In 1808, Bell removed to
Helensburgh and became a builder, while his wife kept an inn and public
Bell, who had kept his steam
navigation project ever in view, in 1811 engaged Messrs. John Wood &
Co., carpenters, Port-Glasgow, to build him a small vessel of some
thirty tons burden; its length of keel was forty feet, its breadth of
beam twelve feet; and it drew four feet of water.
The Comet, so-called, it is
recorded, from the circumstance of a brilliant comet having appeared
towards the end of 1811, was engined from designs by Bell himself. The
engine made by John Robertson of Glasgow, and the boiler by David
Xapier, was of four-horse Power. It was capable of carrying forty
passengers, and its total cost was £192.
On the 12th January, 1812, it
commenced to ply between Glasgow. Greenock, and Helensburgh, and
attracted great attention.
Such was the origin of steam
navigation, an invention which has been productive of the most important
benefits to the human race. Mr. Bell continued to reside at Helensburgh
till the time of his death, which took place in March, 1830, when he had
attained the ripe age of 63. 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.
As a memorial of the infancy of
steam navigation, the following advertisement, inserted by Henry Bell in
the newspapers of the period, may not be considered uninteresting
Steam Passage-boat, THE
COMET, between Glasgow, Greenock
and Helensburgh, for
THE Subscriber having, at much
expense, fitted up a handsome vessel to ply upon the Clyde, between
Glasgow and Greenock—to sail by the power of wind, air, and steam—he
intends that the vessel shall leave the Broomielaw on Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays, about midday, or at such hour thereafter as
may answer from the state of the tide—and to leave Greenock on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays in the morning, to suit the tide. The elegance,
comfort, safety, and speed of this vessel require only to be proved, to
meet the approbation of the public; and the proprietor is determined to
do everything in his power to merit public encouragement.
The terms are for the present
fixed at 4s. for the best cabin, and 3s. the second; but, beyond these
rates, nothing is to be allowed to servants, or any other person
employed about the vessel. The subscriber continues his establishment at
Helensburgh Baths, the same as for years past, and a vessel will be in
readiness to convey passengers in the COMET from Greenock to
Helensburgh. Passengers by the COMET will receive information of the
hours of sailing, by applying at Mr. Houston’s Office, Broomielaw; or
Mr. Thomas Blackney’s, East Quay Head, Greenock.
Helensburgh, 5th August, 1812.