Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson

Photo of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was a nineteenth century Scottish novelist famous for writing adventure and travel stories.

When and Where was he Born?

13th November 1850, 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. Christened Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson.

Stevenson birthplace
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in this house, 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Family Background:

Robert Louis Stevenson was the only son of Thomas Stevenson, a prosperous civil engineer and Engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses and Margaret Isabella Balfour.

Education:

Mr Henderson’s Preparatory School, India Street. Edinburgh Academy. Robert Thomson’s private school in Frederick Street, Edinburgh. Edinburgh University.

Timeline of Robert Louis Stevenson:

1851: The Stevenson family moves to Number 1 Inverleith Terrace in Edinburgh. (Now numbered 9).

Stevenson House
The Stevenson family home at 9 Inverleith Terrace, Edinburgh (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1852: Alison Cunningham becomes Stevenson’s Nurse.

1857: The Stevenson family moves to 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh.

1862: The family travel to Bad Homburg in Germany to try and find a health cure for his father.

1863: The family tour to the South of France, Northern Italy and Austria. Stevenson returns to Scotland for a short while and then goes top Mentone in France to stay with his father.

1864: He goes to Colinton Manse to stay with his mother for a month and then returns to Edinburgh.

1865: Robert Louis Stevenson visits Torquay with his mother.

1866: “The Pentland Rising” is first published by Andrew Eliot at his father’s expense.

1867: He goes up to Edinburgh University to study engineering.

1868: Stevenson undertakes training on lighthouse engineering.

1869: He joins the Speculative Society, the University debating club. Sails around the Orkneys and Shetland Isles with his father.

1871: Robert Louis Stevenson begins studying Law at Edinburgh University.

1873: He quarrels with his father as he says he is not a Christian. Meets Frances Sitwell and Sidney Colvin at Cockfield Rectory in Suffolk and then travels once more on his doctor’s advice to Mentone after a physical collapse. Publishes his first proper work “Roads” under the pseudonym of L.S. Stoneven.

1874: He visits Paris. He publishes in Macmillan’s Magazine a work called “Ordered South” and “Victor Hugo’s Romances” in the Cornhill Magazine.

1875: He passes his final examinations for the Scottish Bar but never practices. Goes on a walking tour in France.

Stevenson house
Stevenson’s House at 17 Heriot Row complete with plaque 
and quotation on the railings (copyright Anthony Blagg)
Detail of plaque (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1876: Stevenson meets Mrs Fanny Osbourne at Grez-sur-Loing on his inland voyage through France.

1877: He stays in Paris with Fanny. Publishes his first short story “A Lodging for the Night” in Temple Bar.

1878: Fanny returns to her husband in California, USA and takes her three children with her.

1879: He sails to New York from Greenock on the ship Devonia. Takes a train to Monterey. Fanny gets a divorce from her Husband Sam Osbourne. Stevenson moves to 608 Bush Street in San Francisco.

1880: Stevenson moves into the Tubbs Hotel in East Oakland but is moved to Fanny’s house to be nursed after he has a haemorrhage. He is advanced a yearly sum of £250 from his parents. He marries Fanny on 19th May and the couple go to the Napa Valley for their honeymoon. They take a ship form New York to Liverpool where his parents meet Fanny for the first time. Then go on to winter in Davos in Switzerland for the sake of his health.

1881: He spends time in Braemar Scotland where he begins writing “The Sea Cook” which is later to become “Treasure Island”. This is published under the Pseudonym Captain George North in Young Folks Magazine. spends the winter in Davos once more.

1882: Stevenson spends the year traveling in Scotland and France. The first Performance of “Deacon Brodie” is given in Bradford.

1883: He moves to Hyères in France and lives at the Chalet la Solitude, 4 Rue Victor Basch. “Black Arrow” is serialised in Young Folks Magazine. “Treasure Island” is first published in book form.

1884: Stevenson moves to Bournemouth and suffers from such bad health that he can hardly leave the house.

1885: He moves in to “Skerryvore” house in Bournemouth which had been bought him as a wedding present. He visits Thomas Hardy in Dorchester and starts writing the “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

1886: “Kidnapped” begins to be serialised in Young Folks Magazine.

1887: Stevenson leaves Bournemouth and travel to Edinburgh staying on the way in York. Death of his father. Stevenson is too ill to attend the funeral. Signs a contract with the publishers Cassells for the publication of “David Balfour” and “Catriona”. Travels back to Bournemouth. Travels to London where he says goodbye to friends and then goes to New York on the SS Ludgate Hill. Arrives in New York in September.

1888: He signs a contract with the publishers S.S. McClure to sell travel articles about his journey to the South Seas. Meets his mother at Manasquan, New Jersey, then travels to California on the train to be with Fanny. Goes aboard the ship The Casco in San Francisco and sets sail for the Pacific Islands.

1889: Stevenson arrives in Honolulu.

1890: He buys the four hundred acre Vailima Estate in Apia, Samoa. Sails to Sydney, then New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and finally docks at Noumea in New Caledonia. He goes back to Sydney to continue writing. The Stevenson family settle at the Estate in Vailima. Stevenson himself leaves Sydney for Apia.

1891: Returns to Sydney where he meets his mother. Returns to Samoa with his mother in March.

1892: Stevenson gets involved with Samoan politics and writes letters to “The Times” newspaper in London. Graham Balfour arrives at Vailima and stays with the Stevensons.

1893: He leaves for New Zealand and Australia. Returns to Vailima. In July there is a war between the Samoan Chiefs Mataafa and Laupepa and Stevenson supports Mataafa even though he is defeated. He goes on a trip to Hawaii. In October there is a feast to celebrate the completion of the book “The Road of the Loving Heart” and his political supporters build a road from Vailima to the main public road to thank him.

When and Where did he Die?

3rd December 1894, Vailima, Samoa of a cerebral haemorrhage.

Age at Death:

44.

Written Works:

(By Date of publication)

1873: “Roads”.
1876: “Charles of Orleans”.
1877: “On Falling in Love”.
1878: “Picturesque Notes”.
1879: “Travels with a Donkey”, “The Story of a Lie”.
1881: “Some Portraits by Raeburn”, “Virginibus Puerisque”, “Treasure Island”, “Thrawn Janet”.
1882: “Talk and Talkers”, “The Foreigner at Home”, “The Merry Men”, “New Arabian Nights”, “A Gossipon Romance”, “Deacon Brodie”.
1883: “Treasure Island” “Across the Plains”, “The Treasure of Franchard”, “A Note on Realism”.
1884: “The Silverado Squatters”, “A Humble Remonstrance”.
1885: “A Child’s Garden of Verses”, “More New Arabian Nights: “The Dynamiter” (with Fanny), “Prince Otto”, “Olalla”.
1886: “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. “Kidnapped”.
1887: “Ticonderoga”, “The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables”, “Memories and Portraits”, “Underwoods” (poetry).
1888: “The Education of an Engineer”, “An Epilogue to An Inland Voyage”, “Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin”, “The Misadventures of John Nicholson”.
1889: “The Wrong Box”, “The Master of Ballantrae”.
1890: “Ballads”, “Father Damien: An Open Letter to Reverend Doctor Hyde”, “Entertainments and Ballads”.
1891: “In the South Seas”, “The Bottle Imp”.
1892: “The Wrecker”, “The Beach of Falesa”, “A Footnote to History”.
1893: “Island Nights”, “Isle of Voices”, “The Road of the Loving Heart”.
1894: “Collected Works”. “The Ebb Tide”.
(1895): “The Amateur Emigrant”.
(1896): “A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway”, “The Weir of Hermiston”.
(1897): “St Ives”.

Marriage:

19th May 1880 to Mrs Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne.

Site of Grave:

Summit of Mount Vaea on Upolu, Samoa. Local people clear a way for his grave.

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Globe Hotel, Cockermouth.

EAST SUSSEX:

Westbourne house, Eastbourne (called “Skerryvore”) which he lived in from 1885 to 1887.

EDINBURGH:

Birthplace at 8 Howard Place (Private Residence).
Home at 9 Inverleith Terrace (Private Residence).
Home at 17 Heriot Row (Private Residence).

Stevenson plaque
Stevenson plaque
Information plaque in Heriot Row about 
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh (copyright Anthony Blagg)

The Writers Museum, Lady Stairs House, Lady Stairs Close, Lawnmarket, EH1 2PA.
Princes Street Gardens memorial by Iain Hamilton Finlay.

Further Information:

The Robert Louis Stevenson Club, c/o Ms M Bean, 37 Landor Road, Edinburgh, EH1 IO6.