Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)

Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)

Civil engineer

Much of the early building work of Scotland's lighthouses was undertaken by two innovative engineers: Thomas Smith, an Edinburgh ironsmith and streetlight designer, and Robert Stevenson. They built nine lights between 1786 and 1806; made improvements to light design including oil lamps, reflectors and clockwork mechanisms to rotate the beams; and developed techniques for increasing the height of the lighthouse buildings. Robert Stevenson's most famous project was the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the Angus coast which was built between 1807 and 1810. His sons, David, Alan and Thomas, followed their father into engineering. His grandson, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), son of Thomas, served three years as an engineering apprentice but later turned to writing becoming one of Scotland's foremost authors.

Birth in 1772

Robert Stevenson was born on 8 June 1772, the son of Allan Stevenson, merchant and Jean Lilly. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Glasgow gives his father's surname as Stivenson, the date of baptism as 16 November 1772 and the witnesses as John Murdoch and John Wilson.

Baptism entry for Robert Stevenson

Baptism entry for Robert Stevenson in the OPR for Glasgow (24 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 644-1/15, page 354

Marriage in 1799

Robert Stevenson, merchant married Jean Smith on 28 May 1799. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Edinburgh shows that they were both from High Church Parish and that Jean was the daughter of Thomas Smith, tin-plate worker in Edinburgh.

Marriage entry for Robert Stevenson

Marriage entry for Robert Stevenson in the OPR for Edinburgh (42 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-1/52, page 295

Death in 1850

Robert Stevenson, civil engineer and freeman of Calton, died on 12 July 1850. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Leith South – records of mortality kept in the Calton Burying Grounds - gives his address as 1 Baxter’s Place, cause of death as inflammation of sinuses, age at death as 78 and place of burial as the New Ground and centre of his own tomb.

Burial entry for Robert Stevenson

Burial entry for Robert Stevenson in the OPR for Leith South (25 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 692-2/37, page 536

Testament of Robert Stevenson

National Records of Scotland, SC70/4/12 pp 483-537

The codicils to Robert Stevenson's will bequeath in detail his possessions to his daughter, sons and grandchildren. These possessions include paintings and plans of the lighthouses he had designed.

View transcript (120 KB PDF)

The images of the original document are in jpeg format (approximately 150 KB):

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