1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stevenson, Robert
STEVENSON, ROBERT (1772-1850), Scottish engineer, was the only son of Alan Stevenson, partner in a West Indian house in Glasgow, and was born in that city on the 8th of June 1772. He was educated at Anderson's College, Glasgow, and Edinburgh University. In his youth he assisted his stepfather, Thomas Smith, in his lighthouse schemes, and at the age of nineteen was sent to superintend the erection of a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae. Subsequently he succeeded Smith, whose daughter he married in 1799, as engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, and during his period of office, from 1797 to 1843, he designed and executed a large number of lighthouses, the most important being that on the Bell Rock, begun in 1807. For its illumination he introduced an improved apparatus, and he was also the author of various valuable inventions in connexion with lighting, including the intermittent and flashing lights, and the mast lantern for lightships. As a civil engineer he improved the approaches to Edinburgh, including that by the Calton Hill, constructed harbours, docks and breakwaters, improved river and canal navigation, and constructed several important bridges. In consequence of observations made by him George Stephenson advocated the use of malleable- instead of cast-iron rails for railways, and he was the inventor of the movable jib and balance cranes. Chiefly through his interposition an admiralty survey was established, from which the admiralty sailing directions for the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland have been prepared. Stevenson published an Account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1824, and, besides contributing important articles on engineering subjects to Brewster's Edinburgh Encyclopaedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, was the author of various papers read before learned societies. He died at Edinburgh on the 12th of July 1850.
Of his family, three sons, Alan, David and Thomas, attained distinction as lighthouse engineers. The eldest, Alan (1807-1865), eventually became a partner with his father, whom he succeeded as engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses in 1843. The most noteworthy lighthouse designed by him is Skerryvore on the west coast of Scotland, an isolated tower of which the first stone was laid in 1840 and which first showed its light in 1843. He published an Account of the Skerryvore Lighthouse in 1848, and a Rudimentary Treatise on the History, Construction and Illumination of Lighthouses in 1850, and he wrote the article on lighthouses in the 8th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The third son, David (1815-1886), was at first engaged on land and marine surveys and in railway work. In 1837 he made a tour in North America, which gave rise to his Sketch of the Civil Engineering of North America (1838), and on his return became a partner in his father's business. In 1853 he and his youngest brother Thomas were appointed joint engineers to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses in succession to their brother Alan, and he designed many lighthouses not only in Scotland but also in New Zealand, India and Japan. His books include Marine Surveying (1842), Canal and River Engineering (1858), Reclamation and Protection of Agricultural Land (1874), and Life of Robert Stevenson (1878), and he was also a contributor to the 8th and 9th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The youngest son, Thomas (1818-1887), joined his father's business in 1846, and as joint engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses from 1853 to 1885 introduced various improvements in lighthouse illumination, which were described in the article on lighthouses he wrote for the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was also deeply interested in meteorology, and in 1864 designed the Stevenson screen widely used for the sheltering of thermometers. He was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson.