The Stevensons
Who Built the Bell Rock Lighthouse?
Stevenson v. North Carr Rocks
Robert Louis Stevenson
RLS, Erraid and
Dubh Artach

Instrument Makers and the Northern Lights
Smith, Thomas

Stevenson, Robert

Stevenson, Alan

Stevenson, David

Stevenson, Thomas

Stevenson, David A.

Stevenson, Charles

Stevenson, D. Alan

Stevenson, Dorothy
Emily (1882-1973)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

To the English-speaking world the initials of RLS is immediately recognisable as one of Scotland’s greatest literary sons. Every child knows of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and of the adventures of David Balfour in his famous story “Kidnapped”. What is probably less well known is that he was also the grandson of Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), the builder of the Bell Rock and numerous other lighthouses around the coasts of Scotland. He was one member of that famous dynastic family who did not become a lighthouse builder!

What is even less well known is that RLS made use of the places he visited or spent holidays to locate many of the scenes depicted in his novels. At Yellowcraigs Park near North Berwick in East Lothian there is a little hill looking out to the rocky island of Fidra in the Firth of Forth said to have inspired him to write “Treasure Island”.

“Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is also said to be based on a real-life character in Edinburgh. Deacon Brodie, a respectable citizen during the day, but, at night, a thief and a robber.

The fact that he used the tiny island off Mull called Erraid to shipwreck his hero, David Balfour in “Kidnapped” was no mere coincidence. He spent three weeks on the island when his father and uncle were building the Dubh Artach lighthouse, completed in 1872. The short walk from the road end to the sandy cockle strand, which separates Erraid from Mull, is one of the loveliest spots in the entire Inner Hebridean island complex.

Shortly after 1870, RLS turned his back on lighthouse building to pursue his own literary career. More information on Robert Louis and his famous lighthouse family can be found here

"Records of a Family of Engineers"

RLS's history of the Stevenson family and excerpts of his grandfather's "Account" (as a "stand-alone" volume) was not published until 1912 - some 17 years after his death.

However, it was published earlier as part of the many series of his collected works. The first appeared in 1896 ("The Edinburgh Edition", under the editorship of Sidney Colvin), with several editions following regularly until the mid-1920s. These included the Tusitala (1924), Pentland (1925), Waverley (1925), Skerryvore (1925) and Vailima (1922). The latter edition alone was limited to 1060 sets for the United Kingdom, and a further 1030 sets for the American market!

The last known reprint of the RLS's "Records" appeared on the bookshelves in 1969 - published by Heron Books.

Before he died in 1971, D. Alan Stevenson was working on a new version of "Records of a Family of Engineers", but unfortunately the book was never finished. It was to be called "Some Records of R.L.S.'s family of Engineers".

To get hold now of a copy of Stevenson's original volume "An Account of the Bell Rock Light-house" (1824) is probably now well beyond the reach of most people's pockets, even if one were to come on the market; however, as well as RLS's book, in 1931 the Cambridge University Press, under The Craftsman Series, also produced an abridged version.

But let Robert Louis, in his own words, set the scene for his own "Records":

"I am now for many pages to let my grandfather speak for himself, and tell in his own words the story of his capital achievement. The tall quarto of 588 pages from which the following narrative has been dug out is practically unknown to the general reader, yet good judges have perceived its merit, and it has been named (with flattering wit) "The Romance of Stone and Lime" and "The Robinson Crusoe of Civil Engineering".

"The tower was but four year in the building; it took Robert Stevenson, in the midst of his many avocations, no less than fourteen years to prepare the Account. The title-page is a solid piece of literature up upwards of a hundred words; the table of contents runs to thirteen pages; and the dedication (to that revered monarch, George IV) must have cost no little study and correspondence. Walter Scott was called in council, and offered one miscorrection which still blots the page.

"In spite of all this pondering and filing, there remain pages not easy to construe, and inconsistencies not easy to explain away. I have sought to make these disappear, and to lighten a little the baggage with which my grandfather marches. Here and there I have rejointed and rearranged a sentence, always with his own words, and all with a reverent and faithful hand; and I offer to the reader the true Monument of Robert Stevenson with a little of the moss removed from the inscription, and the Portrait of the artist with some superfluous canvas cut away."


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