Hutchison Bridge, Annan Bridge & Robert Stevenson

Hutcheson Bridge, Glasgow , Annan Bridge, Dumfriesshire, Robert Stevenson

Robert Stevenson

1772 – 1850

Robert Stevenson

Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) civil engineer and founder of a family dynasty of lighthouse engineers.

Engineering Achievements

Robert Stevenson was responsible for the design and supervision of over 25 lighthouses, including the Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1811. The building of the lighthouses was a heroic achievement. Not only did the structures have to be designed to cope with the great forces of nature - waves, currents and wind - but the designer also had to devise the method of construction and design the lifting plant etc. necessary to construct a monolith, usually on a rock in the middle of the ocean, sometimes far offshore. Stevenson served for nearly 50 years as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. He innovated in the choice of light sources, mountings, reflector design, the use of Fresnel lenses, and in rotation and shuttering systems providing lighthouses with individual signatures allowing them to be identified by seafarers. For this last innovation he was awarded a gold medal by William I of the Netherlands.

Stevenson was also responsible for the design of Stirling New Bridge, Annan Bridge, and Hutcheson Bridge over the Clyde in Glasgow, and for a number of railway, harbour and river navigation projects.

His Life

  1. 1772 Born 8th June in Glasgow to Alan Stevenson, West India merchant and Jane Lillie
  2. 1774 Age: 1 Death of Stevenson's father on 26th May at St. Christopher
  3. 1770s Educated at a charity school in Edinburgh
  4. 1786 Age: 14 Apprenticed to a gunsmith
  5. 1792-94 Age: 20- Attended John Anderson's classes at University of Glasgow part time
  6. 1792 Age: 20 His mother Jane Lillie married Thomas Smith, tinsmith, on 14th November
  7. 1796-1802 Age: 24- Apprenticed formally to Thomas Smith, tinsmith and lighthouse engineer
  8. 1799 Age: 22 Married Jane Smith, daughter of Thomas Smith
  9. 1800-04 Age: 28- Attended classes at University of Edinburgh with Professors Robison, Playfair, Hope and Jameson
  10. 1800 Age: 28 First designs for the Bell Rock Lighthouse
  11. 1803- Age: 31- Collaboration with John Rennie for final design of Bell Rock lighthouse
  12. 1804 Age: 32 Failed to graduate from University of Edinburgh for "total want of Greek"
  13. 1806 Age: 34 Act of Parliament passed for construction of Bell Rock lighthouse
  14. 1808-43 Age: 36- Served as Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board
  15. 1811 Age: 38 Bell Rock lighthouse commissioned and operational, 1 February
  16. 1815 Age: 42 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 19th January
  17. 1821 Age: 48 Trinity Sea Wall, nr Edinburgh, with cycloidal curved profile
  18. 1827 Age: 55 Completion of Annan Bridge, Dumfriesshire. Admitted to the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers
  19. 1828 Age: 56 Elected to membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers
  20. 1829 Age: 57 Awarded Gold Medal from King William I of the Netherlands for inventing intermittent and flashing lights
  21. 1832 Age: 60 Completion of Stirling Bridge
  22. 1834 Age: 62 Completion of Hutcheson Bridge, Glasgow
  23. 1834- Age: 62 Navigation improvements to the River Tay
  24. 1846 Age: 74 Retired from the family firm
  25. 1850 Age: 78 Died 12th July in 1 Baxter's Place, Edinburgh, buried in New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh

His Legacy

Stevenson can be considered to have inaugurated the modern lighthouse service. Many of his designs are still standing and functioning today, and his leadership and energy inspired a family dynasty of lighthouse engineers over four generations. Robert Stevenson was father to David, Alan and Thomas Stevenson who all became engineers. Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author, was his grandson.

More Information

Life of Robert Stevenson, Civil Engineer David Stevenson, Edinburgh, 1878
Bright Lights, the Stevenson Engineers 1752-1971 Leslie and Paxton, Edinburgh, 1999
The Lighthouse Stevensons Bella Bathurst, HarperCollins, 1999
Robert Stevenson by Roland Paxton in Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers Vol 1; 1500-1830. Skempton et al (eds), 2002. pp.661-666
Historic Environment Scotland has fixed a commemorative plaque to 1 Baxter Place, Edinburgh
There are 5 artworks of Robert Stevenson in the National Galleries of Scotland
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (full text available to subscribers and UK library members)

Other Lighthouses

1797 Cloch, Renfrewshire
1804 Inchkeith
1806 Start Point, Orkney
1809 North Ronaldsay, Orkney
1812 Toward Point, Argyllshire
1816 Isle of May
1817 Corsewall, Wigtownshire
1818 Point of Ayre, Isle of Man
1821 Sumburgh Head, Shetland
1824 Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh
1820s Eilean Glass, Harris
1820s Pentland Skerries, Orkney
1820s Mull of Kintyre
1820s Pladda, Arran
1825 Rhinns of Islay
1827 Buchan Ness, Aberdeenshire
1828 Cape Wrath, Caithness
1830 Mull of Galloway
1830 Tarbat Ness, Ross and Cromarty
1831 Dunnet Head, Caithness
1832 Douglas Head, Isle of Man
1833 Barra Head
1833 Girdle Ness, Aberdeen
1833 Lismore

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