Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
In 1866 the Northern Lighthouse Board proposed the building of a lighthouse at Dubh Artach 15 miles off the coast of Erraid, where the notoriously treacherous Torran Rocks lie. Thomas Stevenson, the pioneering lighthouse designer, and his brothers were involved in the construction of many of the lighthouses around the Inner Hebrides and they made their base on the Island of Erraid. The stones for Dhu Heartach (Black Rock) were quarried on Erraid, and the young Robert Louis visited the island on several occasions, recalling one such excursion in his book Memories and Portraits. He later based the fictional island of Aros (another Mull location), the setting of his short story The Merry Men on the island.
The Isle of Erraid, off the coast of the Ross of Mull, is one of the locations featured in Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped, first published in the magazine Young Folks in 1886. Davie Balfour, Stevenson’s hero, was marooned for a while on the island having been shipwrecked on the Torran Rocks, which lie to the south. He says in Kidnapped, chapter 14: ‘A sea-bred boy would not have stayed a day on Earraid; which is only what they call a tidal islet, and except in the bottom of the neaps, can be entered and left twice in every twenty-four hours, either dry-shod, or at the most by wading. Even I, who had the tide going out and in before me in the bay, and even watched for the ebbs, the better to get my shellfish—even I (I say) if I had sat down to think, instead of raging at my fate, must have soon guessed the secret, and got free. It was no wonder the fishers had not understood me. The wonder was rather that they had ever guessed my pitiful illusion, and taken the trouble to come back. I had starved with cold and hunger on that island for close upon one hundred hours. But for the fishers, I might have left my bones there, in pure folly. And even as it was, I had paid for it pretty dear, not only in past sufferings, but in my present case; being clothed like a beggar-man, scarce able to walk, and in great pain of my sore throat.’
Stevenson also includes a description of the island:
‘It was still the roughest kind of walking; indeed the whole, not only of Earraid, but of the neighbouring part of Mull (which they call the Ross) is nothing but a jumble of granite rocks with heather in among.’ David escapes from Erraid and makes his way across Mull eventually arriving at the parish of Torosay where he takes a boat and sails to the mainland.
Stevenson’s novel is of historical interest as it describes the conditions on the isles of Mull and Erraid in the nineteenth century in some detail. It also mentions several incidents such as the Appin Murder and the Jacobite rebellion.