This week saw the 212th birthday of the iconic Bell Rock Lighthouse, but did you know about the famous Stevenson family behind it?
It remains the oldest working sea-washed lighthouse in the world. It sits majestically 11 miles from Arbroath. I took a trip out to it last summer and I can often glimpse its (now automated) light if I’m out of an evening.
It was designed by the engineering titan Robert Stevenson. He became an apprentice civil engineer under his stepfather and by the age of 19 he showed such huge potential he was given the job of designing the lighthouse on the Little Cumbrae Island on the River Clyde.
In 1797 he was appointed engineer to the Lighthouse Board. It was during his time here he oversaw the design and construction of numerous lighthouses and his was his introduction of the Fresnel Lenses that revolutionised safety for sailors.
A Family Business
Three of Robert Stevenson’s sons went on to become engineers, but it was the next generation that bucked the science and engineering trend somewhat. Robert’s grandson was the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson and his passions and talent couldn’t have been further from the strict business of maths and engineering. He was also a fairly sickly and frail child who spent many of his early years at home rather than at school.
Despite his family’s best attempt, writing and poetry was his passion and as we know he went on to become one of the most celebrated writers in history.
A Personal Passion
I am hugely passionate about the Stevenson family. On one hand you have the brilliance of their engineering and innovations . . . and I do love a lighthouse! On the other hand you have one of the most creative and brilliant minds in Robert Louis. Just like him, I don’t like the cold either!
On a recent trip to Edinburgh I visited the Stevenson family tomb which sits proudly in the New Calton Cemetery. It’s close to Arthur’s Seat and its location is stunning.
From Science To Stories
A walk to the other end and you arrive in the Old Town and the rather wonderful Writers’ Museum. The building is called Lady Stair’s House and it was built in 1892. The museum has designated areas for Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, and of course, Robert Louis Stevenson.
They have many of his possessions and a number of items from his time in Samoa, where he eventually died at the age of 44. One of the things that caught my eye was a ring given to him by a Samoan chief engraved with the name “Tusitala” which means “the teller of tales”.
So as someone who loves both science and wonderful stories, the Stevenson family are a source of fascination and inspiration to me. To quote the great man, Robert Louis, himself, “So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”