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Robert Stevenson

Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board who designed and built the Bell Rock Lighthouse

A watercolour painting of a person wearing a dark coat looking directly forwards. They have red cheeks and small white tufts of hair over their ears, and a thin smile on their face.

Lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), watercolour illustration by Banffshire artist Dianne Sutherland, from the artist's own collection. © Dianne Sutherland. Licensor SCRAN


1-3 Baxter's Place, Edinburgh
Plaque inscription
Robert Stevenson
Civil Engineer and Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, designed and built the Bell Rock Lighthouse

Robert Stevenson designed and built over 25 lighthouses around Scotland, including the famous Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, which is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.

Born in Glasgow, Stevenson was apprenticed to a gunsmith at the age of fourteen. After his father died, his mother married engineer and tinsmith Thomas Smith. The family relocated to Edinburgh and Stevenson was apprenticed to his stepfather, who had been appointed engineer to the newly formed Northern Lighthouse Board.

The lighthouse at Bell Rock was Stevenson’s greatest achievement and he undertook the designs aged just 28. It was another seven years before construction began, by which time Stevenson had succeeded his stepfather as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. Built eleven miles out into the sea, it took 60 men three years to complete construction in extremely difficult conditions.

The dramatic setting and the heroic image of the lighthouse rising out of the waves ensured it became a tourist attraction even before it was completed. A watercolour depiction by JMW Turner hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland.

After the success of Bell Rock, Stevenson was engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board for over 50 years. As well as lighthouses, Stevenson also designed Stirling New Bridge, Annan Bridge, and Hutcheson Bridge over the Clyde in Glasgow, and several other railway, harbour and river navigation projects.

Three of his sons, Alan, David, and Thomas, also became prominent lighthouse engineers. His grandson was the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

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