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PS Comet

The replica of PS Comet in Port Glasgow town centre shows the elongated paddle boxes over the two paddle wheels on each side.
Name: PS Comet
Owner: Henry Bell
Completed: 1811
Maiden voyage: 1812
Out of service: 21 December 1820
Fate: wrecked
General characteristics
Tonnage: 28 ton
Length: 45 ft (14 m)
Beam: 10 ft (3.0 m)
Propulsion: steam

The paddle steamer PS Comet was built for Henry Bell, hotel and baths owner in Helensburgh, and began a passenger service on 15 August 1812 on the River Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock, the first commercially successful steamboat service in Europe.


  • History 1
  • Famous Passengers 2
  • Shipwreck 3
  • Comet II 4
  • Replica 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Bell had become interested in steam propelled boats, corresponded with Robert Fulton and learnt from the Charlotte Dundas. In the winter of 1811 he got Messrs John and Charles Wood, shipbuilders, Port Glasgow, to build a paddle steamer which was named the Comet after the "Great Comet" of 1811. The 28 ton craft was 45 feet (14 m) long and 10 feet (3.0 m) broad. It had two paddle wheels on each side, driven by engines rated at three horse power (or perhaps 4 hp.): at a later date the twin paddlewheels were replaced by a single paddlewheel on each side. The two engines were made by John Robertson of Glasgow, and the boiler by David Napier, Camlachlie, Glasgow: a story has it that they were evolved from an experimental little steam engine which Bell installed to pump sea water into the Helensburgh Baths. The funnel was tall and thin, and a yardarm allowed it to support a sail when there was a following wind. A tiny cabin aft had wooden seats and a table.

In August 1812 Bell advertised in a local newspaper "The Greenock Advertiser";

The fare was "four shillings for the best cabin, and three shillings for the second."

In 1812 the Comet made a delivery voyage from Port Glasgow[Note 1] 21 miles upriver to the Broomielaw, Glasgow, then sailed from Glasgow the 24 miles down to Greenock, making five miles an hour against a head-wind.[Note 2]

The success of this service quickly inspired competition, with services down the Firth of Clyde and the sea lochs to Largs, Rothesay, Campbeltown and Inveraray within four years, and the Comet was outclassed by newer steamers. Bell briefly tried a service on the Firth of Forth.

Famous Passengers


Flywheel from Comet in East Esplanade Helensburgh

Bell had the Comet lengthened and re-engined, and from September 1819 ran a service to Oban and Fort William (via the Crinan Canal), a trip which took four days. On 13 December 1820 the Comet was shipwrecked in strong currents at Craignish Point near Oban, with Bell on board. No lives were lost. One of the engines ended its working days in a Greenock brewery, and is now in The Science Museum in London.

Comet II

Bell built another vessel, Comet II, but on 21 October 1825 she collided with the steamer Ayr off Kempock Point, Gourock, Scotland.

Comet II sank very quickly, killing 62 of the estimated 80 passengers on board, including the son-in-law of John Anderson, a friend of Robert Burns. Also drowned were recently married Captain Wemyss Erskine Sutherland of the 33rd Regiment and Sarah née Duff of Muirtown.[1] After the loss of his second ship, Bell abandoned his work on steam navigation.


Replica at Port Glasgow

A replica of the Comet made by shipyard apprentices now stands prominently in Port Glasgow.


  1. ^ Port Glasgow is a town just to the east of Greenock
  2. ^ Some sources give a date of 18 January 1812 for a trial trip, McCrorie gives 6 August 1812 for the delivery, with the historic trip a day or so later


  1. ^ National Library of Scotland MS 9854 ff 177-180


  • Clyde Pleasure Steamers Ian McCrorie, Orr, Pollock & Co. Ltd., Greenock, ISBN 1-869850-00-9

External links

  • Significant Scots – Henry Bell
  • A history of the growth of the steam-engine
  • Greenock Telegraph Online
  • RSA Treasure Trails – The Science Museum
  • : "The passengers 'precipitated into Eternity' when their steamship sank", by Iain LundyThe Scotsman
  • , including picture of the PS Comet (1874) Faded NavigationVery old articles,
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