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David Stevenson

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1879.

David Stevenson (1815-1886)


1887 Obituary [1]

DAVID STEVENSON, the third son of the late Robert Stevenson, M. Inst. C.E., the well-known lighthouse engineer, was born at Edinburgh on the 11th of January, 1815.

Educated at the High School and University of Edinburgh, he elected from the first to follow his father’s profession. Before entering on his apprenticeship he was for some time in the workshops of one of the best practical millwrights of the day, where he acquired manipulative skill, and the proper methods of working in different materials, a course he always advocated for those who intended to follow civil engineering.

In his Presidential Address of 1869 to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, on 'Altered Relations of British and Foreign Industries and Manufactures,' he fully stated his views, urging the propriety of artisans improving their manipulative skill, and the knowledge and management of the materials with which they had to deal.

After serving a regular pupilage as a civil engineer, he was for some time engaged with Mr. Mackenzie, contractor on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and he gave a description of this important railway to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts in 1835, and was awarded their Medal for his exposition. He then returned to Edinburgh, and, in conjunction with his father and his brother Alan, began practice as an engineer.

During the year 1837 he made a tour in Canada and the United States, the result of the inspection of the engineering works of these countries being published in a volume under the title of 'Sketch of the Civil Engineering of North America,' which was subsequently republished as one of Weale’s Series of Engineering Works, as peculiarly applicable to newly-developed countries, where engineering works in which timber forms a chief element would yet be in full operation. The views expressed, and the drawings given in this book, with reference to the fine lines and speed attained by American river-steamers were received in this country by shipbuilders with distrust ; but the bluff bows of British sea-going steamers soon gave way to finer lines, shipowners finding that great speed could only be attained by following the example of the American shipbuilders.

Mr. Stevenson’s firm hold the post of Engineers to the Fishery Board of Scotland for Harbours ; and his advice was much sought in regard to the improvement of rivers and harbour- and dock-works. There are indeed, very few rivers or harbours in Scotland with which he was not in some way professionally connected. He was called on to report and execute works for the improvement of the rivers Dee, Lune, Ribble, and Wear in England, the Erne and Foyle in Ireland, and the Forth, Tay, and Kith in Scotland ; and extensive works are now in progress on the lower estuary of the Clyde from the designs of his firm. He was the first to enunciate the true theory of the origin of bars at the mouths of rivers, and also to define the different compartments of rivers and estuaries, and the proper treatment which each should receive for their improvement.

His book on 'Canal and River Engineering,' giving the results of his experience in the treatment of rivers, will long remain the standard work on the difficult subject of which it treats. Originally written about thirty years ago at the request of his old friend, Mr. Adam Black, for the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' it was shortly afterwards published as a separate treatise, and it is now in its third edition.

In 1877 at the request of the authorities of the School of Military Engineering, Chatham, he delivered a course of lectures on Canal and River Engineering to their students.

In 1853, Mr. Stevenson succeeded his brother Alan as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, and, along with his brother Thomas, who was at a subsequent date conjoined with him, he designed and executed no fewer than thirty lighthouses, two of which - on Dhuheartach and the Chicken Rocks - are triumphs of engineering skill.

In addition to the Scottish lighthouses, the advice of his firm was taken by the Governments of India, New Zealand, Japan, and Newfoundland on lighthouse-matters, and under their direction schemes for the lighting of the whole coasts of Japan and of New Zealand were matured, and are now being carried out. In connection with the lighting of the coasts of Japan, where earthquakes are frequent, Mr. Stevenson devised the a seismatic arrangement to mitigate the effects of earthquake shocks on the somewhat delicate optical apparatus used in lighthouses, and received the Macdougall Brisbane medal from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts for his invention.

Mr. Stevenson frequently appeared before Parliamentary Committees, and also gave evidence before several Special Committees and Royal Commissions on Harbours of Refuge, River Improvements, and Lighthouses. He was a most conscientious witness, never entering the box without being thoroughly satisfied as to the soundness of the cause he was supporting.

In Edinburgh Mr. Stevenson was greatly respected, and his advice on many important matters connected with the city was eagerly sought and highly valued. His views on the city improvement scheme, as conveyed to Lord Provost Chambers and Mr. David Cousin, city architect, along with his letters which appeared in the 'Scotsman' at the time, greatly facilitated the accomplishment of this great sanitary improvement, while amongst other local works his firm designed and carried out the Edinburgh and Leith sewerage scheme, and the widening of the North Bridge.

In addition to many Papers principally on engineering and cognate subjects read before different societies, Mr. Stevenson found time, amid the exacting calls of his profession, to write several books which have taken a permanent place in engineering literature, such as 'The Application of Marine Surveying and Hydrometry to the Practice of Civil Engineering,' 'Reclamation and Protection of Agricultural Land,' 'The Principles and Practice of Canal and River Engineering.' He also wrote several articles for the last and present editions of the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,' among which may be noted 'Canal,' ‘Cofferdam,' 'Diving,' and 'Dredging.' He was also the author of 'Our Lighthouses,' being two articles written for his old friend Dr. Norman Macleod, while editor of 'Good Words,' and subsequently published by Messrs. Black; and of the 'Life of Robert Stevenson,' published in 1818.

Mr. Stevenson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1844, and he subsequently acted as a member of Council and one of its Vice-Presidents. He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1844, and acted as a Member of Council from 1877 till 1883, when he retired on account of bad health; he was also a Member of the Societe des Ingenieurs Civils, Paris, and of other learned Societies.

He was consulting engineer to the Highland and Agricultural Society, and engineer to the Convention of Royal Burghs of Scotland. In the affairs of the former he took a lively interest, especially as regards improvements in agricultural implements, and contributed several papers and reports to their Transactions, notably one on the reclamation of land, and another on the relative merits of the different systems of steam ploughing. He took a warm interest in the better endowment of the Chairs in the University of Edinburgh, and was mainly instrumental in founding the Glover Divinity Fellowship. He was a great lover of art in all its branches, and had formed a somewhat valuable collection of etchings and engravings begun when a boy at the High School.

He was a man of sound judgement, utterly devoid of ostentation, kind, open, and easily accessible. Since 1883, owing to failing health he was practically laid aside from work, but had gone as was his wont to North Berwick for summer quarters, where he was seized with an apoplectic shock, and died on the 17th of July, 1886, in his seventy-second year.


1886 Obituary[2]

"THE LATE MR. DAVID STEVENSON.

Civil engineers in all parts of the world will learn with regret of the death, on Sunday evening, of Mr. David Stevenson, son of the eminent lighthouse engineer, Robert Stevenson. The immediate cause of death, which occurred at North Berwick, where Mr. Stevenson usually had his summer residence, was a stroke of paralysis which overtook him on the preceding Thursday. For the past three years he had taken little part in the business of the firm, the management of which was left in the hands of his brother Thomas, and of his two sons and Mr. Alan Brebner.

The deceased was born in the year 1815, and was the third son of Robert Stevenson, who was the engineer of the famous Bell Rock Lighthouse. He early chose to follow the profession of his father, and with that end in view he was educated in the High School and University of Edinburgh; but before entering upon a regular apprenticeship he spent some time in practical millwright and mechanical work, so as to acquire some manipulative skill and practical acquaintance with the proper methods of working in different materials—following just such a course as he always subsequently advocated for persons desirous of becoming civil engineers. His first professional engagement, after completing his apprenticeship, was on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, under Mr. Mackenzie, the contractor; and that important railway scheme he made the subject of a paper which he afterwards communicated to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts—a paper of such excellence that it secured for the author one of the Society’s medals. By-and-by he was taken into partnership by his father and his elder brother Alan (who was the engineer of the famous Skerry vore Lighthouse in the Hebridean archipelago); and during the year 1837, when in the twenty-third year of his age, he made a professional tour in Canada and the United States, the outcome of which was a book entitled “ Sketch of Civil Engineering in North America.” It consisted of a series of twelve chapters, dealing with such subjects as harbours, lake, river, and steam navigation, fuel and materials, canals, roads, bridges, railways, water works, Ac., and was published as one of “ Weale’s Series” of engineering works.

In the year 1853, Mr. Stevenson succeeded his brother Alan as the engineer to the Board of Commissioners for the Northern Lighthouses; and two years afterwards his brother Thomas became associated with him in the business established and so long conducted by the family. As engineers to the Lighthouse Commissioners the firm designed and superintended the erection of no fewer than thirty lighthouses around the Scottish coasts. Amongst these the most difficult undertakings, and which were in some respects triumphs of engineering skill, were the erection of the Dhu Heartach and Chickens Rock towers. The former is about fourteen miles from the island of Iona, and is erected on a spot exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic billows; the latter is near the Isle of Man and is under the charge of the Northern Lights Commissioners. The advice of the firm of which the deceased was the senior partner, was also sought in regard to lighthouse matters by the Governments of India, New Zealand, Japan, and Newfoundland ; and under their direction schemes for the lighting of the whole coasts of Japan and New Zealand were matured, and are now in course of being carried out. It may here be mentioned that in connection with the lighting of the coasts of Japan, where earthquakes are frequent, Mr. David Stevenson devised a seismatic arrangement to mitigate the effects of earthquake shocks on the somewhat delicate optical apparatus used in lighthouses.

The advice of the firm of D. and T. Stevenson was much sought in regard to the improvement of rivers, and in harbour and dock works—very extensively in Scotland, and to a considerable extent also in England and Ireland. We may specially instance the works at Wick and Anstruther Harbours, which were carried out by them for the Scottish Fisheries Board, with which they have long had a professional connection. They have also been similarly connected for a number of years with the Clyde Lighthouse Trust, whose domain extends from Fort-Glasgow to the deep sea; and in this connection there are extensive dredging operations in progress in the lower estuary of the Clyde from the designs of Messrs. Stevenson.

In addition to these important business connections of the firm, Mr. David Stevenson himself was also the consulting engineer to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, and to the convention of Royal Burghs. Although very distinguished as a lighthouse engineer in succession to his father and his brother Alan, the deceased chiefly laid himself out for river, harbour, and dock work, in which he acquired much professional distinction. In the course of his career he devoted a large portion of his leisure to the writing of works relating to his profession, and which have taken a permanent place in the literature of civil engineering. Amongst these we may mention his “ Application of Marine Surveying and Hydrometry to the Practice of Civil Engineering,” “Reclamation and Protection of Agricultural Land,” a life of his father, Robert Stevenson, “ Principles and Practice of Canal and River Engineering,” and many less important essays. He was also author of several articles in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” such as “Canal,” “ Cofferdam,” “ Diving,” and “ Dredging.”

Mr. Stevenson became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh so far back as the year 1844, and the same year he was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He subsequently served as a member of Council and as one of the vice-presidents of the Society. He was a member of the Society of Civil Engineers of Paris, and other scientific societies. A number of years ago he was President of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, and in that capacity he delivered a most valuable address on “ Altered Relations of British and Foreign Industries and Manufactures. ”


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1887 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  2. Engineering 1886/07/23