IT was 125 years ago this week that Scotland lost one of its greatest literary talents with the death of Robert Louis Stevenson. On December 3 1894, Stevenson suffered a brain haemorrhage and died soon afterwards at his home on the island of Upolu, the second largest of the Samoan Islands.

As a novelist he was most noted for Treasure Island, Kidnapped and its sequel Catriona, The Master of Ballantrae and of course The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Yet he was also a poet of renown – his Child’s Garden of Verses is still in print today – and an innovative writer of short stories with Thrawn Janet and Markheim, a precursor of Jekyll and Hyde, both particular favourites of mine.

It was as a travel writer that he first found success, however. Born on November 13 1850, into an Edinburgh family of engineers celebrated for their construction of lighthouses, Stevenson was a sickly child who suffered bronchial problems all his life.

He originally studied engineering but switched to law at Edinburgh University, and after graduating he travelled to the continent to fulfil his dream of becoming a writer.

His first books were descriptions of journeys, An Inland Voyage telling of his canoe trip from Antwerp to northern France, while his second work, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, alerted the literary world to an emerging talent.

It was in France in 1876 that he met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, an American woman of independent means, who was ten years older than Stevenson and estranged from her husband. Following her home to California, Fanny obtained a divorce and they were married in 1880, Stevenson becoming step-father to her two children.

Over the next few years, they lived in Scotland (briefly), England and the USA before he was advised to travel to the Southern Pacific to improve his always troublesome health.

He made three trips around the South Seas before finally settling on the Samoan island of Upolu.

Though never rich, his writing enabled him to buy a 400 acre plot of land near the village of Vailima in 1890 and there he made his home for the rest of what turned out to be all too short a life.

A lifelong anti-imperialist in an age when that was not a popular stance, Stevenson embraced the Samoans and developed many friendships among a people who loved him in return.

From the local language, he took the name Tusitala, the teller of tales, and battled for islanders’ rights against European politicians sent to rule them.

He continued to write, his last novel Weir of Hermiston being unfinished on the day of his death 125 years ago.

We know exactly what happened on that dire day, because Fanny wrote an account of the events which the National Library of Scotland published 3 years ago.

She said she had been crushed by a sense of impending disaster for days before Stevenson’s death and he had sought to lighten her mood by playing cards. Then, together, they began to make mayonnaise for dinner.

She wrote to her friend Anne Jenkin: “I began to mix the mayonnaise; he dropping the oil with a steady hand, drop by drop. Suddenly, he set down the bottle, knelt by the table, leaning his head against it. I cannot go on just now.

“It was the hand of death that had stricken him down. In less than five minutes he was profoundly insensible and so remained till the end.

“It was about six when he knelt at the table and at ten minutes after eight, he passed away. In a very short time, we had two doctors and a medical missionary here but there was nothing to do.”

Fanny recalled: “That very day he had said to me ‘the thought of dying in bed is horrible to me; I want to die like a clean human being on my feet. I want to die in my clothes, to fall just as I stand.’ He did. It was only at the very end, for the last few breaths, that we laid him down.”

Quoted by the late Ian Bell in his masterful biography of Stevenson, Dreams of Exile, an old islander gave a eulogy over the body.

“We were in prison, and he cared for us. We were sick, and he made us well. We were hungry, and he fed us. The day was no longer than his kindness.”

As The National Library recalled: “Stevenson’s wish was to be buried at the top of Mount Vaea which overlooked his home on Samoa.

That involved 40 Samoans labouring for hours to cut a path through the bush to the ancient burial place of chiefs.”

His own poem, Requiem, is often quoted at funerals, and adorns his tombstone.

“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”

At just 44, and just like Robert Burns, he was taken far too young. We can only imagine what wonders Stevenson would have produced had he lived a longer life.