The Life, Death and Rebirth of the PS Comet.

A Brief History

As we have stated before in this blog, the Comet is a name of which Port Glasgow is immensely proud. And given that the Comet is a vitally important part of Inverclyde's cultural heritage - a symbol of Port Glasgow's past - I think that it is important to bring attention to the significance of the "PS Comet" through giving a brief history of the ship.

In short, the "Comet" was the first practical and commercially successful steamboat service in Europe. It was built for Henry Bell and began a passenger service in 1812.

Henry Bell was a businessman. He was by no means an engineer, a shipbuilder or an inventor of any kind. He was just simply one of a number of people who saw an opportunity and believed that a profit could be made by taking what was considered as a land-based steam engine, and setting it to drive a ship.

Ultimately, Henry Bell's vision was to become an anchor in the history of Port Glasgow.

After years of planning and research he ordered the "Comet" from shipbuilders John Wood & Co. She was launched on July 24, 1812 and quickly inspired competition and was eventually outclassed by newer steamers better suited to the trade. This competition forced her to move away from the Clyde and she continued runs up North until she was caught in a tide rip and driven onto rocks at Craignish Point where she met her demise.

The Comet was a complete wreck. However, the engine was salvaged and was used excessively for driving machinery for years until it was bought by Robert Napier and presented to the Science Museum in 1862.

Henry Bell built another "Comet" in 1821, but she sunk five years later after a collision. Despite not recovering his fortunes and dying a poor man - Henry Bell helped set the course the steamship has followed ever since.


The 1962 replica, currently surrounded by scaffolding in Ferguson's Shipyard - the last remaining shipbuilders in the lower Clyde - was built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the ship launch.

We are now fast approaching the ships bicentennial and a revitalized, rebuilt Comet will be a centerpiece for the celebrations.

However, refurbishing the Comet once more is no easy task.
During the construction of the 1962 replica, changes were made to the original 1812 plans to accommodate newer shipbuilding methods and materials. Nothing like the 1962 restoration had ever been attempted before. To recreate the "Comet" in full working order meant not only restoration but new design.

But before these modern methods and techniques could be brought to the table; the designers involved still had to put themselves in the shoes of blacksmith's and shipwright's a century ago and wonder how the job should be tackled.

And it now seems that this step into the past is happening once again as the Comet currently rests in the shipyards.

Sadly, though, the long forgotten roar of the steam engine, the sound which was once the pride of Henry Bell, the very sound of Europe's first successful practical steamship - will not be heard again.

Nonetheless, accuracy and authenticity are the aims of the reconstruction. Soon the refurbished Comet will sit proudly in the town of its birth - acting as a gateway to and a symbol of Port Glasgow's past.