Tag Archives: Thomas Stevenson

Thomas Stevenson, Civil Engineer

NCBG Stevenson vault 2

I wrote about Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Stevenson family vault in the New Calton Burial Ground, here (scroll down to V for Vailima). Through the grille you can read inscriptions commemorating Robert Stevenson and Jane Smith, RLS’s paternal grandparents, and their sons Alan and Thomas. Thomas was RLS’s father.

RLS’s last visit to Edinburgh was in May 1887, to see his dying father. He arrived on the 6th, and his father died two days later; RLS was too ill to attend the funeral on the 13th. After his father’s death, RLS wrote a short appreciation, ‘Thomas Stevenson, Civil Engineer’ published as Chapter IX in Memories and Portraits (1887).

After praising his father’s public achievements in optics and as a designer of “shore-lights…, beacons… and harbours”, RLS turned to the private person:

“He was a man of a somewhat antique strain: with a blended sternness and softness that was wholly Scottish and at first somewhat bewildering; with a profound essential melancholy of disposition and (what often accompanies it) the most humorous geniality in company; shrewd and childish; passionately attached, passionately prejudiced; a man of many extremes, many faults of temper, and no very stable foothold for himself among life’s troubles. (…) He had excellent taste, though whimsical and partial; collected old furniture and delighted specially in sunflowers long before the days of Mr. Wilde; took a lasting pleasure in prints and pictures… and though he read little, was constant to his favourite books… Guy Mannering [by Walter Scott] and The Parent’s Assistant [by Maria Edgeworth], of which he never wearied.”

Thomas Stevenson’s stone has not aged well and, despite recent cleaning, is tricky to read and to photograph, certainly compared with the white marble memorials to his father and brother. The text reads:

In Loving Memory
Thomas Stevenson, R.S.E. ****
Engineer to the Board of
Northern Lighthouses
Past President of the Royal Society
of Edinburgh
Member of the Institute of
Civil Engineers.
“By whose devices the great sea lights
in every quarter of the world now shine
more brightly.”
Born July 22 1818
Died May 8 1887
I am persuaded that death shall not be
able to separate me from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus my Lord

and of his only son
Robert Louis Stevenson
Essayist Poet and Novelist
born at Edinburgh 13th November 1850
died in Samoa 3rd December 1894
and buried on Vaea Mountain.
Every one that loveth is born of God
and knoweth God.

Margaret Isabella Balfour
Wife and mother
Born at Colinton Manse February 11th 1829
Died at Edinburgh May 14th 1897.

NCBG Stevenson Thomas & Robert