Friday, 13 April 2012

Celebrating the Comet - Part Seven

Our last post documented the end of The Comet, and subsequently Henry Bell’s dream, after the ships disastrous crash off of Kempock Point, Gourock.

Before we move on further in celebrating the history of the vessel, we feel that it is only right that we devote a post to the crash, in order to give you an idea of the full scale of the travesty. What follows are a collection of newspaper articles, pictures, and first hand accounts of the sinking.

This article from the Glasgow Courier gives an account of the “Fatal ACCIDENT” that occurred on Friday 21st October, 1825. We can see upon closer examination that it gives an explanation of the crash, and an insight in to the survivors, and those who unfortunately “perished.”


The only twelve people to survive the “Fatal Accident.” We can see the name of Colin Alex. Anderson, who was the ONLY cabin passenger to survive, his story can be seen in the newspaper article from the Glasgow Courier. However, Provost Dugald Campbell is  able to give us an account of Mr. Anderson’s harrowing tale:

At the moment the fatal accident took place, Mr. C. A. Anderson, the only cabin passenger to saved, was below. Such of the passengers as were awake were in high spirits, narrating and listening to diverting tales. When the collision took place, he, with others, instantly rushed upon deck to learn the cause. In the panic that ensued, he in obedience to the captains orders to all on board, repaired aft. He was an excellent swimmer, and calculated upon that resource in the last extremity.

While standing on the deck, holding by a rope, he was seized round the arm with a convulsive grasp by a person behind him, lamenting their fate. In his perilous situation, he endeavoured to shake the person off, exclaiminf, “let me go;” when turn-ing round to disengage himself, he perceived that the person who had seized hold of him was Mrs. Sutherland. His heart smote him at the sight, and he immediately apologised in the kindest manner for having accosted her so roughly, being ignorant who it was that addressed him. At that moment he perceived Captain Sutherland in the act of throwing off his coat or cloak, to prepare himself for swimming. Mr. Anderson, not thinking it advisable to let go his hold of the rope, yet wish-ing to serve the lady, gave her gave her a strong shove forward in the direction of the boat astern, as her only chance of safety.

What became of the unfor-tunate couple afterwards he saw not, as he was immediately compelled to attend to his own safety by finding the water covering the deck. He retained his hold of the rope till the water reached his middle, when a wave, rolling over the Comet, carried him off his feet. The packet then went down, bow foremost; and the drowning multitude sent forth the most appa-ling screams, imploring the Ayr to return and save them. A second wave threw his greatcoat ovr his head, and almost suffocated him. For a time he swam about, ignorant of the direction in which the shore lay, and greatly exhausted.


In this state he was seized by the engineman of the Comet, who held him so closely that he found it impossible to disentangle himself. They were on the point of sinking, when they fortunately came in contact with the steamer’s yawl, which was floating about, keel uppermost, with several in-dividuals clinging to it. In consequence of their struggles, the yawl righted, when they got into it, though it was full of water. Being without oars, they were unable to make any effort to gain the shore. They remained in this situation about twenty minutes, when a pilot boat discovered them. In the struggle to get in to the pilot boat, they nearly upset it. They were obliged, there-fore, to cling to the side of it, and in this manner reached the shore, greatly exhausted. 


Jean Munro, another survivor  who is believed to have clung to the collar of a dog. Her story is as follows:

An article from an unlisted newspaper highlighting the crash in a few brief, yet unsettling paragraphs.



There were many poems and songs documenting the loss of the comet. Below are a examples of two of them:


It is believed that somewhere in the region of seventy three people "perished" however, only forty-nine bodies were recovered from this terrible and "Fatal Accident." Many people cast a deal of the blame towards McClelland, the master  of the Ayr, which collided with the Comet. Rather than keep his ship in the region, and pick up the passengers who were surely faced with certain death, he continued on, sentencing them to a watery grave. Henry Cockburn (one of the council for Duncan McInnes and Peter McBride, the master and pilot of the comet) launches a scathing attack on McClelland, stating:

"The master of the Ayr - whose credit I am entitled to try, and whose situation, gentlemen, I say is not so enviable as that of those who perished - has given evidence which no man in his senses can believe. It is false. It is false that he did not hear the cries from the Comet. It is false that he stopped for a moment. It is false that he considered his vessel in the least danger. He remained? he fled! 

His ears pierced with the cries, but his heart not softened by the agonies of those dying men. He fled and saved no life. He made no attempt to save a single drowning being, though there was time for human people at Gourock to put off their boats and rescue many. 

I never knew a human creature placed in such a situation as this man. I repeat that, compared with him, I envy the fate of those that were lost. I will not disgust further by talking of him, but say he is not to be believed."

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