In the early part of the century the foreman builder was a young man of the name of George Peebles, a native of Anstruther. My grandfather had placed in him a very high degree of confidence, and he was already designated to be foreman at the Bell Rock, when, on Christmas-day 1806, on his way home from Orkney, he was lost in the schooner Traveller. The tale of the loss of the Traveller is almost a replica of that of the Elizabeth of Stromness; like the Elizabeth she came as far as Kinnaird Head, was then surprised by a storm, driven back to Orkney, and bilged and sank on the island of Flotta. It seems it was about the dusk of the day when the ship struck, and many of the crew and passengers were drowned. About the same hour, my grandfather was in his office at the writing- table; and the room beginning to darken, he laid down his pen and fell asleep. In a dream he saw the door open and George Peebles come in, 'reeling to and fro, and staggering like a drunken man,' with water streaming from his head and body to the floor. There it gathered into a wave which, sweeping forward, submerged my grandfather. Well, no matter how deep; versions vary; and at last he awoke, and behold it was a dream! But it may be conceived how profoundly the impression was written even on the mind of a man averse from such ideas, when the news came of the wreck on Flotta and the death of George.
George's vouchers and accounts had perished with himself; and it appeared he was in debt to the Commissioners. But my grandfather wrote to Orkney twice, collected evidence of his disbursements, and proved him to be seventy pounds ahead. With this sum, he applied to George's brothers, and had it apportioned between their mother and themselves. He approached the Board and got an annuity of 5 pounds bestowed on the widow Peebles; and we find him writing her a long letter of explanation and advice, and pressing on her the duty of making a will. That he should thus act executor was no singular instance. But besides this we are able to assist at some of the stages of a rather touching experiment; no less than an attempt to secure Charles Peebles heir to George's favour. He is despatched, under the character of 'a fine young man'; recommended to gentlemen for 'advice, as he's a stranger in your place, and indeed to this kind of charge, this being his first outset as Foreman'; and for a long while after, the letter-book, in the midst of that thrilling first year of the Bell Rock, is encumbered with pages of instruction and encouragement. The nature of a bill, and the precautions that are to be observed about discounting it, are expounded at length and with clearness. 'You are not, I hope, neglecting, Charles, to work the harbour at spring-tides; and see that you pay the greatest attention to get the well so as to supply the keeper with water, for he is a very helpless fellow, and so unfond of hard work that I fear he could do ill to keep himself in water by going to the other side for it.'--'With regard to spirits, Charles, I see very little occasion for it.' These abrupt apostrophes sound to me like the voice of an awakened conscience; but they would seem to have reverberated in vain in the ears of Charles. There was trouble in Pladda, his scene of operations; his men ran away from him, there was at least a talk of calling in the Sheriff. 'I fear,' writes my grandfather, 'you have been too indulgent, and I am sorry to add that men do not answer to be too well treated, a circumstance which I have experienced, and which you will learn as you go on in business.' I wonder, was not Charles Peebles himself a case in point? Either death, at least, or disappointment and discharge, must have ended his service in the Northern Lights; and in later correspondence I look in vain for any mention of his name--Charles, I mean, not Peebles: for as late as 1839 my grandfather is patiently writing to another of the family: 'I am sorry you took the trouble of applying to me about your son, as it lies quite out of my way to forward his views in the line of his profession as a Draper.'
A professional life of Robert Stevenson has been already given to the world by his son David, and to that I would refer those interested in such matters.