In the afternoon of time
A strenuous family dusted from its hands
The sands of granite, and beholding far
Along the sounding coasts its pyramids
And tall memorials catch the dying sun
Smiled well content, and to this childish talk
Around the fire addressed its evening hours.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Robert Stevenson FRSE
There is no parallel in all Scotland to that pre-eminent
of families, The Stevensons, who produced, in five generations,
no less than eight engineers for the Northern Lighthouse
Board to build their lighthouses. And nor was it just for
Scottish lighthouses that they were renowned.
The family was responsible for supplying many of the world’s
greatest lights; for building harbours, roads, bridges and
railways, deepening rivers and constructing canals. They
gave, when required, expert evidence at engineering enquiries,
and in their heyday had an international reputation
It is therefore somewhat incongruous that, of all the members
of this family, the one who should be best remembered, is
not one of its engineers, but a young man who exchanged
a life of lighthouse building for that of literature. Born
in 1850, the year of his grandfather’s death (the builder
of the Bell Rock Lighthouse), Robert Louis Stevenson
is undoubtedly one of the greatest literary figures Scotland
has ever produced.
There are three publications, produced in recent
years, which deal specifically with the Stevenson family.
One is by Craig Mair "A Star for Seamen - The Stevenson
Family of Engineers" (1978). The other two are "The
Lighthouse Stevensons" by Bella Bathurst (1999) and
"Bright Lights - The Stevenson Engineers - 1752-1971"
by Jean Leslie and Roland Paxton (1999).
Of the three books referred to above, Craig Mair's book
is no longer in print. However, a visit to any Scottish
Antiquarian Book Fair could well produce a copy! The others
are readily available from any good bookshop. These should
be consulted for a complete insight into the lives
and achievements of the Engineers. The individual biographical
notes used in this site are, by necessity, limited in content,
and I am particularly indebted to Craig Mair for
use of his family notes in the above publication.
Like all good families, the Stevensons were not without
their problems - internal differences, personality conflicts,
disappointments, illnesses, and the like! Few families are
without! All biographies allude to these . . . but
nicely so! As we would say in the old Scots: "There's
aye a muckle stane at abodies door" (There's always
a large stone at everyone door waiting to trip you up and
foil your plans). Or as Rabbie Burns said in one of his
most famous poems: "The best laid schemes o' mice
an' men gang aft a-gley".