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Bell Rock Lighthouse


• List of seamen serving on ships belonging to the Commissioners of the Northern Lights - as at 1810 - for impressment exemption passes during the on-going wars with France! The sea captains are not listed!

• An extract from Robert Southey's "Journal of a Tour of Scotland in 1819"

• Robert Stevenson's letters to Edinburgh printers in preparation for the publication of his book "Account of the Bell Rock Light-house" of 1824.

• Stevenson's views on keeping pigs on the Isle of May.

• Two letters by Stevenson in preparation for his journey with Walter Scott, Esq, and the Commissioners in 1814.

• Elizabeth Paris asking for remuneration after looking after Michael Wishart for 4 months!


Seamen serving in vessels of
Northern Lighthouse Board

(as at 1810 - the time of the Napeolonic Wars)

William Reid (38), 5ft 7½in, sallow complexion, middle finger crooked
*George Dorward (26), 5ft 10in, brown complexion, short hair
James Grant (30), 5ft 8¼in, brown complexion, marked smallpox
James Grieve (40) 5ft 6¾in, brown complexion, has scar below eye
William Brown (20), 5ft 7½in, brown complexion short hair
Charles Gray (22), 5ft 11in, fair complexion, marked smallpox
Alexander Laurence (30), 5ft 9in, brown complexion, short hair
Robert Coupar (24), 5ft 5¼in, fair complexion, marked smallpox
John Scott (17), 5ft 5¾in black, complexion, short hair
Stewart Eaton (25), 5ft 9in, black complexion, marked smallpox
Alexander Muir (39), 5ft 6in, fair complexion, bald forehead
Thomas McUrich (20), 5ft 5in, brown, complexion, short hair
John Dick (27) 5ft 4½in, brown complexion, short hair
William Mill (27), 5ft 7in, sallow complexion, short hair
**Geo. Dall (22), 5ft 6in, black complexion (returned 16/7/1810)
William Jaffray (27), 5ft 6in, brown complexion
George Moffat (26), 5ft 8in, brown complexion
James Shand (26), 5ft 4in, fair complexion
James Shepherd (26), 5ft 5¾in, brown complexion
*George Mill (24), 5ft 7in, black complexion
James Stevenson (27), 5ft 8in, fair complexion
Andrew Steedman (28), 5ft 6½in, brown complexion
Archd. Hunter (32), 5ft 9in, fair complexion
James Glen (36), 5ft 8in, fair complexion
Peter Mill (20), 5ft 7in, fair complexion
James Spink (41), 5ft 4½in, black complexion
David Carrie (18), 5ft 3½in, fair complexion, short hair
David Hood (36), 5ft 6¾in, black complexion
David Hay (43), 5ft 4½in, black complexion
David Webster (20), 5ft 7in, fair complexion
Peter Souter (25), 5ft 7½in, fair complexion
John Hutcheon (25), 5ft 6in, fair complexion

No. of men - 32; average age - 27.7 years; average height - 5 ft 6¾; complexions - fair, 10; brown, 11; black, 5; sallow, 2.
All Caucasian, most likely
sallow = sallow
black = swarthy
brown = very tanned or weather-beaten
fair = fair

"Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819"

By Robert Southey

Wednesday, 25th August

"We had just daylight enough left for seeing the Abbey, which must have been a magnificent building, before the beastly multitude destroyed it - its area serves now as a burial place for the town. A building more compleatly ruined I never saw; the remains however are kept with some care, being under the charge of the Commissioners of Northern Lights - that is to say, sea-beacons; one of the towers is a sea-mark, and on that account had lately been repaired. It was at the sight of the ruins that John Wesley explained, 'God deliver us from reforming mobs!'

"The Inchcape or Bell Rock Light House (on Sir Ralph the Rover's rock) is visible from the town, two revolving lights, one very bright, the other less so, being red; they are about three minutes in revolving. The town is very neat and apparently very flourishing; the streets flagged, which they are not at Dundee to the disgrace of that city, where they have good quarries close at hand. Several booksellers' shops, which indeed seem to be much more numerous in Scotch than in English towns and here at Arbroath I saw more prostitutes walking the streets than would I think have been seen in any English town of no greater extent or population."


"Account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse" -
published 1824

Letter to William Blackwood - 20-4-1824

"Having completed my book upon the Bell Rock Lighthouse - I now wish to dispose of the Impression to a Publisher - and make you the first offer in Edinburgh. Will you therefore be so good as to call here and see the proof volume anytime between 10 and 3 o'clock tomorrow.

"The edition extends to 300 copies - but of these Lighthouse Board reserves 50 for making presents of - and therefore there will not be above 240 copies to dispose of. This is but a small edition and it is not wished that the work should sell at more than 4 Guineas. It extends to upwards of 500 pages and has 23 plates, the size is larger than Quarto and it costs upwards of three Guineas per volume."

Letter to Archd Constable & Co. - 21st April 1824

"I have now got the complete of my book upon the Bell Rock wanting only the publishers name. Will you do me the favour to come and see it anytime before 3 or after 7 this evening, or tomorrow morning and give me an offer for the remaining part of the impression - which extends to about 240 copies.

"The whole extends to about 300 copies but of these the Lighthouse Board retains 50 for the immediate use of the Board - and about 10 copies go to the public libraries. The price proposed is 4 Guineas for which it should sell."

According to MeasuringWorth.com using the Retail Price Index, 4 guineas (£4 4s, or £4 20p in today's money) would translate in 2008 to about £306! Not for the faint-hearted! - Ed.


[In a letter to John Peters dated 18 Mar 1816 re the keeping of animals on the Island [of May], Stevenson says "you will observe that Swine are rather an objectionable Animal to keep about a Lighthouse but if kept they must be confined and on no account be allowed to roam about the doors or suffered to go at large on the Island"].

Whether or not Stevenson had concerns as to the breeding population of birds is not recorded! - Ed.


Bell Rock

I don't think I've ever seen an image of the Lighthouse Yacht which Walter Scott sailed on in 1814, but it would have been a lot larger than the Oriane, adding a splash of colour at the lighthouse.

Photo: © Derek Robertson


Voyage with Walter Scott, Esq, and the Commissioners

The two letters below come from Stevenson on the brink of his momentous voyage in 1814 with Walter Scott, Esq. and the Commissioners of Northern Lights. The anticipation is obvious and his mood buoyant (if not anxious) to say the least. Both were written a good 6 weeks before the cruise was due. In the first letter to John Peters, Stevenson goes on at great length on the virtues of good housekeeping. The letter to Capt. Taylor, who had been given the task of deputising for him on the usual annual tour of lighthouses, underlines the need to ensure the safety of the vessel! Stevenson was anxious that nothing would go wrong for his important adventure at the end of July. Note, too, that Capt Taylor was to return via the Forth and Clyde Canal. Widewall Bay is in the Orkneys.


[Extract] Edinburgh to John Peters,
Steward Lighthouse Yacht,
Widewall Bay
4 June 1814

"I hope you are paying the necessary attention to the entire cleanliness of the Forecastle and Storerooms insofar as regards the duty of the cook and that the Cabins and all their apartments are kept in the most elegant and cleanly condition insofar as regards your own duty with the assistance of the Steward's boy.

"Take notice that that state of universal cleanliness ought not to be overlooked although they may be no ceremonious company on board. If you allow your duty to be flinched from in any case in vain will you think of getting things in order when it is demanded of you and your assistants. When there are no passengers in the Forecabin you should be still more attentive and in good order in the Aftercabin to keep yourself and assistants in the habit of working and ordering the various matters. See that there be no mousewebs, no portions of dust moistened into dirt lying in any of the corners, no towels that smell with grease, nor tablecloths of course in use from week to week - but be always orderly and clean both at bed and board - and see that the orders regarding the airing of the bedding is strictly attended to and on no pretence whatever allowed to be neglected".


Edinburgh to Capt Taylor
on board the Lighthouse Yacht,
Widewall Bay, by Huna [Orkney]
4 June 1814

(Also shown under Correspondence)

"I hope you find things in your new Ship pretty much to your mind - I am am sorry to observe from the state of the weather that you are likely to have somewhat rough weather but it will put you in mind of the Days of Youre - and at the same time make you enjoy the delightful repose of a smooth water Frith when it comes again in your way.

"Capt. Wilson arrived here on Sunday the 29th and on Tuesday he went to the Carr Rock and got on board of the Smeaton; the man you put on board from the yacht was paid off yesterday, and things are once more arranged in a certain way.

"I understand you have got Capt. Pool on board of the yacht - regarding whom I must observe that he had not my authority for this in any other day - if he could make himself agreeable to you and to Mr Wilson - it would give me that pleasure which I hope always to feel in seeing the Bell Rock Hands made right - especially such of them as have acted in an official capacity - but that I would not consent to disturb the peace of a ship with any person whatsoever and of course in the event of returning to the Service he must consider himself as wholly amenable to the Master of the Vessel on which he was on board, as I am sorry to say that he does not answer well with having a charge.

"I trust that in your hands the Yacht will be most secure by your attention, and keeping a special outlook amongst the rapid tides and rocks of Orkney and the Highlands; that the Ship will lose nothing in point of cleanliness and good order both in hull and rigging and if a favourable opportunity occurs you will see to return her to port with the waste boards and her sides new painted.

"It will be proper that you call at Carron in coming down the Canal in case of its answering to bring the castings to Leith connected with the new Lightroom intended for the May. The Buoy at Carr drifted in the late gales, but Mr Soutar got another laid down on the 30th of last month.

"If the season if favourable it will I hope be the last job of this kind.

"Wishing you a prosperous voyage.

"I am, etc."


Nursing care for Michael Wishart

Michael Wishart met with a serious accident on the 30th June 1809. He was off work for 58 weeks. During that time he was cared for by Elizabeth Paris. In this letter to Robert Stevenson she asks for payment . . . which, I'm pleased to say, she eventually received!


"I understand that you have heard from Mr Duncan that I have got no settlement for Washing and Attendance for Michael Wishart which you know was a great deal more than ordinary, and all that recieved was board and lodgings, and I think the lowest charge that I can make is a sixpence [2½p in today's money] a day for 4 months which I hope you will take to a consideration.

I remain, etc,