8th June 1772

Lighthouse pioneer Robert Stevenson is born

Robert Stevenson was born in Glasgow and grew up in relative poverty following the death of his father – until, in his mid-teens, his mother remarried. Stevenson’s new stepfather, Thomas Smith, was an engineer with the Northern Lighthouse Board, which is responsible for lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man. Thus, the course of Stevenson’s life was set.

Within four years he was building his own lighthouse on the River Clyde. Almost twenty others would follow over the course of his life – as would the idea of making the lights blink in unique sequences to assist in mariners’ navigation.

Bell Rock Lighthouse

His most ambitious project was Bell Rock Lighthouse, on a rock of that name, off the Angus coast, that is entirely covered except at low tide. The rock was an acknowledged danger that caused the sinking of dozens of ships every year, but the complexity and cost of erecting a lighthouse on it meant that not everyone was in favour of tackling the problem.

In the House of Commons in 1806, The Lord Advocate of Scotland, reminded the House that “seldom a vessel came near [Bell Rock] without being almost instantly dashed to pieces; and that from the circumstance of its being covered at half tide, there was hardly an instance where such an occurrence took place, but every soul perished.”

Charge levied

Part of the objection focused on the fact that the money to fund the lighthouse would, technically, be going to Scotland, upon which it was promptly pointed out that any lighthouse on Bell Rock would be of equal value to ships sailing from Scarborough and Hull. Very soon after this, the committee debating the merits of its construction voted in favour, and decreed that “there be paid for every British vessel passing in the line pointed out, being between Peterhead and Berwick-upon-Tweed, a duty of one and a half pence per ton, and for every foreign vessel so passing three pence per ton” to recoup the costs of construction.



Other events that occured in June

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