Section Index
The Builders
Seamen and Vessels
Lighthouse Keepers
Other People in Stevenson’s “Account”
The Map “deciphered”
An Historic Engineering

The Builders of the Lighthouse

For convenience, an alphabetical list of all those mentioned below can be found at the end of the Section

A superb achievement

It is very difficult to calculate the exact number of men involved in the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, and the other works related to its construction.

Stevenson in his “Account” never gives exact numbers, although from time to time he does state that, eg, on July 5, 1808, “the Sir Joseph Banks set sail with 38 masons, 6 joiners, 3 smiths and the landing-master’s crew, consisting of 12 seamen, a total of 59”. On another occasion (June 6, 1808), the narrative states: “In the workyard 60 stone cutters were employed in hewing and preparing the various courses.”

Over the period of actual construction (August 1807 to January 1811) there were many comings and goings of workmen and seamen alike . . . for whatever reasons! As one can imagine, there were accidents and, unfortunately, two deaths directly connected with the lighthouse, plus another accidental drowning. There was even a mutiny, but fortunately the captain of the day did not suffer the same fate as the famous Capt. Bligh of the Bounty!

Many of the men stayed on in the Lighthouse Service after the building was complete. John Reid, for example, who was mate on the Floating Light, eventually had the honour of becoming the first Principal Lightkeeper of the Bell Rock; John Bonnyman, one of the Aberdeen masons, who lost his finger accidentally, became an Assistant Lightkeeper.

The complement of men also had their fair share of characters: For example, George Forsyth, to whom the motion of the ship was like “death itself”, and who preferred to spend his nights alone in the unfinished beacon-house. Or Peter Fortune, the versatile and good-natured “cook, steward, upholsterer, surgeon and barber”. And another, James Glen, who with tales of his own earlier hardships reconciled his fellow workers to the terrible discomforts of living on the beacon. This was the temporary wooden building on stilts that stood beside the half-built lighthouse to house the artificers. The list is obviously incomplete, but it is hoped that future research may lead to the names of others who were engaged on the works.

Engineer - Robert STEVENSON

Engineer’s Clerk - Lachlan KENNEDY (Accountant and Cashier in the Engineer’s Office)

Clerk of Works - Mr David LOGAN (son of Peter Logan)

Landing Master - Capt. WILSON

Foreman Builder - Mr Peter LOGAN (Senior Foreman)

Joiner - Mr Francis WATT (also foreman millwright; helped with many of the inventions used in the construction)

Foreman Smith - Mr James DOVE

Responsibilities for the Heads of Departments as laid down by Stevenson in May 1810:
Mr David Logan, Clerk of Works, was held responsible for providing everything contained in the Requisition of the Foreman-builder
Mr Lachlan Kennedy, Engineer’s Clerk, was answerable for the other parts of the respective Requisitions from the Tender and Beacon, and for the dispatch given in the loading and sailing of the vessels Masters of the stone vessels were according directed, on their arrival by night or day, to deliver all letters at the office
Mr Peter Logan, for the execution of the masonry
Mr Francis Watt, for the good condition of the Beacon-house, Railways, and Machinery
Capt. Wilson, for the state of the Praams and other boats in the landing of materials and for the safety of the stone and building-materials in transporting them from the ship’s hold till they were placed upon the waggons upon the Rock Mr John Peters, Steward, was answerable for making the necessary Requisitions, Water and Fuel
Capt. Taylor, master of the Tender, was to see a proper stock of these articles landed and kept in store upon the rock



(The 10 men below were hired from Aberdeen because of their experience in working with granite)

Alexander SHERIFF
John BONNYMAN (lost a finger during the course of the works, and eventually became a light keeper)
Alexander DAVIDSON
William FASKEN (from Forgue, Aberdeenshire; emigrated to Canada 1837)

John WATT (principal mortar-maker)
William REID
Hugh ROSE (a stone accidentally crushed his legs; consequently he was off work for 12 months)
Alexander BREBNER
Thomas SELKIRK (principal stone-cutter, brother of Robert)
William WALKER (killed when a stone crushed his thigh)
Charles LIND (died of a cold and fever after one of the boats capsized)
Robert HILL


Charles HENDERSON (slipped and fell while crossing the rope bridge between the beacon-house and lighthouse - presumed drowned - Oct. 16, 1810)


Michael WISHART (principal builder; suffered very serious injuries when a section of the moveable beam crane fell on his legs in June 1809; recovered and became second in command of the Lighthouse when it became operational in 1811)
Robert SELKIRK (principal builder after Wishart’s accident, and brother of Thomas)
James SLIGHT (with his brother, Alexander, were chiefly involved with designing the patterns for the stones; also were responsible for the interior fitments; and in 1819 the permanent railways on the rock)
Alexander SLIGHT
James GLEN (millwright and joiner)

Brazier work

Mr Joseph FRASER




James CLARK (clockmaker, who constructed the revolving machinery for the lights)
John FORREST (Superintendent of Lightkeepers' Duties) who spent three months on the newly-built lighthouse observing the effects of the sea on the building.

The following men, the Engineer's Assistants, were involved with the Bell Rock at some point during its construction:

James Craw and Bassey with the Woolwich Sling Cart
James Craw and Bassey with the Woolwich Sling Cart normally used for moving heavy artillery.
It was adapted to transport the large blocks of stone from the Ladyloan workyard to the harbour

James CRAW and his horse, BASSEY, were probably two of the most famous “personages” connected with the Bell Rock works. James Craw and his horse had the job of carting the raw blocks of stone from the harbour to the work-yard, then, after dressing, taking the hewn stones back down to the harbour again for transporting out to the Rock. After the building was complete the horse was “retired” from service, and spent the remainder of its days grazing on the island of Inchkeith. After it died in 1813, a famous Edinburgh anatomist, Dr John Barclay, collected its bones and set them up in his Museum. The skeleton was eventually bequeathed to the College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

In summer of 1819, Mr James SLIGHT, and his brother Alexander, together with Messrs *George DOVE, Robert SELKIRK, James GLEN, James SCOTT, Alexander BREBNER, and John MITCHELL completed the western and southern reaches of the railways.

*According to the Arbroath Abbey monumental inscriptions, George Dove died in 1842, aged 66. That would make him born c.1776, and aged 43 when he helped build the railways in 1819, or aged 31 or thereabouts when work on the lighthouse commenced in 1807! He is obviously related to James Dove, the foreman smith, but whether he is a son or brother is not known.

The Builders of the Lighthouse

(alphabetically listed)

Blackwood, John
Bonnyman, John
Bonnyman, William
Brebner, Alexander
Bremner, Sutherland
Brown, William
Bruce, John

Calder, Thomas
Carey, David
Chalmers, William
Clark, James
Collison, Alexander
Couper, Robert
Craw, James
Cruickshanks, John
Cumming, David

Dall, George
Davidson, Alexander
Dick, John
Dickson, Henry
Dorward, George
Dove, George
Dove, James

Eaton, Stuart
Elliott, Thomas

Fasken, William
Ferres, Robert
Forrest, John
Forsyth, George
Fortune, Peter
Fraser, Joseph

Gibb, George
Gibson, John
Glen, James
Gloag, Robert
Grant, James
Gray, Charles
Grieve, James

Hay, D.
Hill, Robert

Kennedy, Lachlan
Kennedy, William


Lawrence, Alexander
Leask, Henry
Lind, Charles
Logan, David
Logan, Peter
Lorimer, William

Macdonald, James
Macurich, Thomas
Mason, John
Milne, George
Milne, Thomson
Mitchell, John
Muir, Alexander

Pearson, William
Pool, Robert
Peters, John
Pratt, John

Reid, John
Reid, William
Roberts, James
Rose, Hugh

Scott, Alexander
Scott, G. C.
Scott, James (mason)
Scott, James (seaman)
Selkirk, Robert
Selkirk, Thomas
Shand, John
Shephard, Alexander
Shepherd, James
Shepherd, William
Sheriff, Alexander
Shortreed, Robert
Sinclair, George
Slight, Alexander
Slight, James
Soutar, Peter
Spink, James
Spink, John
Steedman, John
Stevenson, Robert

Taylor, David
Thin, John

Walker, William
Watt, Francis
Watt, John
Webster, D.
Wilson, James
Wishart, Michael


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