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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Henry Bell and the Origin of steam navigation


HENRY BELL, the originator of steam navigation, was a native of Torphichen, in Linlithgowshire, where he was born on the 7th of April, 1767. In 1790, Bell settled in Glasgow, where he wrought as a house carpenter, and in 1797 he became a member of the Incorporation of Wrights. It appears that in 1803 he laid his plans for steam navigation before the British Government, and receiving no encouragement, communicated them also to the principal governments on the Continent, and to that of the United States. Robert Fulton, who, in 1807, made a successful experiment in the steam navigation of the Hudson, may thus have seen the plans of Bell, and the latter, it is well known, always asserted that such was the case.

But even in a successful experiment Fulton had not the priority, as one Symington was, in 1801, employed by Lord Pundits to construct a steamboat, and this vessel, when completed, was called the Charlotte Dundas. It was tried on the Forth and Clyde Canal, and attained a speed of six miles an hour. "The use of this vessel," says Dr. Macquarn Rankine, was abandoned, not from any fault in her construction or working, but because the directors of the Forth and Clyde Canal feared that she would damage its banks."


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