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Les Sentinelles des Mers

Par Guy Detienne


The Stevenson Dynasty: lighthouse builders.
Version française :

The coastline of Scotland is about 10,000 km long. It is bordered by 790 islands.
These islands, which alone have 6,600 km of coastline, are divided into 4 groups:
- Shetlands, the northernmost group in Scotland,
- Orkney, between the Shetlands and the mainland,
- The Inner Hebrides, west of Scotland,
- Outer Hebrides (Outer Hebrides or Western Isles), west of the Inner Hebrides.

The coastline, which is heavily cut, is the site of strong currents and frequent storms.
To secure maritime traffic, the "Northern Lighthouse Board" (NBL) was created in 1786. This company is going to draw up a coastal marking plan.
It is based in Edinburgh and, since automation, controls all Scottish lighthouses.

More than half of the 212 Scottish lighthouses were built in 150 years by the 3 Stevenson generations.

Robert Stevenson.
Robert Stevenson was born in 1772. His father died when he was still young.
His mother remarried in 1792 with Thomas Smith (1752-1815).
Thomas Smith, a tinsmith, joined NBL when it was created. He is appointed Senior Lighting Engineer and Consultant.

Robert is involved with NBL and works with his father-in-law. He is involved in the construction of several lighthouses.
In 1797 he was appointed consulting engineer and succeeded Thomas Smith.

His most important work was the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse (1807 and 1810). It is based on the Eddystone lighthouse and makes several improvements.

Between 1808 and 1842, he was responsible for the construction of more than 18 major lighthouses.
He was also the inventor of intermittent fire and is responsible for equipment for many lighthouses.
He adapts Fresnel lenses and innovates in the choice of light sources.
He was also responsible for the construction of ports, bridges, railway lines ...

In 1799 he married his half sister with whom he had 13 children, 5 of whom survived.

The 3 sons, David, Alan and Thomas, are engineers and work at the NLB.
He retired in 1843 and died in 1850.

Alan, David and Thomas Stevenson.
Alan Stevenson (1807-1865) was Robert’s eldest son.

He was born the year the Bell Rock lighthouse was built. He works at the NLB and is responsible for the construction of 12 lighthouses.

Its greatest success is the Skerryvore lighthouse. It is built on a reef.
This achievement was long considered impossible and finally considered by many as "the most elegant and perfect lighthouse in the world".

Alan travels a lot and he befriends the brothers Leonor and Augustin Fresnel.

He suffered from health problems and retired prematurely in 1853.
He died in 1865. He left a son and 3 daughters.

David Stevenson was Robert’s second son.

David, now an engineer, travels a lot and takes care of the family business.
Between 1854 and 1880 he worked with his brother Thomas to create more than 20 lighthouses.
It helps to design a lighthouse for Japan, which must be able to withstand earthquakes.

After his brother resigned in 1853, he concentrated only on the lighthouses.

He had 8 children. Two sons, David Alan and Charles Alexandre.
They became lighthouse builders. In 1881, he became ill and resigned in 1883. He died in 1886.

Thomas Stevenson (1818 - 1887), the youngest of the 3 brothers, helped David at the NLB and he continued the family business.

At first, he seemed uninterested but gradually he contributed to the construction of more than 25 lighthouses.

After the resignation of his brother David, he alone carried out the work in progress.
To his great disappointment, his son did not continue his work, he became a writer.

For health reasons, he retired in 1886. He died in 1887.
David Alan and Charles Alexandre.

David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938) was the eldest son of David Stevenson. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, he worked in the family business.

In 1885, he was appointed engineer at the NLB. Between 1885 and 1886 he worked with his uncle and took over the construction of three lighthouses: Fidra, Ailsa Craig and Oxcars.

For the next 50 years, he built 23 lighthouses with his brother Charles Alexandre. He also worked in optics.

He had two daughters. Without an estate, he remained in office until his death in 1938.

Charles Alexandre (1855-1950) is David’s second son.

A university engineer, he followed the family tradition. Between 1887 and 1937, he collaborated with his brother on the construction of 23 lighthouses.
He was not appointed as an engineer at the NLB but took up the position during his brother’s illness.

It improves the optics and it works on the efficiency of the foghorns.

His son Alan (1891-1971) was the last in the family to practise this profession.
He retired in 1940 and died in 1950.

List of lighthouses built by the Stevenson.
Before 1800.
 1787  Kinnaird Head Thomas Smith Aberdeenshire
1788  Mull of Kintyre  Thomas Smith Kintyre Peninsula, southwest Scotland
1789  Eilean Glas Thomas Smith Scalpay, Outer Hebrides
1789  North Ronaldsay  Thomas Smith et Robert (?) northernmost of the Orkney Islands
1790  Pladda Thomas Smith Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde
1793  Little Cumbrae Thomas Smith Isle of Firth of Clyde
 1794  Pentland Skerries Thomas Smith et Robert (?) Muckle Skerry, Pentland Firth
 1797  Cloch Thomas Smith et Robert Firth of Clyde
Between 1800 and 1849.
1804  Inchkeith  Thomas Smith et Robert Island near Edinburgh 
1806 Start Point Thomas Smith et Robert Sanday, Orkney Islands
 1811 Bell Rock  Robert  Coast of Angus
1812  Southerness  Robert South West Scotland
1812  Toward Point Robert South of Cowal peninsula
 1816 Isle of May Robert  North of the outer Firth of Forth
 1818 Corsewall Robert  Dumfries and Galloway
 1818 Point of Ayre Robert  Isle of Man
 1818 Calf of Man Robert  Southwest coast of the Isle of Man
 1821 Sumburgh Head Robert  Shetland.
 1825 Rinns of Islay Robert  Island of Orsay, Inner Hebrides.
 1827 Buchan Ness Robert  Boddam, Aberdeenshire
 1828 Cape Wrath Robert  Sutherland
 1830 Mull of Galloway Robert  Dumfries and Galloway
 1830 Tarbat Ness Robert  Portmahomack, east coast of Scotland
 1831 Dunnet Head Robert  North coast of Scotland
1832  Douglas Head  Robert Isle of Man
 1833 Barra Head Robert  Berneray, Outer Hebrides
 1833 Girdle Ness Robert  Aberdeen
 1833 Eilean Musdile Robert South west of Lismore, Inner Hebrides.
 1843 Little Ross Alan  Meikle Ross, Dumfries and Galloway
 1844 Skerryvore Alan  South west of Tiree, Argyll
 1846 Chanonry Point Alan  Black Isle, south of Rosemarkie
 1846 Covesea Skerries Alan  South coast of the Moray Firth
 1846 Cromarty Alan  Cromarty, Highlands
 1847 Cairnryan Point Alan  Loch Ryan
 1849 Ardnamurchan Alan  West coast
 1849  Noss Head Alan  Wick Caithness Head
From 1850 to 1899.
 1850  Hestan Alan   Solway Firth
 1850  Sanda Alan  Sanda Island, Argyll and Bute
 1851 Hoy High et Low Alan   Graemsay, Orkney Islands
 1853 Arnish Point Alan  Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
 1854  Davaar Island David  et Thomas (?) east coast of Kintyre,  Argyll and Bute
 1854 Muckle Flugga David  et Thomas (?) Muckle Flugga, Shetland
 1854 Out Skerries David  et Thomas (?) îles Shetland 
 1857 South Rona David  et Thomas  Rona Island, Inner Hebrides
 1857 Kyleakin David  et Thomas   Isle of Skye 
 1857 Ornsay David  et Thomas   Isle of Skye 
 1857 Rubha nan Gall David  et Thomas  Tobermory, Isle of Mull
 1857 Ushenish David  et Thomas   South Uist
 1858 Bressay David  et Thomas   Îles Shetland
 1858 Cantick Head David  et Thomas   Orkney, île de Hoy
1859 Ruvaal  David  et Thomas  Islay Islands 
 1860 Corran David  et Thomas  Fort William, Loch Linnhe
 1860 Fladda David  et Thomas  Slate Islands, Argyll and Bute
 1861 McArthurs Head David  et Thomas  Islay Islands 
 1862 Butt of Lewis David  et Thomas (?) Isle of Lewis 
 1862 St Abb's Head David  et Thomas  St. Abbs, Berwickshire
 1862  Holborn Head David  et Thomas  Caithness,  Highland
1862 St. Abb's Head David  et Thomas  Berwickshire
 1864 Monach Isles David  et Thomas  Shillay, Outer Hebrides
 1865  Skervuile David  et Thomas  Sound of Jura
 1866 Auskerry David  et Thomas  Island in eastern Orkney
 1869 Loch Indaal David  et Thomas  Islay Islands 
1870 Stoer Head David  et Thomas  Lochinver, Sutherland
 1870  Scurdie Ness David  et Thomas  Montrose, Angus
 1872 Dubh Artach David  et Thomas  South of Isle of Mull
 1873 Turnberry David  et Thomas   Turnberry, South Ayrshire
 1875 Chicken Rock David  et Thomas  Southernmost island of the Isle of Man
1876 Holy Island Inner David  et Thomas  Holy Island, east of the Isle of Arran
 1885 Fidra David A  et Thomas  East Edinburgh
 1886 Ailsa Craig David A  et Thomas  Island in the Firth of Clyde
 1886 Oxcars David A  et Thomas  Front of Edinburgh
 1892 Skroo  David A et  Charles A Shetland Islands (or Fair Isle Nord)
 1893 Saeva Ness David A et  Charles A Helliar Holm, Orkney Islands 
 1895 Rattray Head David A et  Charles A  Buchan Aberdeenshire
 1895 Sule Skerry  David A et  Charles A Orkney Islands  Orcades
 1896 Stroma David A et  Charles A (?) Stroma Islands
 1897 Tod Head David A et  Charles A Catterline  Aberdeenshire
 1898  Noup Head David A et  Charles A (?) Westray, Orkney Islands
 1899  Flannan Isles David A et  Charles A (?) Eilean Mor Outer Hebrides
After 1900.
 1900 Killantringan David A et  Charles A (?) Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway
 1900  Tiumpan Head David A et  Charles A  Isle of Lewis
 1901 Barns Ness David A et  Charles A (?)  East Lothian
1902 Lady Isle David A et  Charles A West of Troon
 1903 Bass Rock David A Firth of Forth,
 1904 Hyskeir David A et  Charles A West of Rhum Islands 
1905 Pillar Rock David A et  Charles A Holy Island Outer, Isle of Arran
 1908 Eilean Trodday David A et  Charles A  Isle of Skye
 1909 Neist Point David A et  Charles A  Isle of Skye
 1912 Milaid Point David A et  Charles A  Isle of Lewis
 1912 Rubh'Re David A et  Charles A Loch Ewe
 1914 Maughold Head  Charles A et David A (?) Isle of Man
1915 Copinsay   Charles A et David A (?)  Orkney Islands 
 1916 Clyth Ness  Charles A et David A (?)  Caithness  Highland
 1924 Duncansby Head David A et  Charles A North-east of mainland
 1929 Esha Ness  Charles A et David A (?) North-west of the Shetland Islands
 1937 Tor Ness David A et  Charles A  Pentland Firth  Orcades  Orkney Island
Copinsay, Orknay Island.