Robert Clyne: a lightkeeper's story What was it like to live and work in a lighthouse? Keeper Robert Clyne wrote lively accounts of his 43-year career for the People’s Journal. Find out more about him and read his fascinating articles here. Who was Robert Clyne? Robert Simpson Clyne was born in 1858 in Kirriemuir, Angus, the younger of two sons of Alexander Clyne and Charlotte Simpson. He commenced his service with the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1877 at the age of 19, and retired in 1922 aged 63. In 1883, Robert married Isabella Davidson whilst serving on the Isle of May. His two sons and four of his five daughters were born on the Isle of Man while he was stationed there. His youngest daughter was born while he was at Rattray Head. After retiring from the Northern Lighthouse Board he became a custodian of the Museum in Montrose. He died in 1937. Above: The Clyne Family c.1898. At the back are Anne, Dave, Mary and Lottie. At the front are Isabella Clyne (nee Davidson) with Lizzie on her knee, Alic, Mona and Robert Clyne. Robert’s elder brother John followed him in to the Lighthouse Service, serving at Kyleakin, Cape Wrath, St Abb’s Head and Noss Head. Robert’s sister stayed with him on the Isle of May as his housekeeper and while there met and married Robert Agnew, another lightkeeper and son of a lightkeeper. One of their daughters, Charlotte Agnew also married a lightkeeper. Robert’s daughter, Charlotte (Lottie) married Andrew Young Whyte while he was an assistant lightkeeper. Lottie and Andrew’s youngest daughter Betty married Jim Ross, who served on the lighthouse supply vessels. Jim’s father was a lightkeeper as was his uncle, grandfather and great uncle. 1 – Robert Clyne and his wife, Isabella Davidson. 2 - Board showing lights served on and Northern Lighthouse Board Light Keepers appointment document. 3 – Robert Clyne and ‘KS’. 4 – Robert’s daughter Lottie with her husband Andrew Whyte. The Whyte family also has lighthouse connections. Robert Clyne’s Service Record Lighthouse Position Commenced Finished Buchanness Induction Nov 1877 Dec 1877 Kinnaird Head Induction Dec 1877 June 1878 Isle of May Assistant Lighthouse Keeper June 1878 June 1884 Langness Assistant Lighthouse Keeper June 1884 Sept 1895 Isle of May Assistant Lighthouse Keeper June 1878 June 1884 Langness Assistant Lighthouse Keeper June 1884 Sept 1895 Rattray Principal Lighthouse Keeper Sept 1895 May 1900 Bell Rock Principal Lighthouse Keeper May 1900 Feb 1908 Butt of Lewis Principal Lighthouse Keeper Feb 1908 May 1916 Cromarty Principal Lighthouse Keeper May 1916 Feb 1922 Robert Clyne’s writing In 1922-1923, Clyne wrote a series of articles for the People's Journal about his long career as a lightkeeper. The People's Journal was a weekly paper launched in 1858. Published by D.C Thomson in Dundee, it ran from 1858 – 1990 and covered a range of stories across the whole of Scotland. Clyne's words evoke a fascinating, multi-faceted picture of lighthouse life, from dangerous tales of stormy seas to eerie stories of mysterious events, humorous anecdotes, observations of bird and sea life and historical facts. You can read a transcript of his articles here [PDF 1778KB]. Robert Clyne and the Bell Rock Clyne served as Principal Lighthouse Keeper at the Bell Rock for eight years, from May 1900 to February 1908. He wrote the following to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Bell Rock in 1936. You can view Clyne’s original text here. The Bell Rock Lighthouse 125th Anniversary “Far in the bosom of the deep O’er these wild shelves my watch I keep, A ruddy beam of changeful light, Bound in the dusky brow of night, The seaman bids my lustre hail, And scorns to strike his tim’rous sail.” So wrote Walter Scott of Abbotsford in the Bell Rock album, where in July 1814, he visited the lighthouse with a party of Commisioners. The Inchcape is a sandstone reef situated 11 miles SE from Arbroath, 13 NE from Fifeness, and 19 NNE from the Isle of May at the entrance to the Firth of Forth. The reef extends in length from NE to SW for about 500 yards, and in breadth 120 yards. Over it at high water Spring Tides runs a depth of about 12 feet, and at low water, the Northerly portion of the reef is bare to the height of 4 feet or thereby, a larger portion to the SW being a boulder-strewn, tangle-covered extent, never dry. Such a reef unmarked, both by day and night, was the dread of mariners, and a great menace to shipping. About a century and a half ago when several December storms strewed the coast round the Firth of Tay with the wreckage of many vessels, there was little doubt but that many had foundered on the dangerous un-marked Bell Rock reef. In 1786 a Lighthouse Board for Scotland was appointed. With the continuation of wrecks, the public was aroused to the necessity of something being done to make the Bell Rock reef, instead of being a dread, a guide to the open part of the Firth of Forth, and safety. The first erections on the reef were made in 1800–3, when private gentlemen proposed to erect a cast iron lighthouse, and in perseverance of their plan erected two temporary beacons, which in a few months were washed down. A third and stronger erected in July 1803, in Dec. shared the same fate. Nothing further was attempted till the commencement of the present structure. In July 1806 a Bill was placed in Parliament which removed all financial difficulties presenting an attempt to build a permanent ['structure' crossed out] erection on the dreaded reef. The act provided for a floating light being moored in the vicinity during operations and a beacon being [words crossed out] erected on the rock. It was decided that only a solid-based, dove tailed, tremailed, joggled, and bolted granite structure could adequately serve the purpose. Granite from Rubislaw, Aberdeen and freestone from Mylnefield, Dundee, was procured for the building, and Arbroath, being the nearest harbour, was selected as the place for preparing all the stones, and fitting the course on the other, before shipping them to the Rock. On 7th August 1807, a few workmen were landed on the Rock for the first time to trace out the site of the lighthouse, and prepare for the erection of the beacon. For only a few hours could they work each tide, and often continued at it until knee-deep in water. Mr Stevenson’s beacon was no flimsy affair to be washed away with the first winter storms, as were its predecessors, but while the building of the tower proceeded, it served as a mortar gallery and smith’s shop, and latterly a barrack for the workmen and engineer and was, by a rope bridge, connected to the tower. In 1812, the beacon was removed from the rock. The writer was principal keeper on the Bell Rock 1900-1908, and in 1907 removed from the rock one of the large iron balls of the beacon, and the red pine used as a wedge (which he kept as a souvenir,) is quite fresh after nearly 100 years saturation in sea water. After many experiments, it was resolved to use as mortar for the building, Pozzaland earth, Aberthaw lime, and sharp sand, in about equal proportions by measure, mixed with sea water, a mixture which proved very efficient, for it hardened as solid as the granite books, and stronger than the quartzy freestone of the reef. In Oct. 1807 the workmen left the Rock for the season, but during the winter work proceeded in Arbroath preparing the blocks for next summer’s ['hopeful' crossed out] work. In 1808 it was May before they could again start work on the rock, and July before the pit was ready for the foundation stone. On the 10th it was duly laid with massive honours Mr Stevenson and his assistants applying the square, the level, and the mallet, and pronouncing the following benediction – “May the Great Architect of the Universe complete and bless this building.” In August the first entire course was completed – 164 tons of solid contents. The laying of the fourth course completed the building operations for the season of 1808. Severe weather was experienced in the spring of 1809, and little building work was possible until well on in June, but in the work yard at Arbroath hewing of the several courses, and the granite masons sixteen, ready for shipment. There was great rejoicing by the workers on the Rock on 8th July, when, the tide being near [?] did not, for the first time overflow the building at high water. In August the twenty fourth course was laid, which completed the solid part of the building, now fully 31 feet above the rock, and about 17 feet above high water spring – tides, already a prominent land – or rather reef mark during daylight. In the spring of 1910 [sic] work was again greatly delayed by rough weather, it being on many occasions impossible to land stones and other material. By the middle of June the fourty [sic] seventh course, forming the storeroom floor was finished, thus covering the first compartment. Here Mr Stevenson had his writing desk sat, and wrote, on 14th June 1811 what certainly was the first letter dated from the Bell Rock Lighthouse. In July the other four floor courses – oil store, kitchen, bedrooms, and library were completed. Each of these floor courses were dovetailed, keyed, and joggled, which very much tended to strengthen the structure. The last cargo of building material was now brought from Arbroath, as it was decided to use for the upper courses of the building the liver-rock [?] stone of Craigleith, from its being less liable to injury when being worked in frosty weather when the last stone of the lighthouse was conveyed from the Greenside works, Edinburgh, in July, an interested, decorated, beflagged company of workers formed a procession and followed the sling-cart to the docks, where they received a great ovation from the shipping fraternity of Leith. When the ninetieth and last stone of the course was laid, and the masonry brought to the height of 102 ½ feet, Mr Stevenson pronounced the following benediction – May the Great Architect of the Universe, under whose blessing this perilous work has prospered, preserve it as a guide to the mariner.” This petition has surely been answered, for how many thousands of sea-farers have been saved, cheered and guided on their way by the welcome light none can tell. The light was exhibited for the first time in February 1811. Argand lamps and reflectors were then in use, and Colza oil the illuminant. Twenty lamps, reflectors, and lenses were revolved on a light framework, driven by a clockwork machine which also, during fog, tolled two bells on the balcony. About 1877 paraffin oil superseded the Colza oil burners. In 1890 a tonite explosive fog-signal was established. In 1902 the entire lantern, lighting apparatus, and dome were re-newed, the Argand lamps being replaced by a centrally fired first order lamp, round which revolves a powerful lens. In 1905, the oil Incandescent system of lighting, efficient, and almost universal in the Scotch service, was introduced. When resident on the Bell Rock I took the opportunity of gleaning information about the building of my temporary home from the very best authority, Robert Stevenson’s ‘Bell Rock Lighthouse”, an interesting volume published in 1824. An abridged edition was published by the Cambridge University Press in 1931. “Stability to the Bell Rock Lighthouse”, was the toast of the evening when Mr Stevenson forgathered with his friends the workmen in Arbroath, after the completion of their arduous task so ['yet' crossed out] again we heartily re-echo the sentiment, “Stability to the Bell Rock Lighthouse”.