Cover image for The lighthouse Stevensons : the extraordinary story of the building of the Scottish lighthouses by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson
The lighthouse Stevensons : the extraordinary story of the building of the Scottish lighthouses by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson
Bathurst, Bella.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 278 pages ; illustrations ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
VK1061 .B38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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For centuries the seas around Scotland were notorious for shipwrecks. Mariners' only aids were skill, luck, and single coal-fire light on the east coast, which was usually extinguished by rain. In 1786 the Northern Lighthouse Trust was established, with Robert Stevenson appointed as chief engineer a few years later. In this engrossing book, Bella Bathhurst reveals that the Stevensons not only supervised the construction of the lighthouses under often desperate conditions but also perfected a design of precisely chiseled interlocking granite blocks that would withstand the enormous waves that batter these stone pillars. The same Stevensons also developed the lamps and lenses of the lights themselves, which "sent a gleam across the wave" and prevented countless ships from being lost at sea.

While it is the writing of Robert Louis Stevenson that brought fame to the family name, this mesmerizing account shows how his extraordinary ancestors changed the shape of the Scotland coast against incredible odds and with remarkable technical ingenuity.

Author Notes

Bella Bathurst is a freelance journalist. She divides her time between London and Scotland.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Almost a century before Robert Louis Stevenson captured the world's imagination with his tales of adventure and daring, his grandfather, Robert Stevenson, was living out the early chapters of a real-life story no less enthralling. After long and difficult research, Bathurst has rescued that story from obscurity, chronicling the rare courage and astonishing ingenuity with which Louis' grandfather, father, and two uncles raised lighthouses on the perilous Scottish coast. Louis himself would have applauded this stirring narrative about how his kinsmen, without the benefits of modern technology, risked their lives to erect stone towers on lonely points exposed to the fury of nature. Bathurst draws out the shared and distinctive strengths of the four Stevenson engineers by focusing on the four notable lighthouses--Skerryvore, Bell Rock, Dhu Heartach, and Muckle Flugga--that best represent the careers of these pioneers. Focusing on these four lighthouses also permits her to detail the specific kinds of challenges that the Stevensons faced in erecting such structures, from the political opposition of wreckers (whose livelihoods were threatened by making the seas safer) to the woeful inadequacy of the available lighting equipment. Bathurst concedes that in our age of computerized navigation and radio communication, many regard Scotland's lighthouses as anachronisms. But her book about the building of these lifesaving towers will not molder in obsolescence so long as readers marvel at daring feats accomplished against long odds. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

A real-life Shipping News, Bathurst's flamboyant and elegantly written saga is bursting with life, laced with romantic dreams, oversized ambitions, murder, piracy, nepotism, smoldering feuds, scientific ingenuity and the lonely heroism of men battling the elements. Bathurst tells how four generations of Robert Louis Stevenson's family designed and built the 97 manned lighthouses that speckle the Scottish coast. A reluctant engineer turned writer, RLS transmuted his lighthouse-building expeditions around Scotland's northern coast into Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but he rebelled against his quarrelsome father, Thomas, who tried to corral him into the family business. The rest is literary history. Much less well-known is the Lighthouse Stevensons' extraordinary family history: they built harbors, canals, railways and street lighting systems, and contributed numerous inventions to optics, engineering and architecture. Yet, out of stubborn altruistic pride, no family member ever took out a patent on any of their inventions. Even readers with no special interest in the sea or Scotland will be swept up in Bathurst's narrative, intriguingly illustrated with photographs, prints and drawings. Sir Walter Scott, Michael Faraday and Daniel Defoe stalk through these pages, and Bathurst unveils the Lighthouse Stevensons' battles, accomplishments, frustrations and personal tragedies against a backdrop of the Scottish Enlightenment, the advent of British naval supremacy, the Crimean War, the destruction of Highland society and the uneasy marriage of Scotland and England. She also devotes a marvelous, wistful chapter to the lost art of lighthouse-keepingÄall of Britain's lighthouses are now automated, computers having replaced keepers. Her exuberant family drama is an enchantment. Author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Robert Louis Stevenson may have written great literature, but for four generations his family has been noted for building lighthouses. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. xvii
1 Yarmouthp. 1
2 Northern Lightsp. 12
3 Eddystonep. 35
4 The Bell Rockp. 63
5 Edinburghp. 104
6 Skerryvorep. 141
7 Muckle Fluggap. 178
8 Dhu Heartachp. 208
9 The Keepersp. 236
Epiloguep. 256
Bibliographyp. 265
Indexp. 271