Robert Louis Stevenson

The man of letters

The novels ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson are universal bestsellers, republished and translated every year, adapted into films and comics. Stevenson was a prolific writer; ‘The Master of Ballantrae’, ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The Black Arrow’ are also bookstore successes, along with his short stories, poetry and tales from the South Seas.

portrait Robert Louis Stevenson noir et blanc

The Traveller

Always searching for a climate suitable to calm his respiratory illness, RLS was to move away from his native Scotland, born in 1850, until the end his life, at the age of 44, among the inhabitants of Samoa, in Oceania. In the meantime, he traveled across Europe, by canoe from Antwerp to Pontoise, France, on foot in the Cévennes, with Modestine, his donkey. He stayed not far from Fontainebleau, where he rubbed shoulders with the artists’ colonies between Barbizon and Grez-sur-Loing. Among his many walks were and trips from Grez-sur-Loing to Châtillon-sur-Loire and the Cévennes region in France. He also wrote in Switzerland, lived in the United States and sailed in the Pacific.

Voyages de Robert louis Stevenson

The Humanist

For Stevenson, travel was not a pretext or an escape but an opportunity to meet people. The accounts of his travels in Europe are considered true ethnographic descriptions of populations and countries. Arriving in the Pacific Islands, Stevenson wrote short stories and tales that profoundly renewed the vision of Oceanian societies, hitherto marked by the myths of colonialism.

Writer, Traveller, Adventurer, Idealist

Robert Louis Stevenson is at the heart of our European network ‘In the Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson’. A network based around the sharing of secular, humanist values, based on openness to others and tolerance of differences. Writer-traveler, adventurer, idealist, Stevenson left his mark on his time and the territories he crossed both through his literary work and his profound love of humanity.

Between charitable associations, projects aimed at people in social difficulties, tourism and heritage professionals, sports clubs, the diversity is sometimes very great, but it is the richness of this European network whose members share a common objective: transmitting the values of RLS, his open-mindedness and his openness to the world, at the same time as the beauty of his great literary work. The hallmark of our network is its human dimension: imbued with friendship, it is a group of small ambitious structures which have come together around a common project: to demonstrate the existence of a European literary heritage, and there to promote the notion of European citizenship.

Repères biographiques

13 November 1850

Birth of Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson in Edinburgh into an upper-middle class Presbyterian family.
His father, Thomas, was an internationally acclaimed lighthouse manufacturer.
He inherited his fragile health from his mother, Margaret Balfour.
Stevenson spent most of his childhood in his bedroom.


La famille accompagne Thomas Stevenson en cure à Bad Homburg


He wrote his first novel, The Plague Cellar at the age of 14.

1867 – 1871

A student of “Science and Technology” but his underlying dream was to be an author.
A bohemian lifestyle in the rougher districts of Edinburgh..

March 1871

He gave up his scientific studies and signed up to read law. This was a terrible deception for his father…

January 1873

He declared that he was atheist. Relations with his parents deteriorated seriously.

1873 – 1874

Publication of his first essays, which met with praise from critics. First published essay under his own name written in Menton, during an extended stay to recover his health.

Summer 1875

Passed his law exams and became a lawyer. Visit to Barbizon with his cousin Bob and his painter friends.

Autumn 1875

Failure of his first cases at the bar. He turned his back on a legal profession.

End August 1876

Canoe trip along the canals and rivers of Belgium and Northern France.
At Grez-sur-Loing he met and fell in love with Fanny Osbourne (married, mother of two children).

1876 – 1877

A bohemian lifestyle between England and France, where he met up with Fanny again.

May 1878

Publication of An Inland Voyage.

15 August 1878

Departure of Fanny and her children for America.

September 1878

Visit to Monastier- sur-Gazeille and then a walking tour across the Cévennes.

May 1879

Publication of Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

7 August 1879 – 30 August 1879

Departure for California, behind his parents’ backs. Voyage in a ship with emigrants and then by train across the American continent.

August 1879 – April 1880

Stayed in California, penniless, ill (pleurisy, malaria, serious haemorrhages…) and cut off by his family and friends who disapproved of this trip. He waited for Fanny to get her divorce.

April 1880

His parents, shocked by his state of health, accepted his marriage.

May – July 1880

Marriage on 19 May in the USA.
“Honeymoon” in an abandoned mine, in Silverado.

29 July 1880

Louis and Fanny travelled to Scotland.

Summer 1880

Summer in the Highlands.

Autumn 1880 – Winter 1881

Cure in Davos, Switzerland for his health.

April – May 1881

Return to Edinburgh, via Paris and Barbizon.

Summer 1881

Summer in the Highlands.
He wrote the first 15 chapters of Treasure Island.

Winter 1881 – 1882

Second winter in Davos.
Completion of Treasure Island.

October – December 1882

Set up home in the south of France near to Marseille.
Return of the haemorrhages.

March 1883

Moved to Hyères, Chalet ‘La Solitude’.
Publication of his first novel Treasure Island.

January 1884

Publication of The Silverado Squatters.

June 1884

In very poor health, he returned to England.

Autumn 1884

Set up home in Bournemouth, south of England.

1885 – 1887

Haemorrhages, fevers, bronchitis…
Wrote essays and novels unceasingly.
Met Henry James.
Publication in 85 of Prince Otto, The Dynamiter and A Childs Garden of Verses (poems).
Publication in 86 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped!.
Publication in 87 of The Merry men and Other Tales (short stories).

8 May 1887

Death of Stevenson’s father, Thomas Stevenson.

21 August 1887

Departure of the Stevenson family for America.

September 1887

Arrival in New York.
He found that he had become famous in America.
A publisher ordered a series of essays.

October 1887

Installation on the banks of Lake Saranac, in the Adirondack mountains.
Began writing The Master of Ballantrae.

April – June 1888

Return to New York.
Proposal by Mac Clure of $15000 for a series of travel letters.
Publication of The Black Arrow.

28 January 1888 – 24 January 1889

Stay in Hawaii.
Publication of The Master of Ballantrae.
Publication of The Wrong Box (written with Lloyd Osbourne).

24 June 1889 – February 1890

Voyage on the merchant vessel Equator.
Stopovers in Butaritari and Apemama where he began work on The Wrecker.

December 1889

Arrived in Apia, capital of Upolu a Samoan island.
Bought an abandoned estate: Vailima.

February – April 1890

Travelled through the Samoan islands to Sydney aboard a merchant vessel.
In Sydney, Stevenson fell ill.

April – August 1890

Boarded an old cargo ship, the Janet Nicholl, to return to the warmth of the tropics.
Voyage to the Samoan Islands, Gilbert, Marshall, New Caledonia before returning to Sydney where he fell ill yet again: he could no longer leave the South Seas…

October 1890

Difficult beginnings in Vailima where everything had to be built from scratch.

January – May 1891

Fanny cleared, burned, dug, planted and oversaw the construction of a new, large house.
Publication of The South Seas.


Political engagement for the Samoans against the Germans, English and Americans in the sector. Nearly banished from the island.
Writing of A Footnote to HistoryThe Beach of Falesa and Catriona.
Publication of  The Wrecker, A Footnote to History and Across the Plains (his trip across America by train in 1879).

January 1893

Severely affected by the flu epidemic which ravaged the island.

Mid-February 1893

Attempted to return to Sydney where he fell ill immediately upon his arrival, forcing him to return home.

April 1893

Fanny suffered from depression.
Publication of Island Night Entertainment.

End June 1893

War broke out in the islands. Mataafa, chief of the rebels and Stevenson’s friend was deported to the Marshall Islands.

August 1893

Collapsed further to severe haemorrhages.

September 1893

Left for Hawaii to attempt a cure but was forced to return to Vailima.
Publication of Catriona.


Exhausted, he continued to write Saint Ives, an historical novel and Weir of Hermiston.
Publication of The Ebb Tide.

3 December 1894

Stevenson died following a stroke.
He was buried the next day on the summit of Mount Vaea overlooking the sea, according to his last wishes.

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