Stevenson was born in 1772, in Glasgow. His father died when he was an infant and his mother soon remarried Thomas Smith, a Scottish businessman, and an early lighthouse engineer.
Stevenson started learning the crafts of lighthouse engineering when he was 15. At the age of 19, Stevenson was appointed to supervise the erection of a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae in the River Clyde.
He was devoted to becoming a civil engineer and worked tirelessly to fulfill his ambitions. Before attending lectures at the Andersonian Institute at Glasgow, Stevenson had regularly practiced his architectural drawing. When he enrolled in the Institute, he enriched his knowledge with lectures in mathematics and physical sciences.
Later he enrolled in the University of Edinburgh where he studied many subjects but didn’t earn a degree due to his poor knowledge of Latin and Greek. In 1799, Stevenson married his stepsister and the following year became Smith’s business partner. By that time, he had also been appointed an engineer to the Lighthouse Board.
On the east coast of Scotland, near Dundee and the entrance to the Firth of Tay, there are hidden rocks beneath the waves that claimed the lives of many people and which are the reason for the wreck of 70 ships that have never been found. There is a legend that an abbot from nearby Arbroath Abbey had installed a warning bell on the rocks during the 14th century. But it wasn’t until 1789 when the construction of a lighthouse at the place was proposed by Robert Stevenson.
At first, the members of the Northern Lighthouse Board considered Stevenson’s idea impossible because of its required expenses. In 1804 the huge 64-gun warship HMS York and its crew of 491 got completely lost in the sea. Then, the Northern Lighthouse Board reconsidered Stevenson’s idea.
The construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse began in 1807, headed by Stevenson and 20 other men who worked 20 hours per day. They were exposed to numerous dangers during the construction of the lighthouse. By 1810 the construction was slowed down due to various factors, and Robert lost his twins and the youngest daughter who died of whooping cough. The lighthouse was finished the following year when it was lit for the first time.
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is the most important work of Stevenson’s life, but he’s also a recognized constructor of other lighthouses such as the Isle of Mary lighthouse, built in 1816, Corsewall Lighthouse built in 1817, Point of Ayre lighthouse, which is the northernmost point on the Isle of Man, as well as many others around Scotland.
Stevenson died in 1850, at the age of 79 in Edinburgh.