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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Henry Bell and the "Comet"

In 1808, Bell removed to Helensburgh and became a builder, while his wife kept an inn and public baths.

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 passengers only.

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.

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