'I set off on foot,' writes my grandfather, 'for Marazion, a town at the head of Mount's Bay, where I was in hopes of getting a boat to freight. I had just got that length, and was making the necessary inquiry, when a young man, accompanied by several idle- looking fellows, came up to me, and in a hasty tone said, "Sir, in the king's name I seize your person and papers." To which I replied that I should be glad to see his authority, and know the reason of an address so abrupt. He told me the want of time prevented his taking regular steps, but that it would be necessary for me to return to Penzance, as I was suspected of being a French spy. I proposed to submit my papers to the nearest Justice of Peace, who was immediately applied to, and came to the inn where I was. He seemed to be greatly agitated, and quite at a loss how to proceed. The complaint preferred against me was "that I had examined the Longships Lighthouse with the most minute attention, and was no less particular in my inquiries at the keepers of the lighthouse regarding the sunk rocks lying off the Land's End, with the sets of the currents and tides along the coast: that I seemed particularly to regret the situation of the rocks called the Seven Stones, and the loss of a beacon which the Trinity Board had caused to be fixed on the Wolf Rock; that I had taken notes of the bearings of several sunk rocks, and a drawing of the lighthouse, and of Cape Cornwall. Further, that I had refused the honour of Lord Edgecombe's invitation to dinner, offering as an apology that I had some particular business on hand."'

My grandfather produced in answer his credentials and letter of credit; but the justice, after perusing them, 'very gravely observed that they were "musty bits of paper,"' and proposed to maintain the arrest. Some more enlightened magistrates at Penzance relieved him of suspicion and left him at liberty to pursue his journey,--'which I did with so much eagerness,' he adds, 'that I gave the two coal lights on the Lizard only a very transient look.'

Lighthouse operations in Scotland differed essentially in character from those in England. The English coast is in comparison a habitable, homely place, well supplied with towns; the Scottish presents hundreds of miles of savage islands and desolate moors. The Parliamentary committee of 1834, profoundly ignorant of this distinction, insisted with my grandfather that the work at the various stations should be let out on contract 'in the neighbourhood,' where sheep and deer, and gulls and cormorants, and a few ragged gillies, perhaps crouching in a bee-hive house, made up the only neighbours. In such situations repairs and improvements could only be overtaken by collecting (as my grandfather expressed it) a few 'lads,' placing them under charge of a foreman, and despatching them about the coast as occasion served. The particular danger of these seas increased the difficulty. The course of the lighthouse tender lies amid iron- bound coasts, among tide-races, the whirlpools of the Pentland Firth, flocks of islands, flocks of reefs, many of them uncharted. The aid of steam was not yet. At first in random coasting sloop, and afterwards in the cutter belonging to the service, the engineer must ply and run amongst these multiplied dangers, and sometimes late into the stormy autumn. For pages together my grandfather's diary preserves a record of these rude experiences; of hard winds and rough seas; and of 'the try-sail and storm-jib, those old friends which I never like to see.' They do not tempt to quotation, but it was the man's element, in which he lived, and delighted to live, and some specimen must be presented. On Friday, September 10th, 1830, the Regent lying in Lerwick Bay, we have this entry: 'The gale increases, with continued rain.' On the morrow, Saturday, 11th, the weather appeared to moderate, and they put to sea, only to be driven by evening into Levenswick. There they lay, 'rolling much,' with both anchors ahead and the square yard on deck, till the morning of Saturday, 18th.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book