REPRINTED from the "Scots Magazine" and "Edinburgh Literary Miscellany" of 1807,
The writer of this report below is unknown. It does not, however, appear to have been by Stevenson - it is not his style if one takes into account his "magnum opus" of 1824 . . .on the other hand, another description, again anonymous, in Headrick's "View of Forfarshire" (1813), is now believed to have been written by him.
The engraver of the image below is the work of R. Scott. When considering the plates in Stevenson's "Account . . ." of 1824 (one of which is also engraved R. Scott "Sculpt" [sic]), the version below is more in line with Rennie's design rather than that of Stevenson's!
THE Bell Rock, or Cape, is well known to be a very dangerous ridge of sunk rocks, lying about half way between the openings of the Firths of Forth and Tay. It is nearly 12 miles from Fife-ness. Its extent is about a mile in length, and half a mile in breadth. The rocks remain constantly concealed under water except for a few hours in the day, when their tops are seen. It must appear obvious from these circumstances, how great the dangers were which they threw in the way of navigation. All vessels entering or coming out of the Firths of Forth and Tay, two of the greatest scenes of commercial enterprise in Scotland, were necessarily exposed, in certain directions of the wind, to be driven upon them. And as this was also the channel of communication between the northern and southern parts of the east coast of Scotland, all coasting vessels employed in this trade were liable to the same danger of being thrown upon these rocks. Accordingly never a year elapsed, without several vessels being wrecked upon them. The erection of a lighthouse, as now planned, must be considered as a national benefit; and we have no doubt our readers will be gratified by the annexed plan [above?] with which we have been favoured by the undertakers of the work. These gentlemen have also communicated to us some particulars respecting the manner in which the plan was matured, which we shall now proceed to state.
The establishment of a Lighthouse, or other distinguishing mark, upon the Bell Rock had been more or less an object of public attention, time immemorial: tradition informs us, that a pious father of the Abbey of Aberbrothick, commiserating the woes of his fellow-creatures , caused a bell to be erected to be erected uon this rock, at his own expence to forewarn the mariner of his approaching danger; but from the averice of the crew of a Dutch vessel, or the more probable effect of a winter's storm, the Bell remained no longer on the rock, than to give rise to its main; and not withstanding the misfortunes occasioned by its continuing in this perilous state, it does not appear that any thing more effectual had been attempted, for we hear little of it till after the dreadful storm in the month of December 1799, which will long be remembered on our coasts, by the widow and the fatherless. The storm was from S.S.E.; the violence of the gale drove many vessels from their moorings in Yarmouth roads, and such was the surf at the mouth of the Humber and the Tyne, that no vessel could venture to put into the port in these rivers, but were driven before the tempest and although they might have found the Firth of Forth a place of safety, into which the storm was actually forcing them, yet the horror of encountering with this dangerous reef made them endeavour with varying success to get to the northward and it is calculated that 70 sail with most of their crews were lost on the East coast of Scotland, two of which were known to have been wrecked on the Bell Rock, and by far the greatest proportion of these losses happened between Fife-ness in the Firth of Forth and Buchan-ness in Aberdeenshire. Indeed the remains of no less than seven vessels were found in a small cove near Slains Castle. Every soul on board of which had perished.
The effects of this storm created a very great alarm throughout the country and many propositions were at that time made relative to the Bell Rock. The Trinity-house of Leith recommended, in an advertisement to the Burghs and Towns on the east coast, that they should use all their influence to have something done for this Rock, for the protection of the trade of the country, and they called upon all individuals interested in subjects of this kind, to consider which sort of Light-house would best suit its peculiar situation. Accordingly, Captain Joseph Brodie, of the Royal Navy, was fixed upon, who had long been engaged in pursuit of this nature, and whose exertions in erecting a beacon on this rock are well known to the public.He soon produced to the Trinity-house the model of a Light-house to stand on pillars of iron; and the late Mr Murdoch Downie, author of the maritime survey of the East coast of Scotland, presented to George Smith, Esq., then master of the Trinity-house, drawings of a Light-house to stand on pillars of stone. The subject of a Light-house on this rock was afterwards agitated in the convention of Royal Burghs by Bailie Duncan of Arbroath, and came in due form before the Commissioners for erecting Light-houses on the northern part to Great Britain, who from their first institution had regarded this as one of the most important objects of their commission; by the very great contingent Expence which must attend a work of this nature, prevented them from engaging them in such an undertaking, which would at once put a stop to their beneficial improvement on the north and west coasts.
It appears from a memorial to Parliament on this subject, drawn up by Robert Hamilton, Esq., one of the Commissioners, that the first application they had relative to the Bell Rock Light-house was in 1793 from the Hon. Captain Cochrane of His Majesty's ship Hind, now Admiral Cochrane; and immediately after the great storm already alluded to, Mr Robert Stevenson, their engineer and surveyor, brought forward his models, with an address to them on the practicability of such an erection, which was afterwards published by the Commissioners.
In 1803, a bill was brought into Parliament to enable the Commissioners to erect the Light-house, but this bill was lost in the House of Lords. In 1806, another Bill was brought forward, and carried carried by the late lord advocate, Erskine, by which the commissioners are allowed to extend their Northern Light duty, to all vessels sailing to or from any port between Peterhead in the north, and Berwick upon Tweed, in the south, both inclusive. But the same bill they are allowed to borrow £25,000 from the three per cent consols, which with £20,000, which the commissioners have been able to lay out in the funds, made exactly the amount of the sum estimated as the cost of the building, with certain operations, being £45,000.
Since the passing of this Bill, the Commissioners have lost no time in proceeding to business, and have made considerable progress in the preliminary steps for this work. - Besides the models in their possession, before mentioned, they have had models before them from Capt. Brodie, with various other very ingenious plans and proposals for the construction of this interesting work, but as all these plans necessarily suppose a large expenditure of public money, far exceeding the amount of all their former buildings, and including a range of estimate from twenty to fifty thousand pounds sterling, the Commissioners very prudently submitted the whole business to John Rennnie, Esq. whose eminent abilities as an engineer, and extensive practice in the most important works in the kingdom, fitted him in a peculiar manner for the determination of this important point. Mr Rennie accordingly reported to the Commissioners on the subject, approving of Mr Stevenson's model, recommending at the same time as close an adherence to the Eddystone Light-house, as the difference of situation would admit, and in particular an enlargement of the base, from the greater depth of water on the Bell Rock; and so scrupulously are the Commissioners disposed to follow the design of that famous edifice, which is built chiefly of granite from Cornwall, that they have resolved to make the outside casing of the Bell Rock Light-house of a similar material, and have accordingly contracted with the proprietor of the Rubeslaw quarries at Aberdeen to furnish large blocks, from one to two tons and upwards for that purpose, and the inside courses, or hearting of the building, is to taken from the Mylnfield quarry near Dundee; the whole of the stones are to be dovetailed, and connected together in a manner similar to the Eddystone Light-house, which may be seen in Mr Smeaton's interesting narrative of that work; and if the outline of Mr Rennie's design for the Bell Rock Light-house annexed to this number, be compared with the designs in that work, it will be found that the greater extent of the base, is in due conformity to the difference of situation; the upper surface of the Eddystone-rock being on a level with high water of spring tides, while the Bell Rock is from nine to eleven feet under high water of these tides.
The Commissioners have appointed Mr Rennie chief engineer for this work, and Mr Stevenson assistant engineer; the preparations for commencing the work at the rock are in great forwardness. The necessary buildings have been erected at Arbroath for carrying on the work, and a barrack for the accommodation of the workmen engaged in hewing the stones there, and for those employed at the Rock when they land. The stones are all to be rough dressed at their respective quarries, and landed at Arbroath, where several cargoes have been already laid down, and are to be fully prepared, and laid course by course on a platform, and after being marked and numbered as they are to lie in the building, they will be shipped in lighters for the Rock.
At the late extensive sale of Prussian prize ships at Leith, one of the best construction forriding at anchor was purchased for this work, and is now fitting up as a storeship, and floating-light, under the direction of Thomas Grindlay, Esq. Master of the Trinity-house, Leith, and his assistants; who at the request of the Commissioners, give their advice to the engineer, in what is necessary for this vessel: she is to be moored with very weighty chains, with a mushroom-anchor, so called from its resemblance to that vegetable. The shank is of malleable iron, and the head, which weighs about one ton and a half, is of cast iron. This kind of anchor was recommended by Captain Huddort of the Trinity Board, London, and the construction is such, that a vessel so moored cannot possibly foul her anchor. Moorings on this plan have been in use for some time at the light-stations on the coast of England, and are fond to answer much better than with two common anchors as formerly. This vessel is to be placed at such a distance from the Rock, as to enable her to clear it, in the event of her breaking adrift; and while the building is going on, she answers the double purpose a store-ship and floating light, as the workmen are to lodge in her, and will be conveyed from the floating light to the Rock in boats. She has three masts, on each of which there is to be a copper lantern, to contain ten lights; these lanterns are hoisted to the top of the masts during night, and lowered on deck during the day time; in this manner she will exhibit three distinct lights, and will thereby be easily distinguishable from the single light on the Islands of May and Inchkeith, and from the double-lights at the Scares and mouth of the Tay; and in thick and foggy weather, a large bell will be tolled night and day. The lanterns are so constructed that they screw together perpendicularly, and embrace the masts on which they traverse, instead of being suspended at a yard, which must make the ship ride very heavily. The lamps have each a small reflector attached to them, and are made to move at pleasure round a centre, which gives great facility in trimming the lights in tempestuous weather; the masts of this vessel are made just of such a height as it is calculated she will easily carry in a storm, and the weight of the lanterns being kept as near the centre of motion as possible, it is thought she will ride as easily as her exposed situation and the circumstances of the case will admit.
This vessel is in such forwardness, that it is expected to be ready for her station in the first or second week in July, after which she will be duly advertised as a floating-light. It is supposed that this building on the Bell Rock will require five or six years to finish it. So soon as the store ship is moored, the operations at the Rock will commence, with the preparing it for the foundation, and as this season has hitherto been uncommonly stormy, we trust for the furtherance of this important work, that the rest of it is yet to come, and we hope in the course of a few months to be able to report progress on this interesting subject.