Marking 170 years since the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson - on the birthday he gave away

The 170th anniversary of his birth will be celebrated around the world today (Nov 13) but in the last years of his life, Robert Louis Stevenson legally gave his birthday away.
The 170th anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson will be marked on November 13, 2020. PIC: Creative Commons.The 170th anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson will be marked on November 13, 2020. PIC: Creative Commons.
The 170th anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson will be marked on November 13, 2020. PIC: Creative Commons.

Famed for his novels including Kidnapped and Treasure Island, it is probably lesser known that the Edinburgh-born writer legally transferred his birthday to a friend in Samoa.

Born at 8 Howard Place, Stevenson, despite poor health, travelled the globe in search of love and adventure and settled in Samoa, where he built a grand house, Villa Vailima, in 1890.

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It was there he met Annie Ide, the older daughter of Henry Ide, he American Consul and later Chief Justice in Apia.

Mitchell Manson, of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club, said the author became friendly with the Ide family and struck up a friendship with Annie – whose birthday fell on December 25.

Mr Manson said: “Stevenson felt sorry for Annie whose birthday fell on Christmas Day. So with his training in law Stevenson around 1892, he drafted a formal legal document transferring the ownership of his own birthday, November 13, to Annie so that she could have a day unique to herself on which to celebrate her birthday.”

The legal document was a mix of legal and humorous language, with Stevenson declaring he had reached an age where “I have no further use for a birthday”. He would have been around 42 at the time.

A penalty clause should Annie cease celebrating her new birthday was also included. “I hereby revoke the donation and transfer my rights of the said birthday to the President of the United States,” Stevenson wrote.

Mr Manson said that the Stevenson Club of Monterey, California, makes a point of celebrating the “unbirthday” every November 13.

The Californian city is where the writer took lodgings while waiting for his future wife Fanny Osbourne to divorce her first husband.

The Monterey club has contributed to ‘RLS Around The World In Under An Hour’, an event where fans in nine countries have given a reading which relives the writer’s life journey as he criss-crossed the globe.

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From Edinburgh to Bournemouth, France, the United States and Samoa, the 170th birthday celebration, which can be watched online, connects the places to the author and the words they inspired.

Stevenson’s world travels were perhaps all the more remarkable because of his lifelong battle with lung problems, with his determination also celebrated today.

Jon Cossar, former Foundation Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Travel Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, will give an online talk that explores the links between Stevenson’s work, travels and health problems and the risks he endured on the road during the 19th Century.

Meawhile, the anniversary will be celebrated all day today at the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh with a programme of digital events.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Club, which was set up to “keep the memory of this extraordinary man and fine writer ever green,” also celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020.

Mr Manson added: “We have around 300 members worldwide and all of us have a reason for loving this writer. For me, I think it is beause he led such an adventurous life despite of his illness. He rose above the disability and travelled the world. “

For a full list of Robert Louis Stevenson Day events, visit

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