Family to Sell Robert Stevensons Model of Oldest Sea-Washed Lighthouse in the World at Bonhams

. October 31, 2007

AuctionPublicity.com – Bell Rock Lighthouse in The North Sea is one of Scotland’s greatest engineering feats of the early 19th century. Every lighthouse across the world that sits in the sea today has been built to Robert Stevenson’s same design and specification. On 28 November 2007, the original scale model for the lighthouse, which was presented by the engineer to his daughter, will be sold at Bonhams’ Scientific&Marine Works of Art Sale in Knightsbridge, London.

The model, which is being sold on behalf of direct descendents of Robert Stevenson, measures 57 x 25.5cm and is expected to fetch £1,500-2,000 at Bonhams.

Bell Rock is the highest point of a treacherous reef that lies some 11 miles off the East coast of Scotland, directly in the path of ships making for the River Tay in the Port of Dundee. By the turn of the 18th century, around six ships were wrecked each winter on the rocks, and in 1804, when the warship HMS York was lost with all on board, parliamentary uproar led to legislation being passed for Robert Stevenson to construct his lighthouse.

Although work began in 1807, the site presented immense difficulties as Bell Rock was only exposed for three hours at low water spring tides and could be up to 16 feet under water at any other time. Initially, the building workers had to live on board a vessel anchored off the rock, then subsequently in a wooden tower erected alongside. The entire structure of specially shaped interlocking blocks was carved on the mainland, then dismantled and shipped by sailing boat to the reef where they were reassembled on site, the solid base layers being held in place by oak pins and wedges.

Despite numerous difficulties with equipment and inclement weather, the entire structure was completed in 1810, with the loss of only two lives. The revolving light, made to a design by Stevenson, was first lit in 1811.

Since 1988, the lighthouse has been unmanned but still stands guard in the Firth of the Forth. It remains the oldest rock lighthouse in existence in the British Isles today.

The tower of Robert Stevenson’s presentation scale model to be sold has been carved from a solid piece of red sandstone. It has a bronze base rim and lantern cupola, featuring painted windows and a small bronze mariner standing in the elevated doorway. The whole model is mounted on a cast bronze reef base.

The foot of the sandstone tower bears a polished bronze plaque inscribed “MEMORANDUM This model of the Bell Rock Lighthouse presented by me to my daughter Mrs Warden was cut from the rock at the conclusion of the works in the year 1810 – Robert Stevenson”.

Robert Stevenson FRS 1772-1850
Born in Glasgow, the son of a prosperous merchant. His father died in the West Indies while on business and his mother subsequently moved to Edinburgh where she later married Thomas Smith, a tinsmith and engineer responsible for the lights in the Scottish lighthouses. Robert worked for his stepfather, later marrying Smith’s daughter. When his stepfather retired, Stevenson assumed his place with the Northern Lights Board. He had worked on his first lighthouse design in 1793 at Little Cumbrae and by 1799 was Engineer to the Board, becoming supervising Engineer for the Bell Rock project. He built a thriving engineering business following that success, going on to design a further seventeen Scottish lighthouses before he retired in 1843. He was also responsible for many other important engineering works in the early 19th century, advising on harbours, bridges, roads and railways.

Category: Auction News

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