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Photo by © Derek Robertson

John Reid
David and Peter Logan
Francis Watt
James and Alexander Slight
Capt. David Taylor
Capt. James Wilson
Thomas Macurich


John Reid (1753-1843)

REID'S LEDGE - is named in compliment to Mr John Reid, the first principal Lightkeeper at the Bell Rock, who retired from the service in the year 1821. From the "Account . . . "

The following two letters follow the career and circumstance of how John Reid came to take on the prestigious position as the Bell Rock's first PLK.

John ReidThe first is, of course, not the original sent to John Reid. As a copy it is roughly written with scant attention to either punctuation or syntax. What is certainly interesting is the way in which Stevenson “head hunts” his man. The fact that he had been in the Outer Hebrides shortly before and had obviously spoken to John Reid's brother Alexander, PLK at Eilean Glas, may well have had a lot to do with it!

What is even more remarkable . . . when he took on the job, firstly in charge of the Floating Light in 1808, and subequently the Bell Rock in 1811 as Principal Lightkeeper, he was already aged 55 years old.
John Reid, first PLK of the
Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Robert Stevenson to John Reid
14th February 1808

Mr Campbell, Ensay, being here at present has informed me that he can spare your services in the event of your bettering your circumstances. I take the earliest opportunity to inform you that in the event of your finding it answer you to come to Arbroath as soon as possible, I could make your income at least Fifty pounds per annum; and employ you in keeping the floating light, or in some other capacity about the building of the Bell Rock Light house on which business I am just about to proceed. Without waiting further orders if this suits, you will be wanted as soon as you can come here. I wrote of this to your brother whom I have just had the pleasure to inform that all the Keepers got an advance of Ten pounds per annum, making his salary Forty-five pounds. By Mr Campbell's advice I direct you at Stornoway and I shall wait your answer before I make further provision or look out for one to take and charge which I think you may answer – and if it suits you to come here you need neither fear want of employment or reasonable encouragement.”

Letter from John Reid –
Arbroath, 14th May 1808

On the other hand, John Reid's letter in response is quite remarkable. Equivalent to today's CV it glimpses the remarkable life and travels of a master carpenter and his life at sea. It may not be all that unusual in seafaring life in those days, but it is important in this context, and worth reproducing here. The letter has been “tidied up” to make for easier reading!


As you are pleased to think me worthy to take the charge of being Mate of the Float I humbly thank you for putting that confidence in me and shall strive to act of such a charge to the utmost of my ability.

"Since the year 1772, though bred a carpenter, I have occasionally and indeed the most of my time been at sea as carpenter and seaman out of London. I sailed four voyages to the West Indies with Capt. Cocks [Cox?] in the Conference and was with Capt. Man [Mann?] in the Arendal and with Capt. Falconer in the St George all of London in the forsaid ships. I was taken by *Count Derstang [Comte d'Estaing] in the Islands of Granada. I was 18 months a prisoner and there I learned the elements of navigation.

"On my release from France I was impressed on board His Majesty's Ship **Medway in 1780 where I acted carpenter's mate till the peace of 1783. In the ship Sqires [Squires?] of Plymouth I was second mate and carpenter in the Newfoundland and Mediterranean trade to 1786. On leaving her I returned to Peterhead the place of my nativity and there engaged by Messrs Thomas and James Arbuthnot to build for them two sloops in the Coil [Kyle] of Durness about 4 miles to the eastward of Cape Wrath.

"This employed me till 1789 and in 1792 I was called by Sir John Reid as carpenter of the Prince Ernest Augustus cutter where I continued to 1800; from then Angus Campbell, Esq of Ensay called me to build and repair for him where I continued to 1807 when called to the Floating Light by your goodness which I shall strive to merit.
From Dear Sir your Most Obliged Humble Servant to Command.
(sgd) John Reid

John Reid letter

To get some idea of John Reid's experiences while serving in George III's navy during the Napoleonic Wars, one should read Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander" . . . better still watch the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin in the film of the that name which vividly describes similar action off the coast of South America in 1805!

Gravestone at Peterhead.
Photo: © Ian Cowe

John Reid graveJohn Reid retired in 1821 after 10 years' service on the Bell Rock. He was then 71. He lived on for another 22 years dying on the 12th December 1843 at the ripe old age of 90! Over the years he appears to have invested in property and land in Peterhead. In his Will dated 1844, he leaves most of his estate to his grandchildren, but also makes provision for his wife, Isabella McLennan. He seems to have had only one son (sometime lightkeeper at Barra Head), one grandson (also John), and 2 granddaughters (Mary Ann and Jannet). If you compare this information and that which appears on the gravestone, you can see that the ramifications of his family is not as straightforward as the Will suggests.

* Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, Comte d'Estaing, was very much a thorn in the flesh to British aspirations worldwide, and played no small part in the American War of Independence. The Battle of Grenada (1779) was won under his command. During the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution, he fell foul of "Madame Guillotine" (known in Scotland as "The Maiden")! Before his execution in 1794, his parting words were: "After my head falls off, send it to the British, they will pay a good deal for it!"


** HMS Medway was a 60-gun (420 men) fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built at Deptford and launched on 14 February 1755. The British fleet during the Battle of Grenada was made up of 22 vessels which included the Medway commanded at that time by Capt. William Affleck. The British suffered heavy casualties totalling - 1,055 dead or wounded, and 3 ships badly damaged. In 1787 the Medway was converted to serve as a receiving ship and remained in this role until 1811 when she was broken up.

The Battle of Grenada (artist Jean-François_Hue)
The Medway was there or thereabouts

Sir John Reid (not related to the PLK as far as we know) is also known to history! He was in command of the revenue cutter Prince Ernest Augustus during the smuggling years on the Solway coast in the latter half of the 18th century. During one confrontation in 1774 a smuggler from the Isle of Man was shot and killed after trying to escape. Following a public outcry, Capt. Sir John Reid was tried for murder in Edinburgh but was ultimately acquitted.

Angus Campbell of Ensay was heritable proprietor of the islands of Ensay and Pabbay off the south coast of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. He also had the estate of Orbost on the west coast of Skye. Campbell being a seafaring man himself would also have known John Reid's brother, Alexander, who at that time was PLK on Eilean Glas nearby.


David Logan - (c1785-1839)

LOGAN'S REACH - This reach or compartment of the Railway, on the eastern side of the Light-house, is named in compliment to the late Mr Peter Logan, foreman-builder at the Bell Rock, and his son Mr David Logan, clerk-of-works, whose active and faithful services, in their respective departments, have been too often noticed in this work to admit reference to particular pages. From the "Account . . . "

Application Letter to RS from the Logans

18 Feb. 1807

We hereby make you offer of our services in the Building of the Bell Rock Light house as Foremen at the rate of Two pounds stg. per week while employed on shore with such further allowance or premium as may hereafter be agreed upon while employed at the Rock.

We are, Sir, Yr Most Obt Servant,
(sgd) David Logan
Peter Logan


According to "A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland," David Logan had his origins in the Angus area of Scotland, and that his father, Peter Logan, was a master builder who became foreman builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

David's career was mainly in the field of dock, harbour and bridge works. After the building of the Bell Rock, still only in his mid-20s, he was Inspector of Works for the four-arch Marykirk Bridge over the river North Esk, designed and supervised by Stevenson, after which employment he subsequently left.

Marykirk Bridge

The four-arch bridge at Marykirk, Kincardineshire.

By August 1816, he had became Superintendent of Works for Telford's improvements at Dundee Harbour, work which included the construction of a graving dock. In April 1820, on the proposal of Telford, he was elected a corresponding member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

The Sweetnam biography goes on: "In 1821, after the death of his first wife, Logan resigned from Dundee to take up the position of Resident Engineer on Rennie's new Donaghadee Harbour project in Ireland. He undertook several commissions including a bridge over the River Lagan in County Antrim, and other works for John Rennie, Jun, included the extention of the pier at Ardglass Harbour. He also designed a single arch masonry bridge and Banbridge over the River Bann, completed in 1832.

"In 1834 Logan was asked by Rennie to visit Whitehaven and the same year, having been appointed Engineer to the River Clyde Trustees, took up residence in Glasgow. In January 1839 he tendered successfully for the formation of a straight channel from the town of Belfast seaward, but before the work could his death was reported to the Belfast Ballast Board and the contract placed elsewhere."

David Logan died of palsy on 20th January 1839 at his home at St Vincent Street, Glasgow, leaving an estate valued at £5,390. He was buried in the Kappa section of the Glasgow Necropolis and the memorial there records the death of his wife Jane, and that of two of his fours sons by his third marriage, Thomas, and the Rev. Robert Logan.

Necropolis Glasgow

Above - The kappa section of the Glasgow Necropolis where David Logan and members of his family are buried. The stone is in the middle distance immediately above the fallen slab in the sunshine.
are the details of the inscription.

Glasgow necropolisThe information from the biography above shows that Logan left Stevenson shortly after the Marykirk Bridge was completed in 1813. Thereafter he worked (apart for himself latterly) mainly for Telford and Rennie, both Sen. and Jnr. In all probability he may have decided that his career could be bettered more under the umbrella of Messrs Telford and Rennie than that of Stevenson. Interestingly a meeting in Forfar with John Rennie in 1818 shows that he was not without his own thoughts as to who did what regarding many aspects of the building of the lighthouse! (see Francis Watt below)! Note, too, that whereas David Logan called two of his sons after Telford and Rennie, he does not accord Robert Stevenson the same honour.

Logan was married three times: first in 1808, to Jean Taylor of Carmyllie, near Arbroath; secondly in 1822 to Mary Smith of Donaghadee, Co. Down; and lastly, in 1831, to Jane Hannay from Portpatrick. In all he had four sons and four daughters.

David Logan did leave a Will. In it he lists his family - by his first wife he had two daughters, Jessy and Jane; by his second wife he had a son, Thomas Telford Logan, and a daughter, Francis Maria Logan; and by his third wife, 3 sons: David Logan, Robert Hannay Logan, John Rennie Logan, and a daughter Mary Hannay Logan.

All his eight children seemed to have been alive on his death in 1839. What became of his two daughters Jessy and Jane by his first marriage is not known, but they did fall heir to their mother's land and houses on the Blackness estate, west of Dundee. By 1839 both would have been in their late teens.
His first-born son, Thomas Telford, by his second marriage, died in 1846, aged 25. He is also described an engineer, and is buried in the Necropolis in Glasgow beside his father. He was unmarried. His only daughter Frances Maria, by his second wife, married a John Dunlop (merchant), and had issue. She died at Hamilton in 1893.
By his third wife he had three sons and a daughter: of whom:
David Logan (born 1832) also became a civil engineer, went to India and built railways. His greatest achievement was the South Indian Railway of some 1,100 miles in length. He died at Ammayanayakanur in 1896. He had no known family;
Robert Hannay Logan (born Ireland c.1835) became a minister in the Free Church of Scotland (latterly the United Free). He was ordained at Chalmers Free Church, Dundee, in 1888, and died there in 1905. He was 71 and unmarried.
John Rennie Logan (the youngest son) was a commission merchant/agent, and lived latterly in Uddingston, Glasgow. He married Constance Jane Hannay (born in India), daughter of a teak merchant, Robert Hannay. She died in 1932 in Dunoon. There was issue.
NB - John Rennie Logan's mother was also a Hannay (Jane, died 1874).


Peter Logan (c1752-1814)

Foreman builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse

After the lighthouse was built Peter Logan seems to disappear from sight! His son we know married Jane Taylor from Carmyllie near Arbroath. She was the daughter of John Taylor whose family had farmed there (at Backboath) for generations. David's wife Jane died in 1821 and is buried in Kirkden kirkyard nearby, and in that year he erected a large flat table stone to her memory.

This stone measures a whopping 6 ft. 9 in. (2.057 4 m.) in length; 3 ft. 4 in. (1.016 m.) in breadth; and 1 ft. (0.3048 m.) in thickness, obviously put there by someone who knew all about procuring a stone large enough to commemorate those important to him. Whom better than David Logan who 10 years earlier had just completed the Bell Rock Lighthouse!!!

The stone below lies in Kirkden kirkyard close by the village of Letham - not all that far from Forfar in the county of Angus!




Pulvis Sumus.
Here are deposited
the mortal remains
John Taylor
farmer in Backboath.
He died March 24, 1807, aged 65.
Katharine Taylor
his wife.
She died February 10, 1813. aged 61.
*Patrick Logan architect.
He died August 1, 1815, aged 63.
And of
Jane Taylor
daughter of John and Katharine
and wife to
David Logan civil engineer.
She died February 21, 1821, aged 35.
To preserve the memory
of indulgent parents
of a loving and dutiful wife.
David Logan
erected this monument.
March 1

The above stone says that David Logan is not only commemorating his wife, but also one of his parents. There is no mention of his mother, possibly because she was still living! So why was Peter, used in the official NLB records, in favour of Patrick? Here is one reason! Because Patrick Logan had a certain "ring" to it! That of an Irish navvy!! So he used the anglised form, Peter, instead.

* In modern Scottish Gaelic, Patrick exists in several forms: Pádruig, Páruig, Para, and Pádair or Pátair. This last form led to confusion with English Peter, and the two names were often treated as equivalent in the 18th and 19th centuries. With a lack of further information it seems most likely that we are looking at one and the same person . . . that David Logan commemorated his father by inscribing the stone with his original birth name!

The passing of Peter Logan

Further research, however, shows conclusively that the stone above is that of the Foreman Builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. We know that sometime between the end of 1813 and April 1814 he had become unwell. Stevenson writes of this to his son David: "I am very sorry to hear of the continued indisposition of your father, my worthy friend and companion at the Bell Rock. I have been delaying the commencement of the garden wall and some other small jobs at Arbroath expecting to hear that he had got into town, but I understand that he is still weakly, and it may be for the benefit of his health to remain for a longer period in the country . . ."

He continues: " . . . I hope your young folks and Mrs Logan are in good health as we are all in the ordinary way as you saw us. Remember me in the most particular manner to your father and tell him to keep his mind quite at ease about the work. I will take the very first time I can spare to go north and it shall be my earliest visit on getting to Arbroath to come out to Dumbarrow to meet with him."

On his father's death some months later, David sends out a printed intimation of details of his father's funeral:

Logan grave

Unfortunately, Stevenson was not able to attend! When Peter Logan lay on his death bed in the late hours of 30th July, Stevenson was already on the Lighthouse Yacht on his way north with the Commissioners and Walter Scott on their long-anticipated tour round Scotland.

On his return several weeks later, Stevenson was quick to reply:

Edinburgh, 12th September 1814

"Dear Sir,

"Upon my return from the Lighthouse Voyage yesterday I was truly sorry to find by your letter of the 4th of last month that we had lost your worthy Father. I have much to regret that circumstances did not admit of my paying my last respects to his remains agreeably to your notice. It is but a few years since we finished the work at the Bell Rock and even in that short period we can call the names of several who were engaged in that work who have paid this last debt to nature - but I must confess that this intimation of your Father's death has come much nearer to my heart than any thing that I have met with for a considerable time. It is rather a melancholy reflection but the present is a suitable time for looking to this side of the question to contemplate that in but a few years not a hand will be left of all that were listed at that work where all acquaintance originated. . . ."

The origins of the Logan family

So where do the Logans come from? On the face of it, it would seem (as his name implies) that Peter/Patrick Logan had his roots in Ireland! Not necessarily so! Sweetnam says "David Logan had his origins in the Angus area of Scotland" and yet the evidence seems to contradict this. Here are some pointers

Firstly, David and Peter Logan wrote their application from Edinburgh; not from Dundee or Angus;

Secondly, when researching the Slight family, there were several mentions of the name Logan in and around Tranent, East Lothian, and even one of a Robert Logan marrying a Mary Slight in 1791;

Thirdly, the Dundee Harbour Trust minutes tell us in 1816 that "Mr [David] Logan got permission to go to Edinburgh on his private business";

Fourthly, there is another letter written to Dundee from Peter Logan in Old Salton, near Tranent (see below); and

Finally we have the International Genealogical Index showing a great preponderance of Logans in the south of the River Forth;

. . . all suggesting that the Bell Rock Logans could well be ancestrally linked to East Lothian, and that they also had business interests in Edinburgh in the early 19th century.

Take the county of East Lothian to the east of Edinburgh, also the known birthplace of the brothers Slight (see below). The IGI mentions the birth of a David in the parish of Pencaitland: "a son DAVID, born to PATRICK LOGAN and MARY CUNNINGHAM, born 16th May 1785". This qualifies to be the same names as the father and son of Bell Rock fame - although one can never be 100 per cent certain for these records are not complete and never tell the entire story.

Looking at the two counties, East Lothian (formerly Haddingtonshire) and Angus (Forfarshire), the name Logan occurs 1270 times in the IGI in the former, and only 376 in the latter. The earliest mention of the name in East Lothian appears as early as 1603, and there are 14 Patricks born between then and 1855 . . . and even one born in Stenton parish (just across the fields from the birthplace of John Rennie) on the 14th August 1752 - spot on for the birth date of Peter/Patrick Logan, foreman builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. The name of Logan in East Lothian has been around from the earliest times. In fact one could claim that it is the officina of that name on the east coast of Scotland. The county is "fair loupin" with them!

So we have East Lothian, a county which also played its part in the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, not only the county of origin of the Slights, but also possibly the "happy hunting ground" of the Logans. It is even within the realms of possibility that the two families already knew each other. Could it be that the Slight brothers followed the Logan father and son up north to participate in one of the most daring building adventures of the century - which, if successful, would set them on the path to fame and fortune. Who knows! Bear in mind, too, that John Rennie was also born nearby at Phantassie, East Linton, and one begins to wonder . . . .!!

However, there is ONE final conundrum to be resolved. In the "Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers, Vol. I" it says that David Logan was succeeded by his cousin as Superintendent with the Dundee Harbour Trust. However, when he resigned his post in 1821, there was a series of correspondence as to the qualifications of the proposed candidate for the new job, that is, Peter Logan.
First of all the Harbour Commissioners write to Telford asking him for a reference. Telford replies that he cannot say about Peter Logan's suitability since he never really knew him and that they should write to David Logan, his relation.
David in turn replies to the Commissioners positively to "certify my friend's qualifications" and also about the "experience he has already acquired at the **Bell Rock House Light House**. ."!!
And finally Peter Logan replies from Salton Hall (East Lothian, no less) that he would take up the position immediately but because of the "unexpected indisposition of my brother it is doubtful if I could leave our business here sooner than a month or six weeks . . . " Which only begs the question: Which brother, which business? And are we tallking about David, who has just resigned from Dundee, or another brother?

** This in itself is a bombshell! It suggests that there were THREE with the name of Logan working on the Bell Rock.

Such is the wonderful world of genealogy . . . full of uncertainties, imponderables, red herrings, pitfalls and brick walls! The jury is still out on that one, but East Lothian still gets my vote!


Francis Watt

WATT'S REACH - has its name in compliment to Mr Francis Watt, foreman-millwright, whose services have also already been so often particularised in the course of this work, and whose exertions in erecting the beacon and temporary-railways did much credit to his zeal and intrepidity. The writer also often profited by his ingenuity, in reference to the various pieces of machinery employed at the works. - From the "Account . . . "

As can be seen from Robert Stevenson's comments above, Francis Watt was an important man at the Bell Rock. There is also a possibility he could claim to be the inventor of the world's first balance crane - the ancestor of these huge cranes which now adorn almost every high-rise building site the world over! Stevenson certainly admits to Watt's genius; David Logan says he was responsible not only for the Beacon House, but also the railways - a man of many talents indeed!

The letter below from John Rennie (with David Logan's input) shows the extent of Francis Watt's contribution to the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse - possibly more than Stevenson gives him credit for!

"I [John Rennie] saw Mr David Logan on the 24th at Forfar. Mr Logan was the clerk and draughtsman to Mr Stevenson at the Bell Rock while the lighthouse was building - He says that Mr Stevenson was not the inventor of the beacon or manner of it. That it was entirely designed by Mr Francis Watt who was the carpenter at the lighthouse, as well as all the cranes, that he had my original sketches of those parts of the lighthouse that were different from the Eddystone - that he has preserved these different documents by which he can show what share Stevenson had in the work - that Stevenson was always angry whenever this was brought forward as he wished to assume the whole merit of the work to himself."

We know that by the latter end of 1810 Watt was no longer employed at the Bell Rock. His job on the lighthouse having finished, he had moved to Aberdeen and was looking for work there! By 1912 he was in London, from where as far as is known he never returned.

According to Prof. Roland Paxton ("Bright Lights"), the balance crane was also used in the erection of the Melville Monument in St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh, in 1821. At a height of 42.6m (140 feet) it is almost half as high again as the Bell Rock Lighthouse! It was also used again (or at least a version of it) in the building of Alan Stevenson's Skerryvore lighthouse of 1844.

We know little more about Francis Watt. He seems to disappear out of Scotland, but from the information available he could well have been one of the unsung heroes of civil engineering in this country!


James and Alexander Slight

James b. 1786 Tranent; d. 1854 Edinburgh

Alexander b. born 1788 Tranent; d. 1868 Edinburgh

SLIGHTS' REACH - named in compliment to Mr James Slight, and his brother Alexander, who were chiefly employed in drawing the courses of the building at large, and in making the various and nicely formed moulds for fashioning the stones. They also fitted up the interior of the house, and the permanent railways on the Rock; and made a complete model of the Light-house - From the "Account . . . "

Slight stone

James Slight, engineer (1786-1854)

The careers of the Slight brothers prior to the lighthouse are not known, but in genealogical terms they had their roots in the parish of Tranent, East Lothian, east of Edinburgh.

As far as the Bell Rock Lighthouse (1807-11) is concerned, the brothers seemed to be able to turn their hands to most jobs. Their work during the Bell Rock build was mainly concerned with the making of the moulds for the stones and the building of the railways . . . and latterly completing the interior of the lighthouse.

The last mention of the brothers in the "Account . . ." occurs in 1819: "In the course of the summer, Mr James Slight and his brother Alexander (who had assisted throughout the works in making moulds for the stone-cutters, and in other operations requiring neat and ingenious workmanship), together with Messrs George Dove, Robert Selkirk, James Glen, James Scott, Alexander Brebner and John Mitchell, completed the remaining part of the western and southern reaches of the railways . . ."

According to the NLB Minute Book in 1829, James Slight started at the Bell Rock in 1808 as Foreman Carpenter at a salary of 6 shillings per day! Afterwards he became Superintendent of Works at the Carr Rock and the Isle of May, and by 1829 he is described as Clerk of Works with a salary of £150 per annum. It is not known when he left the employment of the NLB.

Thereafter most of the business life of the Slight brothers seemed to centre in Edinburgh. The obituary of James below states he was also a successful engineer in his own right - although perhaps not in the world of lighthouses.

JAMES SLIGHT (the elder brother) married Agnes Rennie Templeton. Their first son Alexander, was christened on the 3rd June 1818; James on 23rd Oct. 1820; and George Henry was born 24th August 1822; their only daughter, Elizabeth, born 11th Nov. 1825 - all in Edinburgh. Both Alexander and George Henry are described as Engineers in their mother's Will. James appears to have died young.

Alexander (1818-1885) was also described an engineer. He married Mary Adamson Charteris, and had issue.
James (1820-
George Henry (1822-) married Elizabeth Marshall, described in 1851 as from Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire (west Scotland)

James and Agnes (born 1854) twins;
George Henry (born 1859, died 1934) who eventually went out to Chile to build lighthouses.

Elizabeth (1825-1809) - married 1860, *Andrew Mure, advocate, in the British Embassy, Paris. We know that she was living in Dieppe, France, in 1856. Her profession is unknown, and nothing is known of her early upbringing. There is no mention of family in the records so far consulted.

Grange Cemetery* Andrew Mure (knighted in later life) was born in 1829, the youngest son of George Mure M.D., R.N. He was admitted as a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1853 and became an Honorary Advocate-Depute in 1860. He held the position of Sheriff-Substitute of Orkney and Shetland. Queen Victoria appointed Mure Puisne-Judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of Mauritius on Feb. 23, 1880, and its Acting Chief Judge in 1890. He became Knight bachelor in 1899. He died on Oct, 9 1909. His wife Lady Mure (Elizabeth Slight) predeceased her husband by a few weeks.

Obituary - From the "North British Agriculturist" December 1854

THE LATE MR JAMES SLIGHT - "It is with much regret we record the death of Mr James Slight, engineer, Leith Walk, and Curator of Models to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. This event, the result of a severe inflammatory attack, took place on Friday, the 15th inst. Mr Slight was born at Tranent in 1786; he acted as a superintendent under Mr Robert Stevenson, the engineer in the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, and the alteration and improvement of others. After remaining in Mr Stevenson's employment for several years, he commenced the profession of engineer in Edinburgh. About 25 years ago, a connection was formed by Mr Slight with the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, and it would not be easy to over-estimate the services which in this capacity he has rendered to the agriculture of his native country. The more direct application of his mind to agricultural machinery led to one or two rather important inventions, and, to a much greater extent, to the improvement of existing implements. A tribute to the memory of Mr Slight would fail in conveying the most interesting feature of his character, were we to overlook that honest simplicity which will endear the memory of one, to others perhaps somewhat rough and unprepossessing, but, to his friends, gentle, affectionate, and constant".

ALEXANDER SLIGHT (younger brother) married Margaret Gracie in 1822 and had 3 known children: Mary (b. 1823 Dumfries); James (b. 1831) and Ann Steele (b. 1835, both in Aberdeen). He died in 1868 and is described as "Inspector of Edinburgh Road Trust" and "Surveyor". He died at Currie, just outside Edinburgh, in 1868. His Will makes no mention of his only son, who in all probability died young.


The Chilean connection

Some years ago, George Anthony Slight from Chile, a descendant of James, wrote the following in the Bell Rock guestbook:

"It is nice to read where our ancestors worked. My family starts with James Slight and *John Rennie. I still have the big book with all the working that was done on the Bell Rock. My grandfather, George H. Slight Marshall, who was superintendent of The Northern Lighthouses in 1886, came to Chile to design and build the Evangelist Lighthouse on the West side of the Magellan Strait and after that stayed in Chile to built in total of 72 lighthouses."


The Life and Times of George Henry Slight according to a Chilean writer - abridged and edited

Map Magellan
The last decades of the 19th century was a golden age for navigation through the Strait of Magellan at the southern-most tip of Chile. By 1867 the Pacific Steam Navigation Company had established a regular service from Liverpool to Valparaiso, calling at *Punta Arenas. Steamships belonging to the German company Kosmos, and other prestigious companies were also using the Strait passage as a shortcut to the Pacific Ocean.

© The above map shows the location of the
lighthouse relative to the maimland
My thanks to the owner of this scan.

The islet of Evangelatas, on which the lighthouse is built, is located 13 nautical miles from the mainland and marks the entrance to the western mouth of the Strait of Magellan.

Unfortunately, the dark recesses of the Strait of Magellan are not always safe, and between 1869 and 1894 there were over 30 shipwrecks. Officials, concerned at such a loss, warned it was essential to establish a system of lighthouses. On the orders of President Jorge Montt, the task of choosing a qualified professional for the great task of illuminating the end of the world, was entrusted to the ambassador of Chile in London, Agustín Ross. His choice was George Slight, who not only had the necessary qualifications, but also a knowledgeable maritime background.

Natives of Edinburgh, the Slight family had for generations been involved in marine engineering and lighting. His father had invented a rotating machine (or speed regulator), for use by the lighthouses of the day, to emit light sequences. Something similar to the family of writer Robert Louis Stevenson, also from Edinburgh, whose father had perfected the revolving light.

George Slight was apprenticed as a Mechanical Engineer, at the end of which which he took up a position on the steamers that plied the route between England and India. He then went on to work with the prestigious Trinity House, responsible for the lighthouse service in Britain [England], where he worked for several years. It was at that point he was commissioned by the Chilean government – a decision which would completelychange his life.

His first task was to build a lighthouse in the southern reaches of Chile, the Islets Evangelists Lighthouse, located at the western mouth of the Strait of Magellan. On his arrival, he wrote in his diary:

"I never imagined seeing something so wild and desolate as those emerging dark rocks in the middle of the raging waves. To see these stormy craggy rocks was frightening. With a dim light on the horizon we could see large waves crashing heavily in the western part of the islands: a vision that hardly anyone can imagine ... "

Evangelista lighthouse

A brooding view of the Faro Evangelistas.
My thanks to © Vicent for the use of this scan.

The hazardous work started on the 30th April 1895 and took two years to finish [some sources say five]. In a report at that time he indicated that bad weather had hampered the work, as well as the transport of materials, supplies and equipment for the lighthouse. Added to that were other difficulties – worker problems, disease, lack of discipline, claims for more money, as well as the conditions of living in such a remote place. Slight himself had his own health problems!

About 80 workers were employed in the work, most of them Croats and Chiloe. Slight also mentions that he had to dismiss 10 workers for insubordination. On 18 September 1896, President Jorge Montt, the man who had hired the Scottish engineer, turned on the light for the first time. It is still standing today.

In addition to looking after the light, the keepers kept track of the weather. They were linked by telegraph (when it became available), controlled navigation and gave help as far as possible to mariners in distress. One case in point was the German sailing vessel, Palmyra, which in 1914 ran aground 50 miles north of the Evangelicas. The captain and first officer arrived at the lighthouse by small boat seeking help . . . a good deed that was recognised by an award from Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Slight eventually settled down in Valparaiso, where he was appointed head of the Lighthouse Authority of Chile. Indefatigable, he continued building lighthouses and completed more than 64 lighthouses on the Chilean coast. All his lights are built of brick masonry reinforced with iron beams, except for Felix Bay, for which he used stone blocks. He eventually went on to became the head of the Chilean Maritime Signalling Service.

In 1916, on finishing the last of his contracts, he stood down from the maritime service, but continued in an advisory capacity. He died in 1934! He and his widow never received a pension from the Chilean state!

He married Charlotte Leigh in Valparaiso, by whom he had two sons, George Marshall Slight and James Bunster Slight.

Slight familyHe died aged 75 in Santiago on June 26, 1934. His gravestone in the Cementerio General has the epitaph (in English): "His lights still shine over the waters of the Pacific Ocean".

Today, at Punta Angeles, Valparaiso, there is a George Slight Lighthouse Museum, called after the Scottish engineer and his contribution to the development of lighthouses. Similarly, the Chilean Navy named the rescue and salvage ship “George Slight” in his honour.

His memory still lives on amongst his descendants in Chile. He is remembered as being "trustworthy and affectionate, very meticulous in his work and his mathematical calculations. Always patient, always respectful, and calm in all situations. He greatly appreciated the chilotes workers who lived and worked long hours in isolated places. And when at home he followed the English custom . . . .”

ABOVE - George Henry Slight and his sons,
James Slight and George Henry Slight
My thanks to Astrid Slight (Chile) for both scan

* Punta Arenas is the capital of Chilean Patagonia has a cold steppe climate, similar to that of the rest of the towns in the region. The average annual temperature in summer is 10.6 deg. C, and in winter 2 deg. C. The average rainfall is 425 mm, January being the month with the most rainfall.

Note - Without detracting in any way from the obvious achievement of building one of the world's remotest lighthouses, as one can see from the above photograph, the actually islet on which this lighthouse is built is a veritable "playing field" in comparison to some which were constructed here in Scotland. G. H. Slight would have known all about the Bell Rock (1811), Skerryvore (1844), Muckle Flugga (1854) and even Dubh Artach (1874), although there is a possibility that he never visited them.

Santiago cemetery

George Henry Slight's grave in the Cementerio General de Santiago, Chile.

His memory is still revered in Lighthouse and Maritime circles. He is buried in Santiago Churchyard. His headstone says (in English):  "His lights still shine over the waters of the Pacific Ocean".

" George Anthony Slight (died 2009) seems to claim descent from John Rennie (the famous chief engineer of the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse) from what he says above. Unfortunately the records do not to support the claim!, and a fault by the then Kirk Session of Edinburgh missed out the final name of Templeton. James Slight was married to Agnes Rennie Templeton (b. 1785 at Haddington) who was the daughter of John Templeton, writer, and Mary Williamson (m. 1783 at Edinburgh). Mary Williamson (b. 1761) in turn, was the daughter of John Williamson, farmer at Elphinstone, and Agnes Rennie. They were married in 1756. This then would make Agnes Rennie born circa in the 1730s! John Rennie, the engineer, was born in 1761. A genealogical connection is not ruled out, but descent from John Rennie the Engineer is highly improbable!!


Capt. David Taylor (1768-1843)

TAYLOR'S TRACK - leads into Port Erskine, and derives its name from Mr David Taylor, who commanded the Sir Joseph Banks Tender during the progress of the works, and afterwards became Light-house Storekeeper at Leith. - From the "Account . . . "

Capt. Taylor's main contribution to this Supplement is under the section "Correspondence" - being a series of letters taken from original sources in the Manuscripts Room of National Library of Scotland, and to whom due acknowledgement is made.

His career with Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses deals with the second part of his life. He was already 37 when he joined the Northern Lighthouse Board on Bell Rock service in 1807. He was also 4 years Stevenson's senior.

After the lighthouse was built he became the first Superintendent the newly built Signal tower and was Master of the Tender between 1811 and 1821. Due to health problems (mainly gout and arthritis) Stevenson made him Lighthouse Storekeeper at Leith. His responsibilities were "to take charge of the Stores and ship and unship what is required for the different Light houses and Keep regular Books of what comes in and goes out. I am in constant attendance in the Store house and occasionally go to Inchkeith and inspect the Buoys now under the Charge of the Board"

In 1834. the Reporter in his annual inspection of the establishment, after noting his general health and also the recent tragic death of one of his daughters some weeks before, "recommends his superannuation and begs to note his long and fairful services as a Shipmaster and Storekeeper which entitles him to the character of a faithful officer of the Board."

Nevertheless, it was to be another long 7 years before he finally asked to be relieved of his post.

His lifestory can be read on the main website - Capt. Taylor

Taylor Headstone

The stone lies in Arbirlot kirkyard - 2 miles south-west of Arbroath


Capt. James Wilson

WILSON'S TRACK - named for Mr James Wilson, landing-master, whose active and enterprising conduct is often noticed in the course of this work. In the year 1815, Mr Wilson left the Light-house service, when he was appointed one of the Harbour-masters of Leith. The speaking-trumpet which he used at the Bell Rock was presented to him, with the sanction of the Light-house Board, when a suitable inscription was engraved on a plate of silver attached to it. - From the "Account . . . "

Captain Wilson, as Landing Master, played an important part in the building of the lighthouse. There were five possible places of landing, all dependant on the state of tides, wind and weather. His job would be to give instructions (using a hailing trumpet) from the Rock to approaching vessels as how to best effect a safe landing at any of these places. However, the transfer of heavy blocks of stones from praam boats was only possible at the point where the cranes could lift the them onto the railways; and from there transport them by bogey to the Lighthouse site.

Before he finally left the Lighthouse Service to become one of the Harbour Masters at Leith he had one final claim to fame, and that was to captain the Lighthouse Yacht in 1814 when Stevenson and the Commissioners of Northern Lights (including Walter Scott, Esq., at that time still not knighted) on a six-week tour round the Scottish and Irish coasts. Scott records it in his Journal "Friday, July 29th [1814] Sailed from Leith about one-o'clock on board the lighthouse Yacht, conveying six guns and ten men, commanded by Mr Wilson." Note that the boat was armed. Certainly, the Napeolonic wars with France were still on-going, but it's more likely a precaution just in case . . . .

The following day the party visited the Bell Rock. Scott comments in his Journal: "The fitting up within is not only handsome, but elegant. All work of wood (almost) is wainscot; all hammer-work brass; in short, exquisitely fitted up. You enter by a ladder of rope, with wooden steps, about thirty feet from the bottom, where the mason-work ceases to be solid and admits of round apartments. The lowest is a storehouse for the people's provisions, water, etc; then the kitchen of the people, three in number; then their sleeping chamber; then the saloon or parlour, a neat little room; above all, the lighthouse; all communicated by oaken ladders, with brass rails, most handsomely and conveniently executed.

From the Minute Book of the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners dated 30th July 1814 another interesting piece of information comes to light about the visit to the lighthouse: "Landed on the Bell Rock. Found everything in perfect order. Mr Hamilton suggested that the parlour should be painted in some fanciful and amazing style which was Agreed to, and Mr Scott recommended the Story of Sir Ralph the Rover as applicable to the spot, one room to be painted with the destruction of the Bell apparatus, and the other with the final fate of Sir Ralph."

The following day, the party then landed at Arbroath to inspect the newly-built Signal tower. Scott observes: "We visited the appointments of the lighthouse establishment - a handsome tower, with two wings. These contain lodgings of the keepers of the light - very handsome indeed, and very clean. They might be thought too handsome, were it not of consequence to give those men, intrusted with a duty so laboroious and slavish, a consequence in the eyes of the public and in their own. The central part of the building forms a single tower, corresponding with the lighthouse."

It seems that Scott got on well with Capt. Wilson. Stevenson in his "Reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet" says: "When he [Walter Scott] could get hold of Captain Wilson (who was a short, firm-bodied man) he preferred a lean upon his shoulder in a landward tramp [walk] to anyone else in the ship. His talk, in the phraseology of the sea, amused Sir Walter; which, sailor-like, was all but frank and at command and, though not always grammatical, was ever most respectful".



From an old print of Leith

Capt. Wilson died in 1831. "At Leith, on the 15th inst. Mr James Wilson, harbour master there, aged 56 years. Mr Wilson was admirably fitted for the office of harbour master, to which he was appointed in 1814. He possessed a thorough knowledge of nautical affairs, and of the localities of the harbour of Leith, and invariably performed his duties in so strict and impartial, at the same time, active and lively a manner, as to gain the good will of every frequenter of the port. As a husband and father, he was kind affectionate; as a friend and companion, he was a seaman out and out. Few could surpass him in his readiness to forward the views of the deserving, and alleviate the distress of the widows and orphans of the shipwrecked mariner".

He married Elizabeth Laird and had 4 children, all of whom were living in 1831: James, William, Elizabeth (b. 1811 South Leith), and Robert.

* Acknowledgement is made to Byway Books, Hawick, for the Extracts from "NORTHERN LIGHTS or a voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht to Nova Zembla and the Lord knows where in the summer of 1814"




Thomas Macurich (1790-1877)

MACURICH'S TRACK - on the western side of the Rock, is named in compliment to Mr Thomas Macurich, mate of the sloop Smeaton, and afterwards commander of the Bell Rock Tender, who had a very narrow escape in a boat off the Rock. - From the "Account . . . "

From the Obituary in the "Arbroath Guide", August 1877 . . . when a boy he was apprenticed to Captain Gloag, owner of a smack, then engaged in the Glasgow trade, with occasional trips acoss the Irish Channel. This smack was afterwards engaged by the Commissioners of Northern Lights in preliminary surveys for the erection of a lighthouse on the Inchcape Rock, and before the Act of Parliament was a been obtained. The smack was thereafter employed in carrying the material to the rock till the lighthouse was finished, and Mr Macurich was employed in that work . . ."


The River Almond at Cramond as Thomas Macurich might have known it.
My thanks to © Peter Stubbs for permission to use this scan

Thomas Macurich had a long and prosperous career with the Northern Lighthouses, although in the incident in 1808 (when only 18 years old) he almost lost his life! At that time he was mate of the "Smeaton" and was engaged one day, along with James Scott, in securing the ship to a buoy. Unfortunately the hawser holding the buoy had become entangled and when it suddenly sprung free, it did so with such force that it swamped the boat throwing both men into the water, Macurich, then only aged 18, managed to clamber back onto the boat, but Scott who seemed to have been knocked unconscious was swept out to sea by the strong currents and his body never found.

Macurich continued with the "Smeaton" until the end of the works in 1811, and when Capt, Taylor became the first Master of the Tender at the Signal Tower in 1813 stayed on as mate, eventually taking over from him when he moved to Leith as Lighthouse Storekeeper in 1821.

It is not known how long he remained in that appointment, but for upwards of 47 years he served the Northern Lights Commissioners in various capacities round the Scottish coasts and at the Isle of Man.

In 1835, he was sent to the Calf of Man to take up duties as principal lightkeeper for a spell. Part of his job there was check out the incidences of fog in and around the Calf of Man and Chicken Rock. This was later to lead to foghorns being introduced in many of the lighthouses around the coast.

He was also landing master at the building of Skerryvore Lighthouse, first lit on February 1, 1844, and remained there for several years. After that, and finally, he was commander of a second "Pharos" from which appointment he was superannuated on an allowance about 1852.

He was born at Cramond, near Edinburgh, in 1790, but made Arbroath his home from the time of his coming to the district at the commencement of the Bell Rocks works. At the time of his death in 1877 he was believed to have been the last survivor of those engaged at the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. His last resting place is marked by a stone in the Abbey burying-ground.

In 1953, "relics" which once belonged to Capt. Macurich were presented to Arbroath Public Library. They consisted of the seal of the first Bell Rock Lighthouse Tender, the "Pharos", the personal seal of her master, Captain. T. Macurich; part of the dinner service used on board one of the supply vessels"; and letters addressed to Captain Macurich by the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse Service. Some of these items eventually found their way into the Signal Tower museum in Arbroath.

Capt. Macurich's grave in Arbroath Abbey

The name Macurich is as rare as it gets in Scotland . . . in all probability a anglicised phonetic rendering of the name from the oiriginal Gaelic. It does not even get a mention in Black's "The Surnames of Scotland". According to his death certificate of 1877, Thomas was the son of James McUrich (fisherman) and Margaret McUrich (maiden surname Morton). He was born at Cramond in 1790, although there is no record of it in the IGI. However, his parents were married there in 1784 and an older son Andrew was also born at Cramond in 1789.

Thomas Macurich married twice; (1) in 1817 to Menie (or Manie) Syme again at Cramond, and (2) to a Margaret Brown, in Arbroath. He had only one daughter by his first marriage - Helen (born c 1821). In his Will he leaves nothing to her "declaring that although my Daughter and only child Helen McUrich or Jamie, is not included to participate herein, it is not from any want or regard to her, but solely because she has been already provided for and is settled in life." A reference to Helen's first marriage to Capt Robert Jamie who was lost at sea in 1854, the result of which left her "comfortable"!

Helen died 1892 in Arbroath. She had married Capt. Robert Jamie in 1845 (who was lost at sea in 1854 whilst on his way to Stettin (German then, now Szczecin, Poland), and secondly to William Dove, son of George Dove (smith). Once again the Bell Rock Lighthouse connection comes to the fore! A George Dove did work on the railways on the Rock in 1819. It would seem almost certain that Helen Macurich's father-in-law by her 2nd marriage was one and the same who worked on the railways in 1819 along with James and Alexander Slight.

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