Robert Stevenson (civil engineer)

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Robert Stevenson
Robert Stevenson (lighthouse engineer) - Google Book Search - Biographical Sketch of the Late Robert Stevenson.jpg
Bust of Robert Stevenson by Samuel Joseph, commissioned 19 July 1824 by the Northern Lighthouse Board.
Illustration from the Biographical Sketch of the Late Robert Stevenson: Civil Engineer by his son Alan Stevenson, 1851
Born(1772-06-08)8 June 1772
Glasgow, Scotland
Died12 July 1850(1850-07-12) (aged 78)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Resting place New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh
NationalityScottish
Education Andersonian Institute
University of Edinburgh
Occupation civil engineer
Spouse(s)Jean Smith [1]
Children Alan, David and Thomas
Engineering career
Discipline Civil engineer
Institutions Royal Society of Edinburgh
Geological Society
Royal Astronomical Society
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Wernerian Society
Institution of Civil Engineers
Employer(s) Northern Lighthouse Board
Projects Bell Rock Lighthouse
Significant design lighthouses

Robert Stevenson, FRSE, FGS, FRAS, FSA Scot, MWS (8 June 1772 – 12 July 1850) was a Scottish civil engineer and famed designer and builder of lighthouses. [2]

Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Award granted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland, judges to be "eminently distinguished in their subject". This society had, in itself received a royal charter in 1783, allowing for its expansion.

Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society fellowship of a learned society

Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS) is a fellowship granted to individuals whose application is approved by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

Civil engineer engineer specialising in design, construction and maintenance of the built environment

A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering – the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.

Contents

One of his finest achievements was the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Bell Rock Lighthouse lighthouse off the coast of Angus, Scotland

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. It was built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson on the Bell Rock in the North Sea, 11 miles (18 km) east of the Firth of Tay. Standing 35 metres (115 ft) tall, its light is visible from 35 statute miles (56 km) inland.

Early life

Stevenson was born in Glasgow; [3] his father was Alan Stevenson, a partner in a West Indies sugar trading house in the city. Alan died of an epidemic fever on the island of St. Christopher in the West Indies on 26 May 1774, when Stevenson was still an infant. At much the same time, Stevenson's uncle died of the same disease, leaving Alan's widow, Jean Lillie, in much-reduced financial circumstances. As a result, Stevenson was educated as an infant at a charity school.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. Inhabitants of the city are referred to as "Glaswegians" or "Weegies". It is the fourth most visited city in the UK. Glasgow is also known for the Glasgow patter, a distinct dialect of the Scots language that is noted for being difficult to understand by those from outside the city.

Saint Kitts island in Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts, also known more formally as Saint Christopher Island, is an island in the West Indies. The west side of the island borders the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean. Saint Kitts and the neighbouring island of Nevis constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Saint Kitts and Nevis are separated by a shallow 3-kilometre (2 mi) channel known as "The Narrows".

West Indies Island region in the Caribbean

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago.

His mother had intended Robert to join the ministry and to this end sent him to the school of a famous linguist of the day, Mr. Macintyre. However, in Stevenson's fifteenth year, Jane Lillie married Thomas Smith a tinsmith, lamp maker and ingenious mechanic who had in 1786 been appointed engineer to the newly formed Northern Lighthouse Board. The family lived at 1 Blair Street [4] off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. In 1798/9 they moved to the then newly built 2 Baxters Place at the head of Leith Walk. [5] Stevenson inherited the house when Smith died in 1814. [6]

Thomas Smith (engineer) Scottish businessman and early lighthouse engineer

Thomas Smith (1752–1814) was a Scottish businessman and early lighthouse engineer.

Northern Lighthouse Board non-departmental public body responsible for marine navigation aids

The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is a non-departmental public body responsible for marine navigation aids around coastal areas.

Royal Mile succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. The term was first used descriptively in W M Gilbert's Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), "...with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between", and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920.

Professional career

Stevenson served as Smith's assistant, and was so successful that, at age 19, he was entrusted with the supervision of the erection of a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae in the River Clyde. He devoted himself with determination to follow the profession of a civil engineer, and applied himself to the practice of surveying and architectural drawing and attended lectures in mathematics and physical sciences at the Andersonian Institute at Glasgow. Study was interleaved with work - his next project was lighthouses on Orkney. He made use of winter months to attend lectures in philosophy, mathematics, chemistry and natural history, as well as moral philosophy, logic and agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. He did not take a degree, however, having a poor (for the time) knowledge of Latin, and none of Greek.

Little Cumbrae island in the Firth of Clyde, in North Ayrshire, Scotland

Little Cumbrae or Little Cumbrae Island is an island in the Firth of Clyde, in North Ayrshire, Scotland. The island is known locally as Wee Cumbrae.

River Clyde river in Scotland

The River Clyde is a river that flows into the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. It is the eighth-longest river in the United Kingdom, and the second-longest in Scotland. Traveling through the major city of Glasgow, it was an important river for shipbuilding and trade in the British Empire. To the Romans, it was Clota, and in the early medieval Cumbric language, it was known as Clud or Clut, and was central to the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Orkney archipelago in northern Scotland

Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of the isle of Great Britain. Orkney is 10 miles (16 km) north of the coast of Caithness and comprises approximately 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, Mainland, is often referred to as "the Mainland", and has an area of 523 square kilometres (202 sq mi), making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.

In 1797 he was appointed engineer to the Lighthouse Board in succession to Smith; in 1799 he married Smith's eldest daughter Jean, who was also his stepsister, and in 1800 was adopted as Smith's business partner.

The most important work of Stevenson's life is the Bell Rock Lighthouse, a scheme long in the gestation and then long and extremely hazardous in the construction. This structure was based upon the design of the earlier Eddystone Lighthouse by John Smeaton but with several improvements. The involvement of John Rennie as a consulting engineer in the project led to some contention for the credit upon the successful completion of the project; particularly between Alan Stevenson, Robert's son, and Sir John Rennie, son of the consulting engineer. Samuel Smiles, the popular engineering author of the time, published an account taken from Rennie, which assisted in establishing his claim. History, and the Northern Lighthouse Board, give full credit to Stevenson.

Eddystone Lighthouse lighthouse in Devon, England

The Eddystone Lighthouse is on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks, 9 statute miles (14 km) south of Rame Head, England, United Kingdom. While Rame Head is in Cornwall, the rocks are in Devon and composed of Precambrian gneiss.

John Smeaton (1724-1792) English civil engineer

John Smeaton was an English civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses. He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed "civil engineer", and is often regarded as the "father of civil engineering". He pioneered the use of hydraulic lime in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate. Smeaton was associated with the Lunar Society.

Alan Stevenson Scottish lighthouse designer

Alan StevensonFRSE LLD MInstCE was a Scottish lighthouse engineer who was Engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses. Among his notable works is the Skerryvore Lighthouse.

Stevenson's work on the Bell Rock and elsewhere provided a fund of anecdotes of the danger in which he placed himself. Returning from the Orkney Islands in 1794 on the sloop Elizabeth of Stromness, he had the good fortune to be rowed ashore when the Elizabeth became becalmed off Kinnaird Head; the ship was later driven back by a gale to Orkney, and there foundered losing all hands. On Bell Rock, which was covered by all but the lowest tide, he tells of an occasion when one of the crew boats drifted away leaving insufficient carrying capacity for the crew in the remaining boats; the situation was saved by the timely arrival of the Bell Rock pilot boat, on an errand to deliver mail to Stevenson.

Stevenson served for nearly fifty years as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, until 1842, [3] during which time he designed and oversaw the construction and later improvement of numerous lighthouses. He innovated in the choice of light sources, mountings, reflector design, the use of Fresnel lenses, and in rotation and shuttering systems providing lighthouses with individual signatures allowing them to be identified by seafarers. For this last innovation he was awarded a gold medal by King William I of the Netherlands.

The period after Waterloo and the end of the continental wars was a time of much improvement of the fabric of the country, and engineering skills were much in demand. Besides his work for the Northern Lighthouse Board, he acted as a consulting engineer on many occasions, and worked with Rennie, Alexander Nimmo, Thomas Telford, William Walker, Archibald Elliot [7] and William Cubitt. Projects included roads, bridges, harbours, canals and railways, and river navigations. He designed and oversaw the construction of the Hutcheson Bridge in Glasgow, and the Regent Bridge [7] and approaches from the East to Edinburgh. He projected a number of canals and railways which were not built; and new and improved designs for bridges, some later adopted and implemented by his successors. He invented the movable jib and balance cranes as necessary part of his lighthouse construction; and George Stephenson acknowledged his lead in the selection of malleable rather than cast-iron rails for railways. [8]

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1815. His proposers were John Barclay, John Playfair and David Brewster. [9]

He published an Account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1824; a paper on the North Sea, establishing by evidence that it was eroding the eastern coastline of the United Kingdom, and that the great sandbanks were the spoil taken by the sea. He devised and tested the hypothesis that freshwater and saltwater at river mouths exist as separate and distinct streams. He contributed to the Encyclopædia Britannica and the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, and published in a number of the scientific journals of the day.

He was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame in 2016. [10]

Family life

1 Baxters Place, Edinburgh Baxters Place, Edinburgh.jpg
1 Baxters Place, Edinburgh

In 1799, Robert married Jean Smith, Thomas Smith's eldest daughter by his first wife (i.e. his step-sister). [11] A number of their children died young including three who died of childhood diseases early in 1808 during the construction of Bell Rock. Five survived till adulthood.

Three of Stevenson's sons became engineers: David, Alan, and Thomas. Robert's surviving children also include Joseph (1802-1878), who emigrated to Victoria, Australia in 1832, and Jane (1801-1864), [12] who assisted in writing and illustrating an account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse construction. Robert Louis Stevenson was his grandson, via Thomas, and Katharine de Mattos was his granddaughter.

Stevenson lived on Baxters Place at the head of Leith Walk for most of his later years, moving from no.2 to the far larger no.1 around 1820. [13] The building was used as an office from 1985 to 2015 and was named "Robert Stevenson House" in his honour. The name was removed when the building was converted into a Marriott Hotel in 2017.

Stevenson died at 1 Baxters Place on 12 July 1850 in Edinburgh. He is buried in the Stevenson family plot in New Calton Cemetery.

Memorials to Stevenson

Robert Stevenson's grave in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral Robert Stevenson's grave in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral.jpg
Robert Stevenson's grave in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral
Robert Stevenson's grave, New Calton Cemetery Robert Stevenson's grave, New Calton Cemetery.JPG
Robert Stevenson's grave, New Calton Cemetery

Stevenson College, Edinburgh was founded in 1970, and was named after Robert Stevenson. For at least some of his life Robert Stevenson lived at 1 Baxter's Place, Edinburgh, a building that was briefly Robert Stevenson House in his memory.

Robert (and his father) are also memorialized in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral on the grave of his grandfather, Robert Stevenson (d.1764), a Glasgow merchant.

Biographies

Bella Bathurst wrote a biographical account of the professional accomplishments of Stevenson and his sons in The Lighthouse Stevensons (Harper Collins Publishers, 1999, ISBN   0-06-019427-8).

Works by Robert Stevenson

Lighthouses

Other

Family Tree

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1783 – 2002: Biographical Index, Part Two (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. p. 883. ISBN   0 902198 84 X.
  2. Biography
  3. 1 2 "NLB - Robert Stevenson" . Retrieved January 28, 2013.
  4. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1790
  5. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1800
  6. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1815
  7. 1 2 Historic Environment Scotland. "Regent Bridge carrying Waterloo Place over Calton Road including Railings  (Category A) (LB27945)" . Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  8. Letter from George Stephenson June 28, 1821 quoted in Stevenson, David (1873). The Life of Robert Stevenson, Civil Engineer. p. 128. Retrieved Jul 19, 2015.
  9. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0 902 198 84 X.
  10. "Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame" Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  11. http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/lighthouses/
  12. "Stevenson Lighthouses in Scotland" Archived 13 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine . Robert Louis Stevenson Website. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  13. Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directories 1815-1850

Attribution