past two centuries (this includes a long history of abridgments, condensations, Christianizing, and Disney products), Wyss's original narrative has long since been obscured."[1] The closest English translation to the original is that of the Juvenile Library in 1816, published by the husband and wife team William Godwin and Mary Jane Clairmont, reprinted by Penguin Classics.[2]

Although movie and television adaptations typically name the family "Robinson", it is not a Swiss name. The German title translates as The Swiss Robinson which identifies the novel as part of the Robinsonade genre, rather than a story about a family named Robinson.


The Map of "New Switzerland"

The novel opens with the titular family in the hold of a sailing ship, weathering a great storm. The ship's crew evacuate without them, so William, Elizabeth and their four sons (Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Franz) are left to survive alone. As the ship tosses about, William prays that God will spare them.

The ship survives the night and the family find themselves within sight of a tropical desert island. The next morning, they decide to get to the island that they can see beyond the reef. With much effort, they construct a vessel out of tubs. After they fill the tubs with food and ammunition and all other articles of value they can safely carry, they row toward the island. Two dogs from the ship, Turk and Juno, swim beside them. The ship's cargo of livestock (including a cow, a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram, a pig, chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons), guns and powder, carpentry tools, books, a disassembled pinnace and provisions have survived.

Upon reaching the island, the family set up a makeshift camp. William knows that they must prepare for a long time on the island and his thoughts are as much on provisions for the future as for their immediate wants. William and his oldest son Fritz spend the next day exploring the island.

The family spends the next few days securing themselves against hunger. William and Fritz make several trips to the ship in their efforts to bring ashore everything useful from the vessel. The domesticated animals on the ship are towed back to the island. There is also a great store of firearms and ammunition, hammocks for sleeping, carpenter's tools, lumber, cooking utensils, silverware, and dishes. Initially they construct a treehouse, but as time passes (and after Elizabeth is injured climbing the stairs down from it), they settle in a more permanent dwelling in part of a cave. Fritz rescues a young Englishwoman named Jenny Montrose who was shipwrecked elsewhere on their island.

The book covers more than ten years. William and older boys explore various environments and develop homes and gardens in various sites about the island. In the end, the father wonders if they will ever again see the rest of humanity. Eventually, a British ship that is in search of Jenny Montrose anchors near the island and is discovered by the family. The captain is given the journal containing the story of their life on the island which is eventually published. Several members of the family choose to continue to live tranquilly on their island while several of them return to Europe with the British.


The principal characters of the book (including Isabelle de Montolieu's adaptations and continuation) are:

  • Pastor – The patriarch of the family. He is the narrator of the story and leads the family. He knows an enormous amount of information on almost everything the family comes across, demonstrating bravery and self-reliance.
  • Elizabeth – The loving mother of the family. She is intelligent and resourceful, arming herself even before leaving the ship with a "magic bag" filled with supplies, including sewing materials and seeds for food crops. She is also a remarkably versatile cook, taking on anything from porcupine soup to roast penguin.
  • Fritz – The oldest of the four boys, he is 15. Fritz is intelligent but impetuous. He is the strongest and accompanies his father on many quests.
  • Ernest – The second oldest of the boys, he is 13. Ernest is the most intelligent, but a less physically active boy, often described by his father as "indolent". Like Fritz however, he comes to be an excellent shot.
  • Jack – The third oldest of the boys, 11 years old. He is thoughtless, bold, vivacious, and the quickest of the group.
  • Franz (sometimes translated as Francis) – The youngest of the boys, he is 8 years old when the story opens. He usually stays home with his mother.
  • Turk – The family's English dog.
  • Juno – The family's Danish dog.
  • Nip (also called Knips or Nips in some editions) – An orphan monkey adopted by the family after their dogs Turk and Juno have killed his mother. The family uses him to test for poisonous fruits.
  • Fangs – A jackal that was tamed by the family.

In the novel, the family is not called "Robinson" as their surname is not mentioned. However, in 1900, Jules Verne published The Castaways of the Flag (alternatively known as Second Fatherland), where he revisits the original shipwreck. In this sequel, of the family's final years on the original island, the family is called Zermatt.[3]

Other adaptationsEdit

The novels in one form or another have also been adapted numerous times, sometimes changing location and/or time period:

Book sequelsEdit

  • Willis the Pilot: a sequel to The Swiss family Robinson; or, Adventures of an emigrant family wrecked on an unknown coast of the Pacific Ocean (1858) has been attributed to Johann Wyss or to Johanna Spyri, author of Heidi.
  • Second Fatherland (Seconde Patrie, 1900), by Jules Verne takes up the story at the point where Wyss's tale left off. It has also been published in two volumes, Their Island Home and Castaways of the Flag.
  • Return to Robinson Island (2015), by T. J. Hoisington, based on the original 1812 Swiss Family Robinson novel.[4]

Audio adaptationsEdit

In 1963, the novel was dramatized by the Tale Spinners for Children series (United Artists Records UAC 11059) performed by the Famous Theatre Company.

Film versionsEdit

Made-for-TV moviesEdit

Television seriesEdit

Comic book seriesEdit

  • Swiss Family Robinson (1947) — Classics Illustrated adaptation of the original novel
  • Space Family Robinson (1962–1984) — science fiction adaptation
  • Swiss Family Mouse n' Sons (c. 1962) — straight adaptation with the Disney characters playing the roles

Stage adaptationsEdit

  • Swiss Family Robinson written by Jerry Montoya and performed at B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California in 2009.

Computer adventure gameEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "A Note on Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson, Montolieu's Le Robinson suisse, and Kingston's 1879 text" by Ellen Moody.
  2. ^ John Seelye, ed. The Swiss Family Robinson. Penguin Classics. 2008. ISBN 978-0-14-310499-5.
  3. ^ "New Switzerland, Jules Verne's Imaginary Shipwreck Sanctuary".
  4. ^ "TJ Hoisington Pens the First Swiss Family Robinson Sequel in Over 100 Years".


  • Weber, Marie-Hélène (1993). Robinson et robinsonnades: étude comparée de "Robinson Crusoe" de Defoe, "Le Robinson suisse" de J.R. Wyss, "L'Ile mystérieuse" de J. Verne, "Sa majesté des mouches" de W. Golding, "Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique" de M. Tournier, Ed. Universitaires du Sud.
  • Wyss, Johann. The Swiss Family Robinson, ed. John Seelye. Penguin Classics, 2007. The only unabridged complete text genuinely by Wyss (and his son) currently in print.

External linksEdit