Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in Apia, Samoa overlay
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Apia

Robert Louis Stevenson

One of Samoa's most famous residents was Scottish writer Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (1850-1895).

The author and poet is best known for his novels Treasure Island (1881), Kidnapped (1886), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and The Master of Ballantrae (1889).

Early years

Born in Edinburgh, Stevenson began writing as a teenager, a passion that eclipsed any desire to become part of the family profession of lighthouse engineering, or the law career he chose and studied but never practised.

Despite frail health due to tuberculosis, Stevenson, who enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle, travelled abroad often, and many of his books were produced during those journeys. He married American Fanny Vandegrift in 1880 and they lived, broke, in California before sailing to Scotland. 

Stevenson split his time between Switzerland and Scotland - on medical advice for his ongoing problems with tuberculosis - and during this time began work on his famous novel, Treasure Island, as well as many other published works.

In 1887, by then living in the south of England where he wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it became clear Stevenson’s health could not cope with the climate. He left for New York’s Adirondack Mountains with his wife, mother and stepson where he continued to write and found editors and publishers were willing to offer lucrative contracts.

The following year, Stevenson chartered a yacht for a holiday on the seas from which he would never return and which would result in the publication of in-depth insights about the South Seas.

Arrival in Samoa

After visiting a number of islands for extended stays, where Stevenson found a great interest in immersing himself in the local lifestyle, they reached Samoa in 1889 for a six-week stay. After a stint in Sydney, he returned to Samoa and set up life in the Vailima house in what is today the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.  

Stevenson became a popular and well-respected member of the community and continued to write, the climate suiting his health, until his death at age 44 - not from tuberculosis, but a cerebral haemorrhage. He was buried on top of Mount Vaea, overlooking the sea.

Today, the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum includes excerpts from his work and family memorabilia.