The Sea: Its Stirring Story of Adventure, Peril, &
In his ballad of The Inchcape Rock
Southey has, in his ballad of "The Inchcape Rock," immortalised the tradition(56) that a notorious pirate cut the bell from the rock--
"Down sank the bell with a gurgling sound, The bubbles arose and burst around; Quoth Sir Ralph, 'The next who comes to the Rock, Won't bless the Abbot of Arberbrothok.'"
And so the rover sailed away, and grew rich with plundered store, till at length he thought of Scotland once again, and turned his vessel's head for home. He approached her coasts in haze and fog, and knew he could not be far from the rocky shore.
"They hear no sound, the swell is strong; Though the wind hath fallen they drift along, Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,-- 'Oh, Christ! it is the Inchcape Rock!'
"Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair; He curst himself in his despair; The waves rush in on every side, The ship is sinking beneath the tide."
Nothing was done to replace the bell or set a beacon on the reef until the beginning of the present century, when, after many plans had been discussed, John Rennie was ordered by the Board of Commissioners to examine the site and report on the subject generally. He recommended a substantial stone lighthouse, similar to that on the Eddystone. Although the Inchcape Rock was not so long uncovered by the tide as the former, after a few courses had been laid, there would be no greater delay in completing the building. The Commissioners obtained from Parliament the requisite powers in 1806; Rennie was appointed engineer, with Robert Stevenson as assistant engineer.
The whole of the year 1807 was occupied in constructing the necessary vessels for conveying the stones, and in erecting suitable machinery and building shops at Arbroath, which was fixed upon as the most convenient point on the coast for carrying on the land operations. Some progress was made on the rock itself, where a smith's forge was erected and a temporary beacon raised, while a floating light, fitted up on an old fishing-boat, was anchored near the reef until the lighthouse could be completed. During the short period in which the rocks were uncovered or unexposed to the fury of the waves, some progress was made with the excavations for the foundations. The dangerous nature of the employment may be illustrated by the following brief account of an accident which happened to the workmen on the 2nd of September, before the excavation for the first course of stones had been completed. An additional number of masons had that morning come off from Arbroath in the tender named the _Smeaton_, in honour of the engineer of the Eddystone, and had landed them safely on the rock. The vessel rode off at some distance. The wind rising, the men began to be uneasy as to the security of the _Smeaton's_ cables, and a party went off in a boat to examine whether she was secure, but before they could reach the vessel's side they found she had already gone adrift, leaving the greater part of the men upon the reef in the face of a rising tide.
By the time the _Smeaton's_ crew had got her mainsail set, and made a tack towards their companions, she had drifted about three miles to leeward, with both wind and tide against her, and it was clear that she could not possibly make the rock until long after it had been completely covered. There were thirty-two men in all on the rock, provided with but two boats, capable of carrying only twenty-four persons in fine weather. Mr. Stevenson seems to have behaved with great coolness and presence of mind; though he afterwards confessed that of the two feelings of hope and despair the latter largely predominated. Fully persuaded of the perils of the situation, he kept his fears to himself, and allowed the men to continue their occupations of boring and excavating.