The PS Comet

Comet Fly  Wheel

This is the first flywheel of the Comet and is now in Hermitage Park in Helensburgh.
There is two monuments to Bell one at Helensburgh and the other at Bowling.
The Comet had two engines both of which are shown here.

In the early part of the 19th century a Helensburgh engineer called Henry Bell began to pursue the idea that the steam engine, perfected by James Watt from across the Clyde at Greenock, could he used to propel ships. Curiously, Watt himself saw no future for the steamship and rather played down his enthusiasm.
But Bell, who had been an engineer in Glasgow and was helping his wife to run a hydropathic hotel in Helensburgh, was not to be put off. In 1811 went to see John Wood, a Port Glasgow shipbuilder, who agreed to build a 45ft wooden paddle steamer which became famous around the world as ps Comet.
The Comet became known as the mother of the British steamship.
Bell was not counted a great maritime engineer nor much of a businessman; he was just someone who pursued a dream, indeed not even the dream was his own. Another Scots engineer, William Syrnington from Leadhills, had in fact built a steamship, the Charlotte Dundas but it so damaged the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal that it was withdrawn.
The Comet ran for passengers between Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh but found it too small to he viable. By the time he lengthened it by 20ft, more astute businessmen had moved in and, within a few years, he had more than 20 competitors. So he opened up another route, through the Crinan Canal to Oban and onwards to Inverness.
All too typical of Britain with its inventors, Henry Bell was still trying to raise money and Comet came five years after Fulton's ship making him no money at all.

Returning to Glasgow from Inverness one December day in 1820, Comet was lifted on to the rocks at Craignish Point, near Oban, and wrecked. Her engine was salvaged and used to drive machinery at a brewery. But in 1862 it was rescued and bought by that great engineer, Robert Napier, who presented it to the Science Museum in London,  where it remains.
Bell built another Comet, which perished. Poor, depressed and in failing health friends gathered £500 as a testimonial and the Clvde Navigation Trust gave him an annuity.
Henry Bell died in 1830, aged 63, and is buried in the churchyard near Helensburgh.

His remains were laid in the beautiful and secluded churchyard ot the parish. Many attempts have been made to deprive Bell of the fame he had so nobly earned, but ultimately his claims were universally admitted, and full honour was rendered to his services. He received a pension from the Clyde Trust of Glasgow—which was continued to his wife after his decease—while a monument was erected to his memory at Dunglas, and his portrait fills the place of honour in the Hall of the Trust, Robertson Street, Glasgow.
Henry Bell
John Robertson
John Wood
David Napier

Made the engine of the Comet

Click one each persons name to find out more

This page last modified on Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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