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Alan Stevenson

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Alan Stevenson (1807-1865) was a lighthouse engineer who was Engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses.

A member of the famous Stevenson family of engineers, eldest son of Robert Stevenson, and brother of David Stevenson and Thomas Stevenson, between 1843 and 1853 he built thirteen lighthouses in and around Scotland.

The writer Robert Louis Stevenson was the son of Thomas and thus the nephew of Alan Stevenson.

1807 Born at Edinburgh

1830 Alan Stevenson of Edinburgh, Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1865 Died

1867 Obituary [2]

ALAN STEVENSON, LL.B., was born at Edinburgh, in 1807, and was the eldest son of the late Robert Stevenson (M. Inst. C.E.)

He was educated at the High School and University of Edinburgh, where he took the degree of Master of Arts, and, as an advanced student of natural philosophy, under the late Sir John Leslie, obtained the ‘Fellowe’s Prize.’

He prosecuted his studies at Twickenham, under the superintendence of a clergyman of the Church of England, and afterwards entered his father’s office, to study for the profession of a Civil Engineer. In the course of his pupilage he had opportunities of seeing a great variety and extent of engineering works, comprising lighthouses, harbours, bridges, rivers, and canals ; and in order still further to increase his practice, he, by the kindness of Mr. Telford, was sent on to the works of the Birmingham Canal, where he obtained much practical experience under the late William MacKenzie, at that time the Resident Engineer upon the works, and who was subsequently an extensive contractor.

In partnership with his father, Mr. Robert Stevenson, and his brother, David Stevenson (M. Inst. C.E.), he was actively engaged in general engineering business until 1843, when, on the retirement of Mr. Robert Stevenson from the office of Engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, he was appointed his successor ; and after that period his practice was entirely confined to lighthouse engineering. Under his advice and management many important improvements were made in the lighthouse apparatus used in Scotland, especially that on the dioptric system ; and the first dioptric light introduced by the Trinity House of London, at the Start Point Lighthouse, in Devonshire, in 1836, was executed from his design, and under his superintendence.

He designed and constructed many lighthouses in Scotland, but his chief lighthouse work was the Skerryvore, which was executed from his own designs and under his own eye. In personally conducting that great work, during a period of five working seasons, his courage and patience were severely tried, and his abilities as an Engineer were fully tested. They were found equal to the task of successfully accomplishing what will ever be regarded as a triumph of lighthouse engineering, and as perhaps the finest combination of mass with elegance to be met with in architectural or engineering structures. After trying four different curves, the parabolic, the logarithmic, the hyperbolic, and the conchoidal, Mr. Alan Stevenson adopted the hyperbolic curve for the tower, which has a diameter of 42 feet at the base, decreasing gradually to 16 feet at the belt course, the whole height from the foundation to the top of the dome being 155 feet.

Alluding to the Bell Rock and Skerryvore Lighthouses, a writer in the 'Quarterly Review' says : 'Taken altogether, they are, perhaps, the most perfect specimens of modern architecture which exist. Tall and graceful as the minaret of an Eastern mosque, they possess far more solidity and beauty of construction; and, in addition to this, their form is as appropriate to the purposes for which it was designed as anything ever done by the Greeks, and consequently meets the requirement’s of god architecture quite as much as a column of the Parthenon.'

In proof of the correctness of this criticism, it may suffice to say that the proportions of the Skerryvore tower were adopted by Captain Fraser, R.E., for the Alguada Reef Lighthouse, lately constructed by him for the Indian Government, as stated in his report of the 31st of October, 1857.

The Emperor of Russia and the Kings of Prussia and of Holland presented Mr. Stevenson with medals in acknowledgement of his merit as a Lighthouse Engineer, and the University of Glasgow conferred on him the degree of Bachelor of Laws.

His principal contributions to engineering literature were his 'Account of the Skerryvore Lighthouse,' and the 'Treatise on Lighthouse Illumination,' published in 1848, and republished by Mr. Weale, in his Rudimentary Treatises. He was also a contributor to the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,' the 'Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,' and other scientific and literary periodicals.

Mr. Alan Stevenson, at an early period, evinced a decided feeling for literary and classical studies-a taste which he retained throughout his whole life-and often did he relieve the monotony of professional duties by pursuing his favourite studies. A volume of original poems, and translations from the Greek and Latin poet’s, printed shortly before his death, for private circulation among his friends, contained many pleasing odes from his pen, all of which breathe the truly earnest and Christian spirit which characterized his daily walk.

Mr. Stevenson was seized with paralysis in 1852 at the comparatively early age of forty-five years. He resigned the post of Engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses in the year following; and, after a painful illness, he died on the 23rd of December, 1865, in his fifty-ninth year.

The Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, whom he had zealously served, recorded in their Minutes on the 3rd of January, 1866, 'their deep and abiding regrets for the loss of a man whose services had been to them invaluable ; whose works combining profound science with practical skill have not only conferred lasting honour and benefit on his country, but contributed largely towards the welfare of all, and whose genuine piety, kind heart, and high intellect made him beloved and respected by all h is friends, and obtained for him the willing homage of all to whom his reputation was known,'

Mr. Alan Stevenson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1838, and acted as a Member of Council from 1843 to 1845 ; and after his illness, when he tendered his resignation, the Council, in token of their respect, declined to accept his resignation, and continued to him the privileges of his Fellowship.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the year 1830, but was not often able to attend the meetings, or to take part in the proceedings, in consequence of his constant residence in Scotland.

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