Thomas Stevenson

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Thomas Stevenson
Thomas Stevenson, 1880.
Born(1818-07-22)22 July 1818
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died8 May 1887(1887-05-08) (aged 68)
Edinburgh, Scotland
OccupationLighthouse engineer
EmployerNorthern Lighthouse Board
Home townEdinburgh
Maggie Balfour(m. 1848)
Children Robert Louis Stevenson
Parent(s) Robert Stevenson (father)
Jean Smith (mother)
Relatives David Stevenson (brother)
Alan Stevenson (brother)
Signature of Thomas Stevenson.jpg
17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh 17, Heriot Row, Edinburgh - - 637839.jpg
17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh
Condensing Light designed by Thomas Stevenson for the Tay Leading Light 1866 Condensing Light designed by Thomas Stevenson for the Tay Leading Light 1866.jpg
Condensing Light designed by Thomas Stevenson for the Tay Leading Light 1866
Thomas Stevenson by Sir George Reid 1878 Thomas Srevenson by Sir George Reid 1878 SNPG.jpg
Thomas Stevenson by Sir George Reid 1878

Thomas Stevenson PRSE MInstCE FRSSA FSAScot (22 July 1818 – 8 May 1887) 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.

Lighthouse Structure designed to emit light to aid navigation

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and to serve as a navigational aid for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.

Stevenson screen meteorological device

A Stevenson screen or instrument shelter is a shelter or an enclosure to meteorological instruments against precipitation and direct heat radiation from outside sources, while still allowing air to circulate freely around them. It forms part of a standard weather station. The Stevenson screen holds instruments that may include thermometers, a hygrometer, a psychrometer, a dewcell, a barometer and a thermograph. Stevenson screens may also be known as a cotton region shelter, an instrument shelter, a thermometer shelter, a thermoscreen or a thermometer screen. Its purpose is to provide a standardised environment in which to measure temperature, humidity, dewpoint and atmospheric pressure. It is white in color to reflect direct solar radiation. The common type of Stevenson screen has a maximum and minimum thermometer for daily readings.


He served as president of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts (1859–60), as president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1884-86), and was a co-founder of the Scottish Meteorological Society. [1]

The Royal Scottish Society of Arts is a learned society in Scotland, dedicated to the study of science and technology. It was founded as The Society for the Encouragement of the Useful Arts in Scotland by Sir David Brewster in 1821 and dedicated to "the promotion of invention and enterprise". The Society was granted a Royal Charter in 1841.

Royal Society of Edinburgh academy of sciences

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity, operating on a wholly independent and non-party-political basis and providing public benefit throughout Scotland. It was established in 1783. As of 2017, it has more than 1,660 Fellows.

The Scottish Meteorological Society was founded in 1855 by David Milne-Home with private funding, particularly from wealthy landowners who wished to compile meteorological records in order to improve agriculture.


He was born at 2 Baxters Place [2] in Edinburgh, on 22 July 1818, the youngest son of engineer Robert Stevenson, and his wife (and step-sister) Jean Smith. He was educated at the Royal High School in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

Robert Stevenson (civil engineer) Scottish civil engineer and famed designer and builder of lighthouses

Robert Stevenson, FRSE, FGS, FRAS, FSA Scot, MWS was a Scottish civil engineer and famed designer and builder of lighthouses.

Thomas Stevenson was a devout and regular attendee at St. Stephen's Church in Stockbridge, at the north end of St Vincent Street, Edinburgh.

Stockbridge, Edinburgh human settlement in United Kingdom

Stockbridge is a suburb of Edinburgh, located towards the north of the city centre, bounded by the New Town and by Comely Bank. The name is Scots stock brig from Anglic stocc brycg, meaning a timber bridge. Originally a small outlying village, it was incorporated into the City of Edinburgh in the 19th century. The current "Stock Bridge", built in 1801, is a stone structure spanning the Water of Leith. The painter Henry Raeburn (1756–1823) owned two adjoining estates, Deanhaugh and St Bernard's, which he developed with the assistance of the architect James Milne. Milne was also responsible for the fine St Bernard's Church (1823) in Saxe Coburg Street. Ann Street, designed by Raeburn and named after his wife, is a rare early example of a New Town street with private front gardens.

He was involved in regrettable efforts to rubbish the inventions of John Richardson Wigham. [3]

John Richardson Wigham Lighthouse engineer

John Richardson Wigham was a prominent lighthouse engineer of the 19th century.

From at least 1860 he lived at 17 Heriot Row, a large Georgian terraced townhouse in Edinburgh's New Town. [4]

New Town, Edinburgh central area of Edinburgh, Scotland

The New Town is a central area of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. A masterpiece of city planning, it was built in stages between 1767 and around 1850, and retains much of its original neo-classical and Georgian period architecture. Its best known street is Princes Street, facing Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town across the geographical depression of the former Nor Loch. Together with the Old Town, the New Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

In 1869, as a successful experiment into using the newly invented electric light for lighthouses, Stevenson had an underwater cable installed from the eastern part of Granton Harbour, and a light on the end of the Trinity Chain Pier was controlled from half a mile away by an operator on the harbour. [5] [6]

He examined wind and wave effects, and his analysis [7] is the first quantitative discussion of wave height as a (square root) function of fetch. His paper [8] is one of the first quantitative studies of wind speeds in the planetary boundary layer. Motivated by practical applications, these are fundamental contributions. He designed the Stevenson screen as a shelter to shield meteorological instruments, and this has been widely adopted.

He died at 17 Heriot Row in Edinburgh on 8 May 1887 and is buried in the Stevenson family vault in New Calton Cemetery. The vault lies midway along the eastern wall.


He was brother of the lighthouse engineers Alan and David Stevenson, between 1854 and 1886 he designed many lighthouses, with his brother David, and then with David's son David Alan Stevenson.

He married Margaret Isabella "Maggie" Balfour in 1848, daughter of Rev Lewis Balfour. Their son was the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who caused him much disappointment by failing to follow the engineering interests of his family. [9]

His wife's younger brother, James Melville Balfour (i.e. his brother-in-law), trained under D. & T. Stevenson and then emigrated to New Zealand, where he was first the marine engineer for Otago Province before he appointed Colonial Marine Engineer. [9] [10]

Lighthouses designed by Thomas Stevenson

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  1. Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002: Biographical Index (PDF). II. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN   978-0-902198-84-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Tyndall A Story of Lighthouses page 827
  4. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1860
  5. The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1869. Cambridge Library Collection. 28 March 2013. pp. 614–615.
  6. Stevenson, Thomas (9 April 2009). Lighthouse Construction and Illumination. BiblioBazaar. pp. 165–166. ISBN   978-1103900954.
  7. Stevenson, T. The Design and Construction of Harbors: A Treatise on Maritime Engineering, seconded. Adam and Charles Black, Edinburgh
  8. Stevenson, T. (1880) Report on Simultaneous Observations of the Force of Wind at Different Heights above the Ground, Journal of the Scottish Meteorological Society, LI-LIV, pp.103–107
  9. 1 2 "The Late Mr Balfour". The Star (503). 29 December 1869. p. 3. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  10. Beaglehole, Helen (9 July 2013). "Lighthouses - A national system". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand . Retrieved 4 January 2015.