13th November 1850

Author Robert Louis Stevenson is born

Prolific author Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850, and died in Samoa, aged 44, in 1894. During his short life he wrote some of the most memorable novels of all time, including Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. His grandfather was the lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson, who was responsible for some of the most ambitious maritime building projects of his age.

Writer on the road

Robert Louis travelled to France in his mid-20s, and while there he met another writer, divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osborne, with whom he became romantically involved. When she returned to America, he went on a walking tour in the south of the country, the result of which was his book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Once he had completed his walk, he crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of his love. He found her, but unfortunately fell gravely ill while in America. Fanny nursed him back to health and the couple were married in 1880, after which they travelled back to Britain.

Stevenson the novelist

By the mid-1880s they had set up home in Bournemouth, on the English south coast, where, over the next three years, Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the latter of which is said to have been inspired by the cruel murder of Elizabeth Chantrelle by her husband, Eugene, at their home in Edinburgh. Eugene was convicted and hanged for the crime.

However, for much of this time he was bedridden and, in 1887, he and Fanny moved back to America, perhaps to take advantage of the better weather, but soon after set out by boat across the Pacific. Stevenson and his family visited Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia, before arriving in Samoa at the end of 1889 where, the following year, they built a home.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s death

Less than five years later, he collapsed and died in that home. The Sheffield Evening Telegraph of 17 December 1894 reported that he had “died suddenly of apoplexy [a stroke]. He was buried at the summit of Pala mountain, 1300 feet above the sea level. At the time of his death Mr Stevenson had half completed a new novel.”

The following week, on Christmas Eve, the Dundee Evening Telegraph told its readers that “the messages now received from Samoa no longer leave room for doubting the week old report of the death of Robert Louis Stevenson. The pen of the ready writer is at last laid down, and he who so bravely worked under death’s threatening shadows rests on a far mountain top overlooking the besieging sea… [it is questionable] whether it is fair to permit the health-broken, brain-fagged Stevenson of 1893 to speak for the real Stevenson. The morbid mutterings in which it is stated that he expressed the wish to die and be done with it rather than die daily in the sick-room, or the fear of decadence of his fame, are not utterances of the Robert Louis Stevenson who won the admiration and affection of thousands of readers of his works.”

Robert Louis Stevenson memorial

Two days earlier, on 22 December, a letter writer to the Aberdeen Free Press had argued for official recognition for the author, and expressed a wish that “Scotland will take steps to raise some memorial to this son of hers, till yesterday the greatest living writer of English prose, and probably the greatest of living English novelists.”

There is a small memorial, inscribed RLS, in West Princes Street Gardens. It was unveiled almost 100 years after his death, in July 1989.



Other events that occured in November

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