Illustration of Comet passing Dumbarton Castle - The Mitchell Library, Glasgow City Libraries and Archives
Article Courtesy of Lochside Press
The wreck of Europe’s first commercial steamship has been designated as a scheduled monument by Historic Environment Scotland.
Comet, created by Henry Bell who became Helensburgh’s first provost, was recently discovered in the fast tidal waters of the Dorus Mor, west of Crinan in Argyll and Bute.
Henry Bell (1767-1830) came to live in Helensburgh in 1806.
Already a successful businessman, engineer and architect, he built the Baths Hotel (later the Queen’s Hotel) in East Clyde Street to run with his wife Margaret as a spa near the marine villas of the wealthy Glasgow merchants who either lived in the town or kept a mansion as a summer holiday home.
Comet was a wooden paddle steamer, built in Port Glasgow by John Wood & Sons in 1811-12, which changed the face of travel on the Clyde.
Designed to carry passengers between Port Glasgow and Helensburgh, the name ‘Comet’ is a direct reference to the Great Comet of 1811, a celestial event in which a comet passed by the earth and was visible to the naked eye for 260 days.
Comet was operational for eight years on the Clyde, then the Forth and from September 1819, on a new Glasgow to Fort William service.
Wrecked off Craignish Point, west of Crinan, on 19 December 1820, the vessel is believed to have split in half after running aground due to a navigational error.
Comet was carrying no passengers at the time of its loss, and Henry Bell and the crew managed to get safely ashore.
A dive survey by Wessex Archaeology in September 2021 confirmed that the visible remains of the wreck which survive on the seabed are likely to be from the front half of the ship.
These include the engine assemblage, possible flue and paddle shaft. Further elements of the wreck are likely to survive nearby.
Historic marine protected (MPA) areas are usually the favoured designation for marine heritage sites in Scotland.
However, in this instance, it has been decided to designate the wreck as a scheduled monument. This offers protection to this potentially vulnerable wreck as an interim measure until a decision is taken by the Scottish Government on designating the site as a Historic MPA.
Dara Parsons, head of designations at HES, said: “In September 2020 we were invited to assess the remains of Comet for designation following its discovery by members of Dalriada Dive Club, Oban.
“There are very few examples of pre-1820 steamships known in the UK. As such the remains at the site of the Comet are extremely rare and merit further detailed study. Henry Bell’s Comet is of international significance as Europe’s first commercial steamship and occupies an important place in the history of steam-powered navigation.
“By designating the wreck with scheduled monument status, this means that visitors can dive on the wreck but must not disturb the wreck or remove artefacts without scheduled monument consent from Historic Environment Scotland, to help protect the remains of this significant vessel.”
Tony Dalton, who coordinated the search for the wreck site, commented: “Over three years of research, exploration and survey by a small group in Argyll established the correct facts behind the wrecking of Comet and enabled us to pinpoint the site.
“Together with Glasgow Museums it was very much a team effort, leading to diving and discovery by John & Joanne Beaton, together with images of the engine, two centuries after it sank.
“Comet was one of the earliest steamships to be wrecked in Britain, and the initial survey by Wessex Archaeology reveals a wealth of surviving artefacts that can improve our understanding of very early steamships.
“We are all delighted that Comet is given the vital protection of designation so that further surveys can gain more knowledge and understanding from this wreck of national importance.”
Designating the wreck ensures that its importance is taken into account in future decisions about its management.
Ailsa Tanner was a talented artist and much loved local personality.
She, together with Gregor Ian Smith, were key to the formation of the Anderson Trust when it was established in 1980 by William F.T. Anderson, nephew of the donor, Annie Templeton Anderson.
Ailsa contributed immeasurably, with her energy and wide knowledge, to the maintenance and continuity of the Trust. The current exhibition, hosted, in Ailsa’s memory, by the Anderson Trust, provides a rare opportunity to view a wide range of her work including the featured painting - Helensburgh from the Barley Field.
Many of the paintings on display are on loan from private collectors whose generosity is much appreciated.
Exhibition of Paintings from the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust 2023
by M-J Selwood
THE annual exhibition of paintings from the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust Collection is again on view to the public (now until the end of May) in Helensburgh Library. The theme, this year is “Piers and Jetties” illustrated by artists, mainly from this area and ranging in period over the past 200 years.
For a long time piers and, in particular Helensburgh Pier, have featured regularly in the local press and in the hearts and thoughts of Helensburgh residents. Now, arrivals over water are welcomed to the town not by a pier but by a leisure centre.
Perhaps this exhibition of paintings from the Anderson Trust Collection, will help us to remember and reflect on how piers used to look and the vital purpose they served for coastal habitations round Scotland for many centuries when the sea was their main highway. They retain their importance, here at the confluence of the Gareloch with the Clyde, serving transport, tourism, commerce, leisure and defence.
Few traces can be found today of the small jetties built by a scattering of smallholders before 1802, when the town of Helensburgh was planned and named by its laird, Sir James Colquhoun.
An example of a more substantial “jetty”, where sailing cargo vessels tied up, can be seen in the early nineteenth century painting “Helensburgh Pier”. The launch of the first steamboat on the Clyde, “The Comet”, built for Henry Bell of the Bath’s Hotel (later Queen’s Court) marked a significant increase in marine traffic and prosperity for the town, a period that is well represented in the paintings on view such as William Daniell’s “Steamboat on the Clyde”
A further boost to the importance of Helensburgh came in 1858 when the North British Railway Company linked the town with Glasgow. There was no Craigendoran station at that time, probably only a farm, and the track did not follow the shoreline as it does now. Sometime later the North British Railway Company wanted to extend the railway line from what is now Helensburgh Central Station down to the pier. This split public opinion, and the matter was finally decided in Parliament, with the extension through the town centre being refused.
This refusal prompted the Railway Company to build their "station in the sea" at Craigendoran which opened in 1882 and the pier formed a convenient link with the paddle steamers that ferried city dwellers “doon the water” on popular day trips to Rothesay and other coastal holiday towns.
Paintings in the exhibition record the various stages of this pier, over a hundred years, from the small jetty in Rosa Templeton’s “Pier at Craigendoran”, then as a busy terminal for paddle steamer traffic, to its decline in the 1970’s so powerfully illustrated in Ailsa Tanner’s linoprint (in the case).
A number of the works displayed here were among the paintings in Nance Anderson’s original collection of local scenes, which she bequeathed to the people of Helensburgh on her death in 1980, and which later formed the nucleus of the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust. A keen sailor herself, she would have been familiar, from personal experience, with many of the points of arrival and departure on the shores of this area and, I think, would have enjoyed this exhibition.
HER Royal Highness Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, had a huge impact on Helensburgh and Garelochside, where she lived in Rosneath Castle and loved the beauty and quietness of the Gareloch.
The area provided a haven for her in her later years after a fascinating and busy earlier life inevitable for a daughter of Britain’s longest serving monarch from 1837-1901.
HELENSBURGH has always prided itself that a Prime Minister came from the burgh, despite the fact that he is known as “The Unknown Prime Minister”.
A Conservative, the Rt Hon Andrew Bonar Law MP occupied 10 Downing Street for just 209 days in 1922-23, succeeding the much better known Liberal, David Lloyd George, who had served from 1916-22.
A HELENSBURGH man who served as a County Councillor for 23 years was a First World War hero who won the Victoria Cross, the top award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Colonel George de Cardonnel Elmsall Findlay was born on August 20 1889 in Cardross and died suddenly at his burgh home, Drumfork House, on June 26 1967 at the age of 77.
by Malcolm Baird
THE sad event of 8 September 2022 has set me thinking back to the Queen’s Accession on 6 February 1952.
At this time I was a 17 year old pupil at Fettes College in Edinburgh, keenly studying chemistry and physics while trying to avoid serious injury on the rugby field.
Classes were interrupted by an urgent message from the Headmaster summoning the school to a parade in front of the main building. As we assembled, the whisper went round that King George VI was dead. This came as a shock, because the press and the radio had declared that the King’s health was stable after his lung operation a few months earlier.
Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh had flown out on an African tour, from which they had to return hurriedly upon hearing the news of the King’s death. At the Fettes parade, the Headmaster formally broke the news and called for a minute of silence.
A FOLK singer who came to live in Helensburgh 2007 is famous throughout Scotland and has been described as having ‘a God given voice that knocks you sideways’.
Kirsten Easdale, who now lives with her partner, fine art photographer Steve Niblock, in Arrochar, has performed at major international festivals and events worldwide and supported artists like Shane McGowan and Donnie Munroe of Runrig.
A FORMER professional footballer who spent the last 18 years of his life in Helensburgh managed Manchesder United for five years and Ipswich Town for 18 years.
Butcher’s son Adam Scott Mathewson Duncan, known to his friends as Scooby, was born in Dumbarton on November 2 1888, one of seven siblings, and died in Helensburgh on October 3 1976 aged 87.
HELENSBURGH HERITAGE TRUST
Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation – number SC024603
ANNUAL REPORT AND FINANCIAL STATEMENTS FOR THE YEAR ENDED 31 MARCH 2023
Trustees' Annual Report for the year ended 31 March 2023
The Trustees have pleasure in presenting the report together with the financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2023
REFERENCE AND ADMINISTRATIVE INFORMATION
Charity name - Helensburgh Heritage Trust Charity number - SC024603
Address - 28 East Abercromby Street, Helensburgh G84 7SQ
Robert Ryan - Chairman; Fiona Howard - Minute Secretary (co-opted 27 June 2022); Stewart Noble - Treasurer; Dr Nigel Allan - (resigned 30 November 2022); Cecilia Dunlop ( resigned 30 August 2022); Alison Gildea; Alistair McIntyre; Calum McNicol; Chris Packard - (co-opted 13 February 2023); Chris Sanders
Honorary MembersProf Malcolm Baird (President); Michael Davis; William Petrie OBE JP DL (died August 2022)
THE HELENSBURGH Town Council visitors book, covering 1947-75, appeared for sale at an auction house in Folkestone in Kent in May — and has been bought by Helensburgh Heritage Trust.
Quite how it got there is a mystery. However the Trust was alerted to its potential sale both by member Penny Johnston and by Phil Worms of the former Helensburgh Heroes project.