Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Portrait photograph by William Notman © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Robert Louis Stevenson by William Notman © National Portrait Gallery, London


The Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps most famous for his ‘boys’ book’ Treasure Island. Born in Edinburgh, he was the son of the distinguished engineer Thomas Stevenson. He suffered from chronic bronchial disease, and spent much of his childhood alone in bed spinning stories: his memories informed A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885).

Trained first as an engineer and then as a lawyer, he was always more interested in writing, training himself by imitating (‘playing the sedulous ape’) to authors he admired and then, from 1873, publishing essays and working on plays.[1] Conflicted with his father over both religion and earning a living, he led a bohemian life in Edinburgh and took walking tours in Britain and abroad. Among his delightful travel accounts are his canoe journey An Inland Voyage (1878) and walking tour Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879).

In 1876, he met the love of his life, the lively American Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. In 1879, he followed her to California, where they married after Fanny’s divorce; The Silverado Squatters (1884) is the story of their honeymoon in an abandoned mining camp. Stevenson’s fame grew with the publication of Treasure Island (1883), and in 1884 he and Fanny moved to Bournemouth, where they lived for three years. During this period he wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped (both published 1886).

Worsening health led Stevenson to settle with his family in Samoa in 1890, where he lived in great style, and wrote Catriona (1893), a sequel to Kidnapped. He died from a brain haemorrhage while working on Weir of Hermiston (1896).

Further information about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


[1] Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A College Magazine’ in Memories and Portraits, 1887.