Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only child of a prosperous, middle-class family. His father and grandfather were lighthouse engineers. Because his mother was of delicate health, Stevenson was raised primarily by his devoted nurse, Alison Cunningham, or “Cummy,” to whom he later dedicated A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885). His schooling was frequently interrupted by illness, but Stevenson traveled widely in Europe and was taught privately by tutors. At seventeen he enrolled as an engineering student at Edinburgh University, but changed to law after a year. Although he completed his degree, Stevenson never practiced law, and devoted himself to writing instead.
On a summer holiday to France in 1875, Stevenson met Fanny Osbourne, a married American ten years his senior who was traveling abroad with her two children. Osbourne was estranged from her husband, and when she traveled back to California in the fall of 1878 to obtain a divorce, Stevenson followed. They married in San Francisco in May of 1880 and sailed back to Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Stevenson was forced to ask his parents for money to supplement the meager income derived from his writing efforts. During a cold, wet summer in Scotland in 1881, Stevenson drew a treasure map for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne-thus originating the world of Treasure Island. Stevenson set to work creating a story to accompany the map, and published the novel in 1883. The family later settled in the British health resort of Bournemouth, where Stevenson wrote Kidnapped and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both of which were published in 1886.
After the death of his father in 1887, Stevenson took his family back to America. They hired a yacht in 1888 for a cruise to the South Sea Islands, stopping in the Marquesas and Hawaii, where Stevenson wrote The Master of Ballantrae. In 1889 they continued their cruise to Samoa, where Stevenson built an estate and settled. The tropical climate improved his health, but the stress of mounting debts and enforced writing brought on a cerebral hemorrhage from which he died on December 3, 1894.
Although Stevenson’s reputation has declined since his death, he is still recognized as a master storyteller, and Treasure Island and Kidnapped remain among the most popular adventure stories of all time for young readers.