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Timeline of Scottish History

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Henry Bell Engineer

Henry Bell / Engineers

  • Name  : Bell
  • Born  : 1767
  • Died  : 1830
  • Category  : Engineers
  • Finest Moment : Launch of the Comet in 1812

Born at Torphichen, Linlithgow, Bell was apprenticed to a millwright in Scotland, and also modelled ships, before moving to London to work and learn from John Rennie, another Scots engineer. He returned to Glasgow, working as a carpenter for some years, before moving to Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde.

In 1800 he submitted plans to the Admiralty for a steam-propelled vessel. Until then, ships were at the mercy of winds and currents. Commerce was more expensive and dangerous, warfare distinctly tricky, and just to set sail on a long voyage meant saying goodbye to one's loved ones with a good chance that it meant goodbye.

In 1812, Bell's own steamship, the 28-ton Comet, was launched from Port Glasgow, plying a trade in passengers and freight on the Clyde for some years. He built and operated other steam ships. This successful project opened up an entire new era in transportation. Think about it. Big ships could sail up big rivers, against a current. Ships could operate with a more meaningful timetable, being unaffected by calm conditions or slowed by headwinds. Bell's Comet was indeed an exciting blaze of light across the skies.

He died in Helensburgh, on 14 November 1830, presumably watching the steam ships plying their trade up and down the Clyde estuary.

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