Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Lighthouse People

Bell Rock
February 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the commissioning of the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of  Angus.  A small step in making the power of the ocean that bit less overwhelmingly dangerous for mariners and a symbolic mark of progress towards the industrial revolution.  The Bell Rock does not take its name from the English batsman Ian Bell but from the telling that in earlier centuries there was a bell upon it to act as a warning to sailors.  Otherwise it is known as the Inchcape Rock, a partially submerged reef - a truly nasty hazard to shipping.

The lighthouse was designed  and built  by the Stevenson family who over the years were responsible for many more similar structures in hostile places around Scotland's shores.  Bella Bathurst's excellent book, The Lighthouse Stevensons, presents a splendid account of the family and its work.  The website on this link considers the Bell Rock project more closely.

FB has nothing but admiration for the imagination the skill, courage and dogged single-minded persistence that it took to design, finance and build these structures.  The only defect that he can see in them is that there is no place in which the keepers can practice either batting or bowling.  Their generally circular shape is not consistent with classic principles of cricket net design, nor is their siting on rocks far out to sea.  The latter makes for difficulty in recovering the ball following a well struck shot.  This seems a major oversight on the part of the Stevensons, and may explain why lighthouses are no longer manned but automatic.

RL Stevenson
 no pace off the wicket
A later member of the Stevenson family was of course Robert Loius Stevenson, a true master of line and length and often considered the clearest writer of English prose that ever there was.   But true to his engineering predecessors' blind spots, his works absent cricketing themes or incidents.  FB can find no trace of any First Class cricketer with the names Jim Hawkins, John Silver, or Ben Gun, far less David Balfour or Allan Breck.  So the books in which they appear are jsut made up.

Stevenson had the misfortune to be a sickly child and even in adulthood his health remained an overriding concern, leading eventually to his seeking kinder climes than Edinburgh or London.  It is unlikely therefore that he could have generated much pace off the wicket.  In a letter to his parents in 1863 (when he was 13) he writes  'My dearest Papa and Mama, I am getting on very well. I hope Papa’s cold is better and Mama is keeping well. Yesterday I was playing at football. I have never played at Cricket so Papa may comfort himself with that.'   FB's researches do not suggest that he was fortunate enough to correct that misfortune during the rest of his life.  The fact that he eventually took an American wife may also have reduced his opportunities.  After living a while in America, his the last years were spent in Samoa where he died in 1894.

Interestingly, history records that cricket was introduced to Samoa  in 1884 by the visit of the British Royal Navy vessel, the HMS Diamond.  Might Stevenson have been a spectator or patron of the game in the island paradise?  In an essay on South Sea Island supernatural stories he records that the Gods of neighbouring islands once played cricket but now they were at war.  

We shall never know about his cricketing in the South Seas. But if RLS is unlikely to have opened the bowling or batting, he could certainly open a story.  Is there a better opening to a novel than the first sentence of Kidnapped?

I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in
the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the
last time out of the door of my father's house.
Test Match Quality