Robert Louis Stevenson as you've never seen him

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HE IS one of the giants of Scottish literature, but is still viewed by many experts as an unsung genius in the land of his birth.

• The Stevenson family meet King Kalakaua of Hawaii

However, there are hopes that Edinburgh-born Robert Louis Stevenson may finally get the recognition his fans feel he deserves – thanks to the creation of a huge online archive.

Collections held around the world of his original work, letters, photographs and other personal material – some of which has never been seen in public – have been brought together for the first time to create a vast database.

The archive includes rarely seen family portraits of the writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, photographs taken during his travels and intimate pictures captured during his later years in Samoa.

Extracts of little-known poetry, children's books, travel writing, historical novels and literary essays are some of the highlights in the most comprehensive archive of the writer's work to be compiled to date.

Visitors to the new website – which was launched yesterday at Edinburgh Napier University after months of painstaking work by historians, academics, museum curators and Stevenson enthusiasts – can read the writer's anecdotes on family, friends and major authors who influenced him.

Much of the material has been held in the United States, where the author's wife, Fanny Osbourne, was from. However, a large collection is owned by the City of Edinburgh Council and is held at its Writers' Museum.

Some of the rarely seen images come from an album that belonged to Lloyd Osbourne, the stepson of Stevenson, and images cover the travels of the writer's family through various Pacific Islands from 1889-90.

Stevenson experts believe the archive will help revive interest in the writer and become a major resource for schools. Professor Linda Dryden, of Napier's centre for literature and writing, said: "We all know and love the magic of Stevenson's adventure stories, like Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"What isn't as well recognised, outside of Stevenson enthusiast circles at least is the wonderful back-catalogue of work, which includes poetry, children's books, travel writing, historical novels and literary essays.

"A lot of the material has been held in private collections, or in museums, around the world. There's never been a comprehensive archive which pulls it all together. It's perhaps not so well known that Stevenson was an incredibly well-travelled man and the archive allows visitors to track his life through his travels and the writing he produced before he settled in Samoa."

The author 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.

Stevenson was expected to follow in the family business, enrolling on an engineering degree course at Edinburgh University in 1867. But he switched to law.

He took only one case, however, and instead decided to pursue a career in writing.

Stevenson, who had been plagued by ill-health since childhood, died from a haemorrhage in Samoa in 1894, aged 44, while working on Weir of Hermiston.

John Macfie, chairman of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club, said: "Stevenson's short life tragically ended in Samoa. His American-born wife took much of his original writings back to the United States with her.

"The room devoted to Robert Louis Stevenson in the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh is currently the only collection of Stevenson material in Europe."

MORE INFO: www.robert-louis-stevenson.org