Author tells the Henry Bell story

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HHT-Noble-Ransom-31.10.12-wAN expert on the history of Henry Bell and the Comet gave a fascinating talk to Helensburgh Heritage Trust's second open winter meeting on Wednesday October 31.

John Ransom spoke to members in the meeting room at Helensburgh Tennis Club about his new book 'Bell's Comet: How a Paddle Steamer Changed the Course of History', which he wrote to mark the Comet's bicentenary this year.

He said that the passenger steamer burst upon the early 19th century with all the suddenness and immediate widespread popularity of e-mail and the internet today, and leading the way was Henry Bell.

When he started to carry passengers down the Clyde in his little steamer Comet in 1812, he established the first viable steamer service in the Old World.

Steamers were the first mechanised passenger transport; no longer were travellers dependent upon people and animals or the fickle effects of winds, tides and currents.

Many had attempted to build and operate steamers, but few had been successful — and they were far away in North America. However once Bell, Helensburgh's first Provost, had shown the way, others rushed to follow.

He stressed that Bell's influence extended more widely than many realised, because, as well as starting steamer services on the Firth of Clyde, he was instrumental in establishing them on the Firth of Forth, the West Coast of Scotland, and along the Caledonian Canal as soon as it opened.

Mr Ransom also spoke about the work of pioneers of steam who provided Bell with the springboard he needed, such as James Watt, William Symington and the Americans John Fitch and Robert Fulton, and told how steamer services spread around Britain and overseas.

Author of 23 other books, Mr Ransom, whose new book is published by Amberley Publishing, price £16.99, was introduced by Heritage Trust chairman Stewart Noble (left), who also proposed the vote of thanks.

  • Photo by Donald Fullarton.