On the 8th of June 1772 in Glasgow, Jean Lillie Stevenson – the wife of Alan Stevenson, a partner in a West Indies sugar trading business – gave birth to a son, Robert Stevenson. Sadly for young Robert, his father died when the boy was only two years old, however his mother would later re-marry Thomas Smith, a civil engineer who had recently been appointed to the newly formed Northern Lighthouse Board.

Bust of Robert Stevenson From ”Biographical Sketch of the Late Robert Stevenson:Civil Engineer, by Alan Stevenson (son of Robert)

Serving as an apprentice to his step-father, Robert proved to be a highly capable civil engineer and was given the responsibility of supervising construction of a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae when he was only 19 years old. This was the beginning of a lifelong association with the design and construction of lighthouses throughout Scotland, as well as other civil engineering projects such as roads, bridges, harbours, canals and railways. Later taking his step-father’s place as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, Robert would eventually be responsible for the construction of seventeen Scottish lighthouses, including Bell Rock, Sumburgh Head, Corsewall and, of course, our very own Mull of Galloway lighthouse. He also consulted on other lighthouses and introduced innovations in the use of reflectors, Fresnel lenses and the rotation and shuttering systems that would give lighthouses their individual light signatures. His sons then continued the family business and, between them, the Stevensons designed the majority of Scottish lighthouses for more than 150 years.

And yes, he is related to the author Robert Louis Stevenson – Robert was Robert Louis’ grandfather!

So, on the anniversary of his birth, we’d just like to give a little shout out to Robert Stevenson. And if you’d like to see just how good he was when it came to designing and building lighthouses, come and visit us here at the Mull, see the exhibition and the foghorn engines and climb the steps to enjoy the view from the top of the tower. You can even come and stay with us here in one of the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages – see https://lighthouseholidaycottages.co.uk for more details and to make a booking.

If you would like to learn more about Robert Stevenson, you can find out more on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Stevenson_(civil_engineer). The Northern Lighthouse Board website also has a section about the “Stevenson Engineers” at https://www.nlb.org.uk/history/stevenson-engineers/.