TAMH: Source Material
The construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse - 1| 2

The Bell Rock Lighthouse

from The Story of our Lighthouses and Lightships

W H Davenport Adams, 1891

Stevenson's Early Investigations

'When Mr Robert Stevenson made his first landing on the rock in 1800, he discovered in almost every chink and cranny painful proofs of the sad disasters of which it had been the cause, - such as bayonets, musket balls and innumerable fragments of iron. All the more perishable materials had been swept away; and a silver shot-buckle was the only vestige of wearing-apparel to speak of the loss of many who had here met their unexpected doom. Nor was it simply on the unbeaconed and unlighted rock that ships were destroyed; not a few were cast on the neighbouring shores, from the anxiety of their pilots to avoid the dreaded danger. Mr Stevenson records a melancholy example. During a three days' gale in 1899 a large fleet of vessels were driven from their moorings in the Downs and Yarmouth roads, and from their southward courses. Borne north by the fury of the blast, these ships might easily have reached the anchorage of the Firth of Forth, for which the wind was favourable; but night came on and fearing the Bell Rock, their ill-fated steersmen resolved to keep at sea, but drifting before a pitiless storm on a dark December night, they lost their reckoning and were hopelessly wrecked, two of them on the Bell Rock, and about seventy on the Eastern shores of Scotland, where alas! many of their brave crews perished. This fatal catastrophe, says Mr Stevenson, is the more to be lamented when we consider that a light upon the Bell Rock, by opening a way to a place of safety, would infallibly have been the means of preventing it. And that this opinion was justifiable we know from the fact that not a single ship has been lost on the rock since the lighthouse was completed - three quarters of a century ago.'

'It was not until 1786 that a Lighthouse Board for Scotland was established. At that time the chief lights on the Scottish coast were the chauffer and coal-fire on the Isle of May, in the estuary of the Forth, and a similar chauffer on the Little Cumbrae in the estuary of the Clyde. But the dangerous character of the Bell Rock soon attracted the attention of the Commissioners and they began to contemplate the erection of a lighthouse upon it. In 1806 they obtained an Act of Parliament authorising them to proceed with it; and in the following year operations were begun under the superintendence of Mr Robert Stevenson, who was chosen to carry out the design and plans furnished by the celebrated engineer, Mr (afterwards Sir John) Rennie. The execution of the work, attended as it was with exceptional difficulties, occupied almost four years, and the outlay involved amounted to £61,331 9s 2d, toward which Government advanced a sum of £30,000.'