UK: MS Pursuer to Take Pride of Place at Upcoming Festival

MS Pursuer to Take Pride of Place at Upcoming Festival

On Saturday, August 4, the town of Helensburgh will be marking one of the most significant events in the history of Scotland – the sailing of the Comet, the first commercially successful steamboat service in Europe.

During the day a flotilla of ships will signify the occasion by sailing from the mouth of nearby Rhu Marina to Helensburgh Pier. The procession will be led by HMS Pursuer.

Helensburgh boasts a particular link to the Comet as Scottish engineer Henry Bell was the first recorded provost of the town and his wife the superintendant of the public baths and owner of Helensburgh’s inn.

The first successful applier of steam to the purpose of navigation in Europe, the story goes that Bell got the idea for the Comet’s engines from a small, experimental, steam engine which he installed to pump seawater into Helensburgh Baths.

But the engineer’s connection with steam-power goes further back, with Bell contacting the Admiralty in the early 1800s with his ideas of propelling ships using steam. Although the idea was initially declined, he had a strong and illustrious supporter in a certain Lord Nelson, who, it is recorded said in addressing the Admiralty:

“My Lords, if you do not adopt Mr Bell’s scheme, other nations will, and in the end vex every vein of this empire. It will succeed, and you should encourage Mr Bell.”

A disappointed Henry Bell later found support in the US, with the Americans using steamboats on rivers in 1807 and the rest of the world was quick to adopt the new technology.

Built for Henry Bell by Port Glasgow shipbuilders Messrs John Wood and Co, the Comet became Europe’s first successful passenger service in 1812, initially running on the River Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock.

The rest, as they say, is history, with the construction of the revolutionary vessel leading to shipyards on the River Clyde becoming world leaders in building steam-powered ships.

Commanding Officer of HMS Pursuer, Lieutenant Samuel Nightingale, said:

“It is an honour to be involved in this important celebration right on the doorstep of our home port, and to celebrate the history of a local industry vital to both the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom as a maritime nation.”

Other events celebrating the bicentenary include a demonstration rescue from the RNLI, an exhibition on Henry Bell at Helensburgh library, and a visit by the last sea-going paddles steamer in the world, the Waverley.

Naval Today Staff, August 1, 2012; Image: Royal Navy