RLS and St Cyrus


I was reading Bella Bathurst’s The Lighthouse Stevensons, the story of the extraordinary Stevenson family, who over several generations built most of Scotland’s lighthouses, not to mention a quite a few elsewhere.

Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, was one of the family who did not take to lighthouse building and ran away to be an author, ending his days in Samoa.

Anyway, in the book, I came across a minor error that obviously slipped through the sub-editing process.

Bella Bathurst states the Alan Stevenson, after he resigned as Chief Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board due to illness, lived for sometime at St Cyrus in Fifeshire.

Well St Cyrus in Kincardineshire I know well from summer holidays when a child, and also that we once had a farm there, but I didn’t know of one in Fife an area which I also know reasonably well.

A few minutes with Google Maps convinced me that there was only one St Cyrus in Scotland, and that was the one in Kincardineshire above the mouth of the North Esk and the border with Angus, which was known as Forfarshire in the nineteenth century.

But where did he live?

The answer was Kirkside House, which was amazingly adjacent to what was our farm. I remember old uncles referring to it as ‘The Toorie House’ due to its distinctive round tower and using it as a landmark from the beach to place the location of field boundaries when looking at landslips.

Thomas Stevenson, Alan’s youngest brother married Margaret Balfour, whose parents lived in the Mall House in Montrose, in 1848, with Robert Louis Stevenson coming along in 1850. However despite J’s assertion that every third person in Montrose is related to me in some way, I can claim no connection with the Balfours, unless it was as servants.

We do know that Thomas Stevenson’s family, including RLS, visited with Alan Stevenson when he was in Kirkside House, and while I had a moment of fantasy about some of my forbear’s children encountering the sickly RLS on walks, it actually can’t be true – we didn’t acquire the lease of the farm till the mid 1860’s and Alan Stevenson died in Portobello in Edinburgh in 1865, of something that sounds a lot like what we would nowadays diagnose as Multiple Sclerosis.

I’m assuming that RLS continued to visit family in the area – given that his father and brother David built Scurdie Ness Lighthouse in Montrose, it would be surprising if he did not – after all he would still have been trying to meet his father’s wishes and become an engineer in the family firm …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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