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首页 » 英文名人传记 » Life of Robert Stevenson » CHAPTER XI. WOLF ROCK LIGHTHOUSE.
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About the year 1812, Mr. Stevenson having, as adviser of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, attained the position of being the most eminent Lighthouse Engineer of his day, was requested by the Admiralty to report on the practicability of erecting a lighthouse on the Wolf Rock, lying about eight miles off the Land’s End in Cornwall.

I give, from Mr. Stevenson’s “Journal,” the following curious account of the first visit he made to the rock; and it may perhaps be as well to say that all quotations made from what I have called his “Journal” are records of what he roughly noted down at the time in the form of a Diary, and are on that account perhaps all the more interesting, at least to non-professional readers.

    “14th Sept. 1813.—Waited upon Sir Robert Calder, Admiral of the port of Plymouth, on the 13th, in consequence of letters from Lord Melville relative to a vessel to carry me to the Wolf Rock.

    “The Admiral accordingly appointed the ‘Orestes,’ Captain Smith, to proceed with me to the Wolf, and after landing me there, and having made my observations, Captain Smith was directed to land me at any port most convenient for me, according to the state of the weather. Captain Smith, in consequence of this order, and169 to suit my convenience, got the ‘Orestes’ in readiness two days sooner than he otherwise intended, and I embarked on the 14th at 2 P.M. agreeably to appointment.

    “The Captain took me by the hand and welcomed me on board His Majesty’s ship, and introduced me to his first lieutenant, Mr. Fallick. He then proceeded to give orders for casting off, which was done in an instant after the word was given. The ‘Orestes’ is properly a gun brig, but rigged as a ship, has 28 guns and 100 men. Kept plying to windward, and in the evening had the Eddystone light in view, still upon our lee quarter, distant eight or ten miles.

    “15th.—Kept working along the shore all day, and at 7 P.M. a pilot from Mousehole by Penzance came on board. Upon consulting the pilot, he recommended that the ship should be brought to an anchor in Mounts Bay, or rather Newland Road, all night, as it would answer no good purpose to go round the land so soon after a fresh gale of wind, with the view of landing on the Wolf, which he represented as being only practicable in the finest of summer weather. This was poor heartening. The Captain submitted to me whether it were not more advisable to come to an anchor, in which, with all submission to him, I consented. The ship, accordingly, was brought to an anchor in twelve fathoms, clean sand.

    “On board of the ‘Orestes’ two of the people were punished,—one for threatening to knock down the serjeant of marines, while on duty, received three dozen; another who offered an insult to a lieutenant, received one dozen.

    “I was sitting below, the time this was going forward, when all hands were piped on deck, and the Captain began to read the Articles of War. He had previously said to me that two men were in irons, whom he meant to punish and liberate. I went upon deck to learn the cause of all being so quiet, and discovering what was intended, I went below and waited in great suspense till the men began to call out for mercy. I took the liberty of sending a note170 to the Captain—the circumstances were so painful to me—to see if he could remit any part of the punishment, to which I afterwards understood he had listened, as he did not give them so many lashes as was intended. Captain Smith had by no means the character of a severe commander, as I understood from some of the officers he had been two years in the ship, and had only punished twice.

    “About 9 P.M., while the Captain and myself were at supper, we heard a conversation between the pilot and Mr. Fallick, the first lieutenant, about a vessel being on fire. The former was of opinion that it was a pilchard boat, the crew of which were roasting pilchards, while Mr. Fallick insisted that it was a vessel on fire. In a short time the vessel or boat appeared to be in flames, and with all sail set she approached the ‘Orestes.’ On shore the people of Penzance and Mousehole were afraid of the ‘Orestes’ taking fire and discharging a broadside upon the town. In the meantime the vessel on fire approached the ‘Orestes’ so directly that Captain Smith gave orders to veer out all the cable, stand by to cut or bend on more rope, according to circumstances.

    “The weather became moderate, and we had little or no wind, and the vessel on fire (which turned out to be a sloop of 80 or 90 tons, bound for St. Sebastian with bottled porter and bale goods) passed ahead of the ‘Orestes’ about half a cable’s length. Her hull was then completely on fire, but the rigging and sails had not then caught fire, and she kept an undeviating course till she grounded on the shore.

    “Captain Smith then despatched officers and men in three boats to endeavour to save as much as possible, but a report having gone abroad that she had gunpowder on board no person ventured near the vessel on fire till it was too late to be of any service, and in the morning when Captain Smith and I went on shore nothing remained but the keel and a few of the ‘futtocks’ half burned, and the mast over by the deck, the lower part having been consumed by the171 flames. The vessel was just getting under weigh when the accident occurred, through the carelessness of a boy, who set a lighted candle into a crate of straw in which bottles were packed. The crew soon afterwards appear to have carelessly deserted the vessel and landed at Mounts Bay, three miles from Mousehole, and appear not to have been very active in doing what was in their power. The loss of ship and cargo was estimated at £14,000.

    “16th.—Got under weigh at 6 P.M., and left Mousehole Bay with an intention to go round the land; but the weather fell calm, and after shutting in the Lizard lights came to an anchor in Mounts Bay till next morning. The Lizard lights appeared to very great advantage.

    “17th.—Got under weigh at 6 A.M., wind shifting from southwest to east with a fine breeze, and at 11 A.M. got up with the Wolf Rock. At 12 noon two boats were manned—one commanded by a midshipman, and the other by Lieutenant Fallick, into which I went, and after pulling round and round the rock with both boats, sounding all the while, we made preparations for landing. Mr. Fallick arranged his boat’s crew, and let go a grapling over the stern, then veered away upon this stern rope watching a smooth, and when the boat was near enough the young man (the same who had two days before got one dozen of lashes) appointed to land with a bow rope to make fast, leaped upon the rock, and upon these two ropes the boat was hauled off and on with great ease and facility. In this manner Lieutenant Fallick landed next, then I landed, but not without much difficulty, and watching an opportunity to get on the rock with a smooth between the seas.

    “Upon leaving the ship, about a quarter of a mile from the rock, I began to sound, and at from two to three cables’ length off the rock have 41, 40, and 38 fathoms water, with shell sand of a fair colour. At about one cable’s length have 13 fathoms, same bottom. Within this distance have 10, 8, 5, 3?, and 2 fathoms, chiefly rocky bottom.

    172 “The rock is steep in all directions; the south-west if anything draws to a point with rather less water near it than in other directions.

    “At low water of a neap tide the rock appeared to be about twelve or fourteen feet in perpendicular height above the surface of the water. Its surface is very irregular, jutting up in masses of from six to ten feet in height. These inequalities all presented marked and angular outlines, terminating in well-defined points and edges. The central part of the rock is formed pretty much into a hollow, where there have been some quarrying operations in fixing the beacon which was erected upon it. The margin of the rock is upon the whole pretty regular, as it appears jutting out of the water. On the eastern side it is not so regularly formed at the water’s edge as on the western side. It slopes outwards, and seems to form a large stool in every direction. At some places there are guts or slips in the rock, but none of these are large enough to be useful for a boat landing at. The best and perhaps the only landing place is at the north-east side, where the rock is most precipitous.

    “Taking the dimensions in the largest directions with the lead-line, in fathoms, it measured twenty-two fathoms in a north-east and south-west direction, and sixteen fathoms in a north-west and south-east direction.

    “Upon the surface in the middle, at the hollow place, I found a hole of six inches in depth, and about nine inches square, and connected with it, at six feet distant, three holes for bats, which I presume to have been the step of the beacon, and the iron bats were still to be seen which had been used as guys. This fragile affair appears to have wanted base and every requisite suited to such an exposed situation and important purpose, and accordingly the beacon, with a wolf of metallic work, erected by a Lieutenant Smith, who erected the Longships Lighthouse, is said not to have remained longer than a few days, and was carried away in the first storm.

    173 “Besides these holes and bats, which last seem not to have exceeded 1? inch iron in strength, I found several eye bolts in different parts of the rock, particularly at the landing place, which had been put in to make fast boats, etc., while the beacon was being erected.

    “The surface of the rock is extremely rugged, and running in every direction into sharp angular points. The rock seems to run in beds from an inch to a foot in thickness. It has much the appearance of limestone, but upon a narrow inspection it turns out to be porphyry. It is covered with the barnacle, many limpets of a very large size—say two inches diameter,—and mussels. These were the only animal productions that were found upon it. Of the marine fuci there were two or three varieties.

    “That it would be practicable to erect a building upon this rock I have no doubt, but from its shape and figure, and the great depth of water in all directions round it, together with the smallness of its dimensions, it would be a work of great difficulty, and be attended with much expense and great hazard.

    “I am therefore of opinion that it might cost from £80,000 to £90,000 to erect a lighthouse at the Wolf, with all the requisite buildings and appointments, like the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

    “In a conversation on this subject with Lieutenant Smith in 1806 (who had erected the beacon on the Wolf), he pronounced it as an impracticable work. But his opinion, from the work he had performed at the Longships, and other circumstances, made very little impression upon my mind, at the time, in regard to the Bell Rock, and since seeing the Wolf Rock I think his arguments were ill founded, and I am perfectly decided in opinion that the work is a practicable one.

    “The wind being nearly easterly, and consequently unfavourable for returning with dispatch to Plymouth, the captain gravely proposed that we should stand towards ‘the Bay’ for a few days, when it might shift. Not being fully aware of what was meant by174 the Bay, I put the question, when to my surprise he meant the Bay of Biscay, and said we should see St. Sebastian, which had just fallen; but to this I replied, that I should much rather be landed at the Land’s End. He was constantly on the outlook for prizes, and as I came not to fight I wanted much to be on shore, that I might pursue my way to Bath, where I knew Mr. Rae, the Sheriff of Edinburgh, would be waiting my return to proceed upon the visit to the Prisons on our return to Scotland.

    “The ship was therefore directed to steer for the Land’s End, and the pilot took the ship within the Longships Lighthouse, and he and I landed at Sennan on the same evening.

    “Having procured horses for myself and luggage, I set off immediately for Penzance, which I reached about 10 o’clock at night, the 17th September, much pleased with my trip upon the whole.

    “18th.—Leave Penzance, and reach Falmouth by the fly.

    “19th.—Leave Falmouth, and that same night, or early next morning, reach Exeter.

    “20th.—At 6 A.M. leave Exeter, and 8 P.M. reach Bath.

    “From Plymouth to the Wolf, and returning to Bath, only eight days.”

Mr. Stevenson at a subsequent date made another visit to the Wolf, accompanied by an assistant, when a careful survey was made, followed by a well-considered design, which is shown in Plate IX., and is described by him as follows:—



W. & A. K. Johnston, Edinburgh.

    “Plate IX. is the section of a design formed by the revolution of the parabola round the axis of a building, as its asymptote, whose base measures fifty-six feet in diameter, and parallel at the top of the solid is thirty-six feet; and height to the entrance door, thirty-five feet. The contents of this figure between these175 parallels is calculated at 45,000 cubic feet; but the whole of the masonry of the design is estimated at 70,624 cubic feet. Its general features may be stated as similar to those of the Eddystone and Bell Rock Lighthouses, the parts being only enlarged, and the parabolic instead of the logarithmic curve adopted for its outline. In this design, the parabolic curve is continued from the basement to the copestone of the light room, exclusively of the projection for the cornice and balcony. The masonry is intended to be 120 feet in height, estimating from the medium level of the sea, of which the solid, or from the foundation to the entrance door, forms thirty-five feet, the staircase twenty-five feet, and the remaining sixty feet of its height is occupied with six apartments, and the walls of the light room. In the staircase a recess is formed for containing the machinery for raising the stores to the height of the entrance door; here a small hole is perforated through the building for the admission of the purchase chain. The thickness of the walls immediately above the solid is twelve feet; at the top of the stone staircase they are eight feet, and where the walls are thinnest, immediately under the cornice, they measure two feet. A drop hole formed in the courses of the staircase and solid, provides for the range of the weight of a revolving light. The ascent to this building, as at the Bell Rock, is intended to be by an exterior stair or ladder of brass, and the interior communication between the several apartments by means of flights of circular oaken steps.”

The only estimate Mr. Stevenson ever made of the work was that already stated in his Journal, at a cost of £80,000 to £90,000 for the tower and requisite dwellings for the lightkeepers and crew of attending vessel ashore.

Mr. Stevenson’s original visit was, as we have seen, made in 1813, and in 1870, after a lapse of fifty-seven176 years, the present tower on the Wolf Rock, the joint work of the late Mr. James Walker and of Mr. James N. Douglass, was successfully accomplished under the auspices of the Trinity House. The cost of the tower, exclusively of the shore establishment, which it was unnecessary to provide, was £62,726, being not very different from the estimate of Mr. Stevenson (from £80,000 to £90,000), which included a shore establishment.


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