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||8 June 1772|
|Died||12 July 1850 78) (aged|
|Resting place||New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh|
|Education|| Andersonian Institute |
University of Edinburgh
|Children||Alan, David and Thomas|
|Institutions|| Royal Society of Edinburgh |
Royal Astronomical Society
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Institution of Civil Engineers
|Employer(s)||Northern Lighthouse Board|
|Projects||Bell Rock Lighthouse|
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.
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.
Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS) is a fellowship granted to individuals whose application is approved by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).
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.
One of his finest achievements was the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.
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.
Stevenson was born in Glasgow;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 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, 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".
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 Streetoff the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. In 1798/9 they moved to the then newly built 2 Baxters Place at the head of Leith Walk. Stevenson inherited the house when Smith died in 1814.
Thomas Smith (1752–1814) was a Scottish businessman and early lighthouse engineer.
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.
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.
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 or Little Cumbrae Island is an island in the Firth of Clyde, in North Ayrshire, Scotland. The island is known locally as Wee Cumbrae.
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, 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.
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 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 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,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 Elliotand 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 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.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1815. His proposers were John Barclay, John Playfair and David Brewster.
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.
In 1799, Robert married Jean Smith, Thomas Smith's eldest daughter by his first wife (i.e. his step-sister).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),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.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.
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.
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).
|Robert Stevenson engineering family tree|
Firth is a word in the Scots and English languages used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland and even a strait. In the Northern Isles, it more usually refers to a smaller inlet. It is linguistically cognate to fjord which has a more constrained sense in English. Bodies of water named "firths" tend to be more common on the east coast, or in the southwest of the country, although the Firth of Lorn is an exception to this. The Highland coast contains numerous estuaries, straits, and inlets of a similar kind, but not called "firth" ; instead, these are often called sea lochs. Before about 1850, the spelling "Frith" was more common.
Corsewall Lighthouse is a lighthouse at Corsewall Point, Kirkcolm near Stranraer in the region of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. First lit in 1817, it overlooks the North Channel of the Irish Sea. The definition of the name Corsewall is the place or well of the Cross.
David Stevenson MICE FRSE FRSSA was a Scottish lighthouse designer, who designed over 30 lighthouses in and around Scotland, and helped continue the dynasty of lighthouse engineering founded by his father.
John Rennie FRSE FRS was a Scottish civil engineer who designed many bridges, canals and docks.
David Alan Stevenson FRSE MIME FRSSA MICE was a lighthouse engineer who built twenty six lighthouses in and around Scotland.
Charles Alexander Stevenson MICE MIEE FRSE was a Scottish lighthouse engineer who built twenty three lighthouses in and around Scotland.
Thomas StevensonPRSE MInstCE FRSSA FSAScot was a pioneering Scottish lighthouse designer and meteorologist, who designed over thirty lighthouses in and around Scotland, as well as the Stevenson screen used in meteorology. His designs, celebrated as ground breaking, ushered in a new era of lighthouse creation.
Samuel Bough (1822–1878) was an English-born landscape painter who spent much of his career working in Scotland.
The Tarbat Ness Lighthouse is located at the North West tip of the Tarbat Ness peninsula near the fishing village of Portmahomack on the east coast of Scotland. It was built in 1830 by Robert Stevenson and has an elevation of 53 metres (174 ft) and 203 steps to the top of the tower.
John Gibb (1776–1850) was a Scottish civil engineer and contractor whose work included the construction of harbours, bridges, roads, lighthouses, and railways in the United Kingdom, primarily in Scotland. He was a close associate of Thomas Telford, who employed him on many of his civil engineering projects during the first half of the 19th century.
David Alan Stevenson FRSE, F.I.C.E., FRSGS was a lighthouse engineer from the famous Stevenson lighthouse-builder family and noted amateur philatelist.
Prof William Swan FRSE PRSSA LLD was a Scottish mathematician and physicist best known for his 1856 discovery of the Swan band.
Events from the year 1807 in Scotland.
James Leslie FRSE (1801–1889) was a Scottish civil engineer specialising in docks, harbours bridges and reservoirs, largely on the east coast of Scotland. He was also an amateur meteorologist.