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The Bell Rock -
a Lighthouse of the World


Photo - © John F. Boath

The construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse (1807-11) is arguably one of the finest single engineering feats of the early 19th century. Built before the days of steam it is now the oldest sea-washed tower in the world. Even today, when one looks back at the complexity of its build and its location on a dangerous semi-submerged reef almost 12 miles out in the North Sea, it is little short of a miracle that only five lives were lost during its construction.

This Bicentenary Edition of the website is primarily dedicated to the men who built it and to their sheer audacity, skill, courage and endurance.

It also remembers those who tragically lost their lives during the four seasons of the Bell Rock's construction . . .


Charles Henderson

. . . smith, little more than a boy, who fell from the Temporary Bridge between the Beacon and the Lighthouse into the sea (presumed drowned). The only person to die out on the Rock.

Charles Lunn or Lind (more research needed)

. . . mason, in consequence of his having been in a boat which was swamped at the Bell Rock when he received some injury.

James Scott

. . . seaman, drowned when endeavouring to make the Smeaton fast to the mooring buoy at the Rock.

John Shaw

. . . seaman, in consequence of his having fallen overboard from the Smeaton in the Leith Roads when landing on his return from the Floating Light and afterwards died.

William Walker

. . . labourer, who died in consequence of having his thigh bone fractured when a large stone (1½ tons) fell on him. The only man to die in Arbroath at the workyard.


North Ronaldsay

The cathedral-esque and kaleidescope effect of the North Ronaldsay prisms of 1854 is quite beautiful.

Photo: © Ian Cowe

The Builders

Since a complete list of all who worked on the building of the Bell Rock lighthouse has never been found, the following list is taken from Stevenson's "An Account of the Bell Rock Light-house", published in 1824, as those who were principally involved in its construction.

The names below are taken from the Map of the Rock which must be considered as one of the highest accolades Stevenson could bestow on whom he considered his important men.

It must be said that this list is lucky if it represents more than 25% of the men who actually were involved one way or another over the four years. More names can be found on the main website under the section "People"


John Rennie - Chief Engineer
(as appointed by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses)

Robert Stevenson - Assistant and Resident Engineer
(and Builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse)

Lachlan Kennedy - Engineer’s Clerk

David Logan - Clerk of Works

Peter Logan
- Foreman builder

Francis Watt - Foreman millwright

Capt. James Wilson - Landing master; afterwards Harbour Master at Leith

Capt. David Taylor - Master of the "Sir Joseph Banks" and first master of the Bell Rock Tender ("Smeaton")

Capt. Robert Pool - Master of the "Smeaton"

Capt. Thomas Calder
Master of the "Lighthouse Yacht"

Capt. James Macdonald
- Master of the "Patriot"

James Slight -
Foreman carpenter and pattern maker

Alexander Slight - Pattern maker

James Dove -
Foreman blacksmith

John Reid
- Carpenter (pre-1807), Floating Light and First Principal Light keeper

Robert Selkirk

Thomas Selkirk - Principal stone cutter

Michael Wishart -
Foreman builder before accident, assistant lightkeeper

James Glen -

John Watt
- Mortar maker

Peter Soutar -
Praam master

Peter Fortune-
Cook, steward, surgeon, upholsterer and barber

James Clark
- Clockmaker, revolving machinery

Thomas Macurich
- Mate "Smeaton"

James Craw - Principal carter at Arbroath and keeper of Bassey, the horse)


. . . and to those who were injured

Injury List

John Bonnyman – mason – Saturday, 10th Sept.. 1808 - amputation of finger – off work 8 weeks.
John Mitchell, mason, medicine and attendance.
James Pithie, a mason, lost a finger – caught in a crane
Hugh Rose, mason, Aug. 1808 – severely hurt in the workyard when a large stone (2-3 tons) fell on his legs. So seriously injured that he was granted a £20 a year annuity.
George Smith, mason, allowed him in consideration of an injury received out on the Rock
Michael Wishart, mason and principal builder, June 1809 – serious injuries when shifting a crane out on the Rock – off work 58 weeks
Charles Gray, seaman, amputation of part of a finger after getting it severely bruised between the hatchway of a ship and a mushroom anchor.

The total bill for medical expenses over the period (1807-1811) came to £925 12s 2d and included all doctors' fees (medical and surgical), nurse's fees (*Elisabeth Paris), annuities, gratuities, pensions, funeral expenses, and even to Peter Fortune, the “general factotum” out on the Rock who acted as Doctor for healing sores at the Beacon.

* See "A Miscellany"