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Robert Louis Stevenson Edinburgh statue unveiled

Paddy the Newfoundland has a look at the statue of Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Greg Macvea

Paddy the Newfoundland has a look at the statue of Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Greg Macvea

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

IT HAS taken more than a century, but finally one of Scotland’s most celebrated authors has been honoured on the streets of his home city with his own statue.

A long campaign to have Edinburgh-born Robert Louis Stevenson properly recognised has finally been realised with the unveiling of a bronze sculpture of him as a book-loving youngster.

Crime writer Ian Rankin, a life-long fan of Stevenson, unveiled the bronze sculpture in a garden in the heart of Colinton village, where the young Stevenson regularly headed to visit his grandfather, a church minister there.

Almost 300 local people and Stevenson enthusiasts turned out for street party to celebrate the completion of the four feet tall statue, created by Midlothian-based sculptor Allan Herriot.

The Kidnapped and Treasure Island author wrote how he would spent much of his summer holidays in Colinton at his grandfather, Dr Lewis Balfour’s house. Inspired by the writer’s own memories of time spent in the manse garden - and the poems featured in his collection “A Child’s Garden of Verses” - it depicts a young Stevenson sitting on a tree-strump with his head in a book, watched over by his Skye Terrier dog.

It includes an inscription, taken from his essay collection, Memories and Portraits, which reads: “All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”

The work of art also refers to the native name - Tusitala (teller of tales) - Stevenson took when he was living in Samoa in his later years.

The £34,000 statue, instigated by the Colinton Conservation Trust, has been completed just ahead of the annual Robert Louis Stevenson Day in Edinburgh, set up two years ago by the Edinburgh World City of Literature Trust to generate more interest in his life and legacy.

The new statue, installed outside Colinton Parish Church, is part of a wider public art project, expected to cost at least £150,000, which will include a Stevenson trail right through the historic village and illustrated panels featuring some of his work.

Trust director Roy Durie said: “It’s actually not been that well known in Colinton, outwith people who go to the church, that Stevenson is so connected with the village. It is also a bit strange that this is the first proper statue of him in Edinburgh, when you can find them all over the world. We started off looking at this project as a way to try to revive the village and bring people together, but we hope it will now be a bit of a tourist attraction here.”

Rankin: “Colinton should already be a tourist attraction - it’s a lovely bit of secret Edinburgh and it would great if Stevenson helped bring people out here now.

“I don’t think it’s that odd that there is not a statue of Stevenson in Edinburgh already. There is a really beautiful bronze relief of him in St Giles Cathedral as well as the Kidnapped sculpture on Corstorphine Road.

“He is obviously very much associated with Edinburgh, but you have to remember that he spent a lot of his life travelling overseas. When that happens you can tend to get a bit forgotten about.

“Part of it might actually be down to the sheer breadth of the work that he produced. Some people might have read his adventure stories when they were younger, but there were also things like his historical fiction, travel writing and horror stories. He was a big influence on writers like Muriel Spark, for example.

“I first must have first read his work when I was seven or eight, when I read a comic-book version of Treasure Island.”

Mr Herriot said it had taken around seven years to bring the project to fruition from the earliest discussions with villagers.

He added: “He’s meant to look around 10 as we know his grandfather was definitely the minister at that time and he would have been spending a lot of time in Colinton doing some of his earliest writing. It’s his own notebook he has got in his hand and he had a Skye Terrier called Cuillin at that time.

“A big difficulty was that there are actually not many picture of him at that age. The one that we did find of him sitting next to his father was very stern and Dickensian, but we used other images to try to get the likeness as near to him as we could.”

Stevenson enthusiasts have spent more than 20 years trying to get a proper statue or sculpture off the ground in Edinburgh.

He was first honoured in 1904, 10 years after his death in Samoa, with a bronze relief, created by the American sculptor, Augustus St Gaudens, in St Giles’ Cathedral.

A campaign in the 1980s persuaded council leaders in the capital to commission their own tribute to the writer, but there were disputes over what form it should take, and discontent at the end result created in 1989 by sculptor Iain Hamilton Finlay - a row of stones forming a pathway leading to a grove of birch trees surrounding the base of a stone column.

Stevenson was also one of the first writers to be honoured with an inscription - bearing the quote “there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps” - at Makar’s Court, which the council created outside the Writer’s Museum, off the Royal Mile in 1998.

Stevenson was also honoured with a bronze statue by Alexander Stoddart of the two heroes from Kidnapped - Alan Breck Stewart and Davie Balfour - which was commissioned by brewing giants Scottish & Newcastle in 2004.

Richard Lewis, culture leader at Edinburgh City Council, which has supported the project, said: “Robert Louis Stevenson will have had many fond childhood memories of Colinton and it’s fantastic that the local community can honour his memory with a permanent tribute to the writer.

“The Colinton Conservation Trust have really driven this project forward and this is the culmination of years of hard work from everyone involved.

“We’ve been delighted to support this project by making environmental improvements to the area, including installing historic street lighting columns and replacing the paving stones around the statue.”

Stevenson was born in a small stone house at Howard Place ,in Edinburgh ,in 1850, the only son of a prosperous civil engineer, Thomas Stevenson, who was joint-engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses.

The young Stevenson was expected to follow in the family business and he enrolled on an engineering degree course at Edinburgh University in 1867. He later switched to law, but after one case he decided to become a writer.

In 1894, Stevenson, who had been plagued by ill health since childhood, died from a haemorrhage in Samoa, where he had moved with his wife Fanny. He was only 44.

 

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