The Sinking of the Comet

By on Mar 6, 2016 in Ann, Ayr, Clyde River and Firth, Comet, Cottager | 3 comments

Comet and Ayr

“Melancholy Catastrophe.—Loss of the Comet Steam-Boat, (from the Greenock Advertiser of Friday, 21st October, 1825)— The Comet steam-boat, on her passsage from Inverness to Greenock, had reaches the point of Kempoch, at nearly two o’clock, when she was met by the steamboat Ayr, M‘Clelland, of Ayr, which was on her way to that port, from Greenock. The two boats going with considerable velocity, were very near each other before mutually observed. As soon as perceived, the person on the look-out, on board the Comet, cried to the pilot to pat the helm a-starboard, which order the pilot of the Ayr understood to be meant as instructions to him:—both vessels were in consequence directed towards each other, and before the unfortunate mistake could be remedied, they came in contact with such violence, as to stave in the starboard bow of the Comet, which vessel, in a few minutes, went down, and melancholy to relate, the whole of the passengers, with the exception of nine, and the master and pilot of the vessel, were drowned! Two of the former, a lady and child, have since died. The total number of passengers on board are estimated to have been between 60 and 70. The most prompt and humane assistance was afforded to the few survivors, by Mr Andrew Rankin and Mr Glen, of Gourock, and Mr Robert Maitland of this town, who are still actively engaged in securing the property, which, together with the bodies of the sufferers, is hourly coming ashore. We are unable as yet to furnish any account of the names of those drowned on this melancholy occasion, but from a gold watch, with the name “Archd Grahame” engraved on it, and several bills, drawn in favour of Archd Grahame of Corpach, being found on the person of a young gentleman washed ashore, we have little doubt of his being the person of that name; also Mrs Wright of Glasgow, whose body has likewise been got. A Captain Sutherland and his lady from Inverness were on board, whose bodies are not yet found. There have also been washed ashore, besides the two above named, the bodies of four men, four women, and two children. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on the people of Gourock, generally, for the readiness with which they gave their assistance, and the honesty which has been shown in delivering up the property picked up along the beach, one instance of which deserves to be mentioned. A young girl, daughter of James Mains of Gourock, found a £50 Bank of England note, which was instantly, in the most praise-worthy manner, delivered to Mr Rankin. Great blame is attached to the Captain of the Ayr, for not attempting to afford assistance; he almost instantly, on the catastrophe occurring, put about, and made for Greenock; had he, on the contrary, stopped to pick up those who were able to struggle for a short time on the surface of the water, the chance is, that many might hare been saved who have now met a watery grave, and his vessel might have been run on shore at Gourock, had he found her so leaky as to be unfit to proceed back to our port. Those saved were chiefly rescued by wherries belonging to Gourock, which instantly put off when the alarm was given. Besides many respectable people, on their way to Edinburgh and Glasgow, there were, we are led to believe, several traders proceeding to Glasgow, to make purchases for the approaching Fort-William fair, and who may naturally be supposed to have had considerable property on their persons.

“A passenger on board the Ayr relates, that he was one of four cabin passengers who were all below when the accident happened. He had lain down on a sofa undressed, heard a noise forward which alarmed him, and before he had time to disentangle himself from the clothes he had thrown over him, the vessel struck with a tremendous crash. On reaching the deck, he saw the Comet drifting from them, and wheeling round; there was light enough from the moon to enable him to distinguish the hills on either side, and the various objects around. On board the Ayr the utmost confusion prevailed. The Comet was in sight about three minutes, when a most appalling shriek, arose from the passengers on board of her, all evidently crowding to the side nearest the Ayr, and with outstretched arms imploring help; not a cry reached his ears after the vessel went down, and, in a few moments, the river was as unruffled as ever! All on board the Ayr were in the utmost consternation, and, it is much to be feared, in downright stupefaction, with the exception of two seamen belonging to the Harmony, who, after endeavouring in vain to rally the men belonging to the vessel, lowered the boat at the stern, for the purpose of rendering whatever assistance was in their power; but at the moment when she reached the water, with one of the men in her, and before the tackles were yet unloosed, the steam was unfortunately set on, and boat and man dragged under the water; he saved himself, however, by clinging to the ropes, and, providentially for all on board, reached the deck, where he and his companion had enough to do to keep the vessel from going down; she was evidently in a sinking state. At the time of the accident the Ayr had a light at the bow, as well as a man on the look-out.”

From the Glasgow Free Press of Saturday, 22d Oct:—

Early yesterday morning, between two and three o’clock, the Comet steam-boat was careering proudly on the waters from Fort-William to Glasgow, between Greenock and the Cloch Light house. The Captain was engaged in some light conversation, relating stories, as our informant (the only cabin passenger alive) states, to amuse those who were listening to him. On the deck the warm-hearted Highland lads and lasses were tripping it on the “light fantastic toe;”—every sound on board was revelry, and nothing could be seen or heard but what was calculated to inspire a kindred feeling of joy. At once—in a moment, when rounding the point (Kempoch Point), a horrid crash was heard—a terrible collision had taken place—many rushed on the deck, but it was in vain—a minute or two elapsed—the sea burst in with one fell horrid swoop—a bubble took place on the spot, and the Comet disappeared, leaving “not a wreck behind.” The Ayr steam-boat, having, we understand, 90 horse power, had left Greenock a little after one. She had lights, but the Comet had not. None on board the Ayr saw the Comet, and none on board the Comet thought of danger. The collision was instantaneous and fatal, no human help could be given. The Ayr suddenly turned round to see what had struck against her—the lights were placed in that direction—they looked, but, after a few moments, the sea was booming on, and vessel and passengers had sunk for ever.

There was no vestige of a living thing then seen on the face of them—a deeper mist than usual appeared before them, but the “bubbling cry of some strong swimmer, in his agony,” was not heard by any man. The steam made a slight hiss, but the ocean had swallowed up the whole. Many highly-respectable names have been mentioned as belonging to the sufferers; but we believe, in a majority of instances, without foundation. Among the sufferers, according to the statement of Mr Colin Alexander Anderson, (the cabin passenger already referred to,) was Captain Sutherland of the 33d regiment, and his lady—recently married—the latter the daughter of H. R. Duff, Esq. of Muirtown, near Inverness; Mr M‘Allister, W. S., Edinburgh, with a relative of the same name; Mr Graham of Corpach; Mr Campbell, a merchant of this city; and the son of a Mr MacBraine, also of Glasgow; and a Mrs Wright, widow of a druggist, formerly in the Trongate of this city, and her servant maid. The body of Mr Grierson, the steward of the Comet, has been washed ashore, and upwards of £70 in his pocket; also four men and four women—two ladies and two black servants.”

Saturday night. Seven o’clock.—Since the first edition of our paper was sent to press, we have ascertained that the four English gentlemen, about whom some fears were entertained, are safe. They were landed at Rothesay. We have seen three of them—Messrs A. Morrison, and George Martineau, of London, and Mr Henry Martineau of Norwich. The other gentleman who went on shore at Rothesay was Mr Glover, the celebrated landscape painter. They mentioned that Mr M‘Allister, W.S., had intended to land at Rothesay, but having met with some obstacles in getting on shore his luggage, he was unfortunately detained. They think there were about twenty cabin passengers, and they were mostly all young men. There were only two ladies in the cabin, Mrs Captain Sutherland, and Mrs Wright of this city. The gentlemen estimate the number of people on board at from fifty to sixty, exclusive of the crew. They think there were not more than seven female passengers in the steerage. Four of them were servants of Sir Joseph Radcliffe of Yorkshire. The gentlemen speak highly of the conduct of Captain M‘lnnes and his crew while they were on board the Comet. We have also seen one of the passengers who was saved, Mr Ewan M‘Donald, of Fort Augustus, who gives the following account of what fell under his own observation:—He thinks there might be about sixty passengers in all; he was in the steerage: and shortly before the catastrophe he was upon deck. He saw a light a-head, and a fellow passenger observed that it was a lighthouse; but one of the crew who was on the look-out forward, remarked, “that it was a steam-boat,” and instantly called aft, “a steam-boat—helm a starboard.” He supposes the helm was ported, as the vessels almost immediately struck. Captain M‘lnnes was on the cabin deck, and called to the passengers to come aft, thinking the packet might right. Great confusion ensued, the passengers forcing their way into the Comet’s yawl, which was hung astern. In the hurry, the tackling could not be unloosed; one of the ropes was cut before the other. There were from twenty to thirty people in the small boat at the time; M‘Donald was one of them; and nearly the whole were precipitated into the water. The other rope was cut almost at the same moment the Comet sunk. M‘Donald was thrown into the water, and upon getting to the surface, he found no trace of the Comet. He observed the small boat floating bottom upwards, and he and some others caught by it, and in consequence of their struggling, it righted, but was full of water. He and other two got into the yawl, and in about fifteen minutes they were hailed and towed to land by a boat which had pushed off from the shore. Mr Grahame was found in the Comet’s boat. M‘Donald and the two who were saved with him were so weak at the time they were taken in tow, that they could not move into the other boat.”

From the Glasgow Herald of Monday 24th Oct:—

Greenock, 7 o’clock, Saturday nightI have just returned from witnessing a most distressing and heart-rending sight. In the course of the afternoon, sixteen unhappy sufferers had been brought to shore, and were placed in the church, in order to be recognised by their anxious and distracted relations. A mother discovered her son; and two young lads found each a brother amongst the melancholy wrecks of humanity. Yesterday morning brought on shore 11 dead bodies, and the 16 of to-day make the whole 27. I, with many others, examined the countenances of almost all of them, and could hardly convince myself that Death had stretched his sceptre over them. There was a mild sweetness peculiar to sleep on every face; and a little infant about two years old lay amongst the dead, as if its mother was lulling it asleep. This, unfortunate innocent attracted universal sympathy. Every attention has been paid to the dead in getting coffins speedily provided for them, and it is expected that the whole will be brought up this night to an aisle in the West Church of Greenock, to be buried, or to remain for a short time till they are claimed by relations. The portmanteau of Mr Rollo, W.S., Edinburgh, has been found, and it is thought he is among the number that is brought on shore to-day. It is impossible to leave this subject without noticing the praiseworthy attention of our excellent Sheriff, Mr Marshall, and Quentin Leitch, Esq., one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, who have been on the spot late and early, and have arranged every thing under their own inspection. An inventory of all the property found has been made out, and until such property is claimed, it has been lodged in the cellars belonging to the town.

Sunday, half-past Four afternoon.—Up to this hour, Gourock has exhibited a scene of unprecedented bustle and anxiety. Arrivals of strangers continue to an almost incredible extent. Every exertion is still making to recover the bodies yet missing; and the greatest possible sympathy is apparent in the face of every one of the immense crowd of visitors. Sir William Rae, Bart., Lord-Advocate for Scotland, arrived this forenoon, accompanied by John Colin Dunlop, Esq., Sheriff-Depute of Renfrewshire, before whom an examination of the pilot of the Comet and others took place. The result has not yet transpired, but warrants, we understand, have, since their arrival, been issued for the apprehension of the Master of the Ayr steam-boat, and others who are implicated in the melancholy calamity. That boat sailed from Greenock for Ayr yesterday, so that the injury she had sustained must have cost but little trouble to repair. Every precaution in the power of the authorities of Greenock, by having the town-officers, &c., in attendance, have been taken to preserve order, and afford facility to the conveyance of the bodies got ashore, to the church, where they are deposited. Shells are prepared, into which they are placed as soon as conveyed thither; and the whole duty attendant on that painful affair is conducted with such propriety, as reflects the greatest credit on the inhabitants of Gourock and neighbourhood, particularly those who have taken the more active part of the business. The boats are still employed in trawling for the bodies, and the most indefatigable and unremitting exertions are making to recover every relic of this lamentable catastrophe. Several of the bodies which were got on Friday and yesterday are to be interred in the West Church of Greenock burying-ground tomorrow.

Sunday evening, Five o’clock.—On the arrival of the Lord-Advocate here, warrants were immediately issued, and officers despatched for the apprehension of the Master of the Comet, and the Master and Mate of the Ayr steam-boat.

None of the bodies of Captain Sutherland, his lady, or Mr M‘Allister, have yet been found.

When the concussion took place, almost all the passengers were down in the cabin, and the instant the shock was felt, they all rushed upon deck, with the exception of Mr M‘Allister, who, it is believed, remained still in the cabin. Mr Anderson, a student, attending the College of Glasgow, one of the persons saved, was the last to leave the cabin, and he recollects that Mr M‘Allister was left lying upon a sofa, having believed the statement of the steward of the vessel, who called out there was no danger. Almost immediately after the passengers got upon deck, the engine of the Comet stopt, and she appeared to be in a sinking state, though she did not go down till four or five minutes after the concussion took place. She sunk gradually and slowly down, the bow going first, and the water rising gradually upon the passengers, who had all gone towards the stern. The small boat being instantly lowered, got so overloaded with passengers, as to occasion her immediately swamping, and all who had got on board of it perished. Mr Anderson did not quit the vessel till the water had gradually reached more than half-way up his person. He then swam away, endeavouring, but in vain, to reach a box which he saw floating at a short distance from him, but he found he could not overtake it, being impeded by the great-coat and boots in which he was dressed. He then got a glimpse of the lights of the village of Gourock, and endeavoured to make toward them; in doing this, he met the Comet’s small boat which had been upset, floating with its bottom uppermost, having two men clinging to it. He managed to get hold of it, but when he was in the act of doing so, he was seized round the neck by John Gillies, fireman, who clung to him. In consequence of this seizure, Mr Anderson was unable to retain his hold of the boat, and he sunk twice, and as often ascended to the surface of the water. On his last ascent, he found his feet entangled with the seats of the boat; how he got so entangled he cannot account. By twisting his legs round the seats, and by the increase of weight occasioned by the fireman, who still continued to hold the boat, by the exertions which he so made, got itself turned, the right side getting uppermost, having both Mr Anderson and John Gillies in it. The other two men, who had been hanging by the boat, also managed to get into it, and these four were placed in the boat, up to the neck in water, in hopes of being drifted on shore. A boat from Gourock then reaching them, they quitted the Comet’s boat, and clung to the sides of the other, and were in this way brought to shore. Mr Anderson kept his feet while in the Comet’s boat in deep water, but by the time he reached near the shore, where the water was shallow, he got so exhausted, from cold and fatigue, that he was unable to use any exertion, and was in great danger of perishing before reaching the shore.

It appeared that other two of the Comet’s passengers had succeeded in getting hold of the Comet’s boat after Mr Anderson and his three suffering companions had quitted it, and got into it; but from the exhaustion occasioned by the severe cold and fatigue, were unable to keep above water; and when the boat was got possession of, it was found to contain their lifeless bodies.

Mr Anderson saw the lady of Captain Sutherland after he came upon deck, immediately after the collision, and he assisted in getting her to the stern of the Comet; but he does not know what became of the unfortunate lady afterwards. Her cries for help were loud and heartrending, and must have been heard by the crew of the Ayr steam-boat, which Mr Anderson describes as not having been twenty yards distant from the Comet at the time. He thinks he saw Captain Sutherland, her husband, throw off his coat, and the probability is, from the statement given by one of the Comet’s crew, in describing what he recollects of seeing, that this unhappy couple, who had only been seven weeks married, sunk in each other’s arms. Neither of their bodies have yet been found.

The following is a correct list of those saved, and of the bodies that have been found, up to Sunday forenoon;— Saved: Sutherland, carpenter; Peter M‘Bride, pilot; John Gillies, fireman ; John M‘Lellan, steward; M‘Innes, the master; James Nicol, seaman; Jean Munro, John Cameron, Fort-William; C. A. Anderson, Rachael M‘Keller, Mrs Miller, her infant drowned: Ewan M‘Donald, from Fort Augustus.

Bodies found on the 21st and 22nd. Mrs Wright, Glasgow; Hannah Mitchell, and Sarah Rigley, maid-servants to Sir Joseph Radcliffe:; two other wo
men—not known; a child, about three 
years old, ditto; Mrs Miller’s child; 
Archibald Graham, Corpach ; John Bell, 
flesher, Dumbarton; James Grierson, 
steward of Comet; Angus Cameron, 
Fort-William; William Allan, Camis 
Eskan; James Miller, Leith; John 
 Reid, Edinburgh; a girl about seven-teen years of age—name unknown ; Duncan M‘Kenzie, a Highland trader; an 
 old man from Crinan—name unknown; 
 a woman, unknown, supposed the mother 
of four children who were on board; Jas. 
 Dingwall; George Murray, a Highland 
 trader; James Manderson, engineer of 
 the Comet; a young woman, named Rose, claimed, and carried to Greenock; A sailor, belonging to Limekilns or Kincardine; Ronald Mackenzie, piper to Sir 
 Joseph Radcliffe; a young gentleman, 
linen marked C. B. S—surgical instruments found on him—supposed to be a
 Mr Smith of Inverness; Mr Angus A.
 Kennedy, a young gentleman about fourteen, going to College; a young man about fifteen—unknown; Anthony Gallocher, 
 an Irish pedlar; Euphemia Niven, servant to Mrs Wright of Glasgow; a young lady, claimed by her brother on the shore.

Found on the 23d. 
   John M‘Lauchlan, a seaman belonging to the Comet; Mrs Wincup, housekeeper to Sir Joseph Radcliffe; a man—with a 
 brown coat, yellow buttons, and black trowsers; Donald M‘Braine, shoemaker, Glasgow; John Gemmill, Sir Joseph Radcliffe’s man-servant; a man—had on blue trowsers like a seaman—owned by a cousin: a young woman, initials J. N. I. 
with livery-servant’s great-coat on—supposed to be Mary Meek, maid-servant to Sir Joseph Radcliffe; D. Campbell, Glasgow, claimed and taken by a brother; Mr 
Hugh James Rollo, W. S. Edinburgh; 
John Heron, supposed second steward of the Comet steam-boat; Donald Cameron 
and Alex. M‘Kenzie, two of the Comet’s crew.


Number saved, ………… 12

Found, 21st and 22d, … 30

Found, 23d, ……………… 12

Accounted for……………. 54

Besides the persons whose names are mentioned in the preceding accounts, it is believed there is no person of the upper ranks of life lost by the sinking of the Comet.”

From the Glasgow Chronicle of Tuesday, 25th Oct:—

The following is an additional list of the persons known to be lost:—Donald Cameron, under-steward; Mrs Ross, Fort-William; Evan Kennedy, Fort-William: Angus Cameron, Arrochar; near Fort-William; Alexander M‘Kenzie, cabin-boy; Mr Rose, a student from Inverness, and three young girls, one or more supposed to be his sisters; Mr M‘Kenzie, grocer, Canongate, Edinburgh; Mrs M‘Millan, cook to Mr M‘Donald, Borradale, Arisaig.

Among those saved on board the Comet there was a young lady, a Miss Jane Munro, about sixteen, from Tain, on a visit to her aunt in Glasgow. As her relation had never seen her, it was judged needless to go down to claim her body, and all hope was given up, when on Saturday a letter was received from Gourock with the gratifying and unexpected intelligence of her preservation. So far as she can recollect, it happened as follows:—She sunk twice; but, on coming up the second time, caught hold of two spars, to which she clung from about 20 minutes to half-an-hour. During the whole of this dreadful period she still had hope of being saved, nor lost her presence of mind during the whole time; as an instance of which, feeling a shawl she wore getting heavy with the water, she threw it off to lighten her. A dog, belonging, it is to be believed, to Mr M‘Allister, swam, alongside of her, and, she thinks, materially aided her; certain it is, that the dog followed her to the house where she was taken, and after she was put in bed, the faithful animal leapt in and lay at her feet. She felt very unwell after being brought ashore; but after being twice bled, and getting a night’s rest, she perfectly recovered. The engine-man of the Comet, who was saved, reports that the last time he saw Captain Sutherland and his wife was at the moment of the vessel going down, when they were standing fast clasped in each other’s arms on the quarter-deck. He farther reports, that Mr Graham of Corpach sunk within little more than six yards of the shore. The engine-man’s face is much lacerated by the death-grasp with which he was held by that unfortunate young gentleman. He is perfectly convinced, that had the Ayr stopped to render them assistance, many lives would have been saved.

On Tuesday the 25th, the body of Captain Sutherland was brought up, and a private soldier of the second battalion of the 15th regiment of foot. On the person of the captain was found a purse, containing, in the one end, nine shillings or so in silver, and in the other five sovereigns and a half. Two watches, the one gold and the other silver, were found in one of his pockets, to which were attached gold appendages. The remains of the unfortunate Captain Sutherland were, shortly after being found, taken to Greenock by a brother officer.

The following are the bodies got on Wednesday the 26th, before two o’clock afternoon. Subsequent to that hour, although the endeavours to get up every sad relic of this calamitous accident were unrelaxed, nothing was obtained except a very handsome scarf, supposed to be the property of the much-lamented Mrs Captain Sutherland. From the weight at first attached to the drag, there is every reason to believe that that unfortunate lady’s body was with the scarf, from which it parted on the getting up.

Duncan M‘Kenzie, fireman of the Comet, immediately recognised, and claimed by his wife and father.

A girl, apparently about ten or twelve years of age, unknown, but supposed to be Grace M‘Kenzie, niece of the young woman Rose, found on Saturday, and whom, it is believed, she was accompanying from the north.

A stout young woman, unknown; had on a brown bombasine gown, course grey worsted stockings, and shoes tied with white tape, supposed to have come in at Oban, and then to have had on a black bonnet and two black feathers.

Wednesday morning a trunk of Mr M‘Allister’s and some other luggage were cast ashore.

Thursday morning, the 27th, the weather being very calm, the business of trawling with the boats were resumed at an early hour, and before seven o’clock the body of a man with a fustian jacket and trousers, and a black vest, was found; he is supposed, from certain certificates found in a pocket-book on his person, to be either Lewis or Donald M‘Kay, a son of George M‘Kay, belonging to the parish of Duthil; Peter Sutherland, the carpenter of the Comet, says he is Donald M‘Kay, by trade a smith, and that he was on his way from Invergordon to Glasgow, to seek employment. The bodies of the soldier found on Tuesday, and those of the two females found yesterday, have been interred in the church-yard of Gourock. From the decayed state in which the bodies are which are got now, it is rendered indispensable to have them quickly coffined and interred; and except by their dress, or documents found upon them, their nearest relations are unable to identify them. The body of a man was got in the afternoon, supposed, from a letter on his person, to be Alexander Monro of Campbelton.

Captain Thomson’s revenue-cutter tried the experiment, on Thursday, of firing guns over where the boat lies, in the hope of raising the missing bodies, but without success.

The boats did not commence operations till eight o’clock on Friday morning, owing to the rapidity of the tide, and to the wind being high; but they have been out ever since.

The body of Mrs Sutherland was found close by the shore, about one o’clock on Friday the 28th; and an hour afterwards the body of Mr M‘Allister, W.S., was found near the same place: they were placed in coffins previously prepared for them; and about five o’clock the remains of that unfortunate lady passed through Greenock on its way to Glasgow, accompanied by Captain Warren, who arrived shortly before they were brought to shore. Every thing has been prepared for raising the Comet since Friday night, but owing to the heavy surf upon the water, nothing has been done. There have been two lighters and two steam-boats, with the necessary tackling, in Gourock bay, ever since; and as soon as the weather settles, they proceed to the spot without a moment’s delay. It has been stated in various papers, that Alexander Gray, piper of the Comet, was found some days since. This is incorrect, and may cause much inconvenience to many individuals who expected remittances by this honest, but unfortunate man, as it has been ascertained that he had from £250 to £300 on his person, to be paid in Glasgow on account of various individuals in the Highlands. The young gentleman whose linens wore marked C.B.S. has not been claimed, though asserted otherwise, and it is quite uncertain what his name was: he has been interred, along with some others, a few inches from the surface, lest his friends should wish to claim the body.

It was formerly stated that 47 were accounted for as drowned and 13 saved; since that three more have been added to the melancholy list of sufferers, making the whole accounted for, independent of those missing, 63. The earliest announcement of this awful calamity seems to have been nearer the truth than any later accounts. It was then asserted that from 80 to 90 found a watery grave; and from those accounted for, and those still missing, we arc sorry to say that this number has not been overrated.

A person named Charles M‘Lean has been ascertained to have been on board the Comet when she sunk, and saved, in addition to those formely mentioned.

Sunday the 30th, the weather was so stormy as to render it impossible to adopt any measures either to lift the boat or trawl for bodies at Gourock, and today, as it has increased to a perfect hurricane, and any attempts to that effect being still of necessity suspended, nothing has transpired.

On Saturday Mr Sheriff Dunlop arrived in town with the depositions which he had taken relative to this melancholy catastrophe, which were forwarded to the Lord Advocate at St. Catherine’s.

Captain and Mrs Sutherland were on Saturday the 29th buried in the same grave. The funeral was conducted with military honours, and it was also honoured with the regrets and pity of all who witnessed the melancholy, though at the same time splendid, procession. The interment was in the burying-ground of the English Chapel of Glasgow.

From the Glasgow Courier of this Day, 22d October, 1825.

Dreadful Accident!

A Full and Authentic Account of the Dreadful and Fatal Accident that happened the Comet Steam-Boat, on her Passage from Inverness and Fort-William to Glasgow, yesterday morning, Friday the 21st October, 1825, when, off Kempock Point, she was suddenly Struck by the Steam Boat Ayr, and instantly went down, by which melancholy circumstance, Seventy Human Beings were in a single moment precipitated into Eternity!!!

On Friday morning the 21st October, 1825, the Steam Boat Comet, with Passengers from Inverness and Fort William, was run down of Kempock point, between Gourock and the Clough Light House, by the Steam Boat Ayr, outward bound. In rounding the point the vessels came in contact with each other with such force and violence, that the Comet went down almost instanteously, when above 70 persons were, in a moment, precipitated into the deep, into Eternity? Ten only are saved out of above 80, which were believed to be on board. Amongst those escaped is the Master, who was got on shore, but in such an exhausted state, that, at the date of our latest accounts, he was unable to give any account of what had, taken place, or of the Passengers on board. There is too much reason to dread, that the greater number of those who perished, are persons in the superior ranks of life.

Twelve dead bodies had been washed ashore at an early hour on Friday morning, amongst these were two genteely dressed females, two black servants, and Mrs. Wright, widow of the late Mr. Archibald Wright, Druggist in Glasgow. In the pockets of the body of a gentleman washed ashore, £70 was found.

Amongst those who perished, and whose names we can state
from good authority, is Mr. Graham, of Corpach, Mr. M‘Allister, W. S. Edinburgh, and Captain Sutherland, of the 33d Regiment, and his Lady, who were only five days married.

The body of Captain Sutherland, and another passenger were
 found in the yawl this morning. Mrs Sutherland caught hold of Mr Colin Alexander Anderson, (the only Cabin passenger who is saved) and for some time clung round him, but in the struggle with the waves, she lost her hold and perished.

It is reported that amongst the sufferers is the Lady of a Colonel in the army, with a family of seven children, from Inverness; a Mr. Campbell of Glasgow, with a young gentleman of the same city; but we avoid mentioning names on vague reports, not wishing to hurt the feelings of those who may have had friends and acquaintances expected from these quarters of the country.

Amongst those that are saved, are the foresaid Mr. Anderson, and the Engineman, Captain M‘Innes, the Pilot, the Carpenter, a man passenger, from Fort George, a young girl, and a woman, who were driven ashore between two tables, considerably bruised, and who, most unfortunately, lost her child.

Edinburgh: Printed for William Robertson, Flying Stationer.

The Comet remained afloat for about five minutes and most of the passengers had made their way into the vessel’s boat. However, on lowering the boat, it capsized and all were thrown into the water. There was much immediate criticism of the behaviour of the master of the Ayr steamer for not doing more to try to save the passengers and crew of the Comet, but ultimately the blame was placed on the Master of the Comet for sailing without proper lights and look-out.

An Account of the Trial and Sentence of D. M‘Innes, Master, and P. M‘Bride, pilot, of the Comet steam-Boat before the High Court
 of Admiralty, on Wednesday the 2lst December 1825.

Wednesday, December 21st, 1825, the Judge Admiral Sir 
John Connell, sat in the chamber of the Second Division 
of the Court of Session, for the trial of Duncan M‘Innes, late master, and Peter M‘Bride, late pilot, of the Comet steam boat, accused
 of culpable homicide, and also of culpable, negligent, and reckless 
command, charge, and steering of a steam boat, &c. The criminal 
letters set forth that—

“The said Duncan M‘Innes, and Peter M‘Bride, having proceeded from Inverness in the said steam boat, called the Comet, with the intention of proceeding to Glasgow, and they having the direction, guidance, and command of the said steam boat, the said Duncan
M‘Innes being master thereof, and the said Peter M‘Bride being pilot, of the same: and having, late on the night of Thursday the
 20th, or early on the morning of Friday the 21st of October, 1825, 
arrived in the said steam-boat in the river or firth of Clyde, and at a part thereof nearly opposite Kempock Point, in the shire of Renfrew ; and it being their particular duty to take care that the said steam-boat should not come in collision with any other boat or vessel, they did, nevertheless, both and each of them, or one or other of them, culpably, and reckless of the consequences, and by their extreme and culpable carelessness and inattention, and misconduct in managing and directing the course of the said Comet steam-boat, bring the said steam-boat in collision with the steam-boat called the Ayr, whereby the said steam-boat was immediately sunk, and whereby a great many persons, men, women, and children, to the number of 62 or thereby, were drowned, and bereaved of life, and were thus culpably killed by the said Duncan M‘Innes and Peter
M‘Bride,” &c.

The criminal letters also charged them with having “culpably, and reckless of the consequences, neglected to cause a light to be affixed to the said steam-boat, and continuing to steer and direct the said Comet steam-boat, without any such lights,” &c. The criminal letters were then read, and the parties called upon to plead, when they both pleaded Not Guilty.

Defences were then put in for the pannels, in which they denies the relevancy of the libel. They admitted the loss of the Comet, but not that it was caused by culpability or negligence on their part. They might have erred in judgement, but they did not admit that they had done so. In a case like that of the Comet and Ayr, they said, the safety of the vessels did not depend upon the attention of one of them in particular, but upon both; and if the Ayr had taken its proper course, no collision could have taken place; and if the master of that vessel had afterwards rendered what assistance was in his power, the whole or most of those who were lost, might have been saved.

Two objections were then stated on the part of the pannels, to the relevancy of the indictment, but which were not sustained by the Court, and an interlocutor, confining the charge to culpable homicide, was then recorded.

A great number of witnesses were then examined for the prosecution, among whom were Thomas M‘Clelland, master, Rober Knox, pilot, and John M‘Gregor, seaman, of the Ayr steam-boat, the vessel that came in collision with the Comet, when that unfortunate boat sunk. All of whose evidence tended to attach a good deal of culpability to the conduct of Mr M‘Innes, the master of the Comet, in not having a light out at the time of the accident, nor a good look-out a head, &c.

The pannels’ declarations were then read, in which M‘Innes
 stated, that he was master of a steam-boat on the Clyde for many years, and detailed the progress of the voyage of the Comet from Inverness till she met the Ayr. He stated that there was a scarcity of candles on board the Comet at that time, which was the cause there were no lights hung out, and he considered there was no danger after they passed the Cloch, which they did before he left the deck that morning. M‘Bride’s was nearly similar.

After which, several respectable witnesses were examined in ex-culpation, one of whom the Judge complimented in strong terms.
The Jury were then addressed by the Lord Advocate for the crown, and by Mr Cockburn for the pannels, when the Judge Admiral summed up the evidence at great length, reprobating in strong language the conduct of the Ayr, and urging the necessity of an example being made, to prevent a recurrence of similar accidents by carelessness. After which the Jury were inclosed, and ordered to return their verdict on Thursday at Two o’clock.

Accordingly M‘Innes was found Guilty by the Jury, on Thursday, and M‘Bride Not Guilty; when the former was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in Greenock Jail, and the latter dismissed from the bar, after a suitable admonition.

Edinburgh: Printed for Wm. Cameron Price One Penny

The following spring and summer saw attempts to recover the Comet.

The Comet Steam Packet.

From the Greenock Advertiser of 21st. The operations for raising this vessel having drawn near their completion, since the commencement of the week, much interest regarding it has been excited here, and numbers have been daily attracted to the spot to mark the progress of the undertaking, and witness the first appearance which the shattered bark exhibited when raised above the water’s surface. Among the earliest indications of its near approach was the discovery of the body of an elderly stout-made female, on Monday evening, supposed to be the cook known to have been on board the Comet, and nearly the last grown-up person, of the ill-fated passengers, whose remains had not long previously been recovered. Notwithstanding the great length of time it had been in the water, the body was but little decayed. Having been taken up the river until opposite Gourock churchyard, it was then put into a shell and interred. On Wednesday afternoon, a pair of bagpipes were fished up from the deck of the vessel; and it will be recollected, that to the inspiring strains of this instrument some of the passengers were enjoying themselves in the dance, not an hour before that dreadful collision which ushered them into eternity. It was Wednesday before any part of the wreck was got above water; Thursday, some farther progress was made in bringing the vessel close in shore; and on Friday morning, when the tide had completely ebbed, a considerable part of the deck was above the surface; but that portion of the vessel which comprehends the main cabin, from lying obliquely on the face of a bank, (perhaps 30 degrees from a horizontal position) yet remains uncovered. The bow of the vessel is completely shattered, and the funnel thrown down, and resting lengthways on the deck. A variety of articles have been fished up from the fore cabin, including several pieces of silk dresses, children’s frocks, shoes, thread cases, and some appendages of the toilet, a small trunk, &c. all which have been taken charge of by the proper authorities. A man’s hat and a part of a jawbone were likewise brought up on the point of a boat-hook. The whole exhibits a very melancholy spectacle.—It is expected that, with the assistance of a tide or two more, the vessel will be hauled altogether on the beach.

From the Glasgow Herald.

We are indebted to a gentleman in Gourock for the following very interesting letter:—

“Gourock, Saturday Evening, 22d July.

“Mr Brown has fixed his chains down to-night for the last time, as he expects to have the Comet dry at low water to-morrow morning’s tide. As yet there has been no access to the principal cabin. All that has been found, therefore, has either been on deck, or in the steerage. This morning the body of a female was found on the quarter-deck in a state of very great decay, so much so, that the remains of the dress alone indicated that it was probably the corpse of Miss M‘Intosh. It was carefully put into a coffin, and interred immediately.

“To-day a considerable quantity of bones was found in the steerage, but there was in that place such a mass of rubbish and mud, that it is impossible to say how many bodies there might be. The jacket of a very young boy was picked up, inclosing the ribs only, and no other part was visible.

“With regard to private property, not much has yet been recovered. The piper’s chest was found yesterday, and bank-notes to the amount of £75 inclosed; none of which were in the least injured, although completely saturated with water. A pocket-book lay on the deck, containing £6 in small notes, all entire; some silver and copper were also picked up on deck. A number of bottles, supposed to have originally contained whisky, were found full, but the spirit was invariably changed for a liquid of a bitter taste.

“The vessel herself is so complete a wreck that she must be broken up; she can never again float. It reflects great credit on the ingenuity of Mr Brown that he succeeded in bringing her ashore. Both stem and stern are quite smashed, and the deck planks torn up. This must have been done chiefly by the chains last winter, in the first attempt to raise her.

“The copper boilers have collapsed in a surprising manner, and, as boilers, are useless. The sudden condensation of the steam must have produced a vacuum, and the pressure of the surrounding water on the outside caused this effect. Engineers have already set to work to take the machinery to pieces, under the direction of some of the proprietors.

“It is a remarkable circumstance that the body of the female found floating from the wreck on Tuesday, and supposed to be that of Mr M‘Donald of Borrodale’s cook-maid, was in a better state of preservation than any other yet found, and it has been freely asserted, that she was in a state of intoxication at the time the accident happened.

“The Sheriff, Mr Marshall, has been indefatigable in his attentions to the preservation of property.

Sunday Morning.—Owing to an accidental circumstance, the Comet has not been moved so far in as to ebb the cabin at low water, yet a number of articles have been got, among other things, Mr Rollo’s travelling bag. I saw it opened, and the money so much talked of recovered; it was tied in a pretty large parcel by itself, without any wrapper, but perfectly unruffled and fresh-looking. The Sheriff is now engaged counting it, but it is a tedious operation, and I cannot say how much there will be of it.

“A silver tea-pot belonging to Captain Sutherland, an Andrew Ferrara sword of Sir Joseph Radcliff’s, some shooting and fishing apparatus, and a few small baskets and parcels of wearing apparel, have all been got from the wreck this morning; but no more bodies.”

From the Glasgow Courier of 25th

This unfortunate vessel was finally and completely hauled upon the beach on Sunday evening. In addition to the details contained in the above letter, we have only to add, that two trunks were got out on Sunday evening, but as they had not been opened at the date of our accounts yesterday, it is uncertain what they contain. A fowling-piece, and a military cap, belonging, it is supposed, to Captain Sutherland, have also been found. The following is a correct account of the money which has been recovered:—

In Mr Rollos’s bag   £632 13 9

Piper’s chest, about      75  0 0

Captain’s money            15  0 0

And small sums                8  0 0

£730 13 9

The notes are wet, but not materially damaged. Several law papers, (leases, &c.) belonging to Mr Rollo, were found in a good state of preservation; and the crockery ware in the steward’s cabin was, in general, found uninjured. The vessel is a most complete wreck; but it is quite certain that nothing belonging to any of the ill-fated passengers can remain on board, so closely has the wreck been searched. Sunday being a beautiful day, the wreck was visited by a great number of people from Greenock and the neighbourhood.

raising comet 2

Wreck of the Comet at Gourock

The Comet Steam-Boat.—A letter from a Gentleman in Gourock.

Gourock, Saturday Evening, 22nd July.

Mr. Brown has fixed his chains down to-night for the last time, as he expects to have the comet dry at low water to-morrow morning’s tide. As yet there has been no access to the principal cabin. All that has been found therefore has either been on the deck, or in the steerage. This morning the body of a female was found on the quarter-deck in a state of very great decay, so much so that the remains of the dress alone indicated that it was probably the corpse of Miss M‘Intosh. It was carefully put into a coffin and interred immediately.

Today a considerable quantity of bones were found in the steerage, but there was in that place such a mass of rubbish and mud that it is impossible to say how many bodies there might be. The jacket of a very young boy was picked up, enclosing the ribs only, and no other part was visible.

With regard to private property not much has yet been recovered. The Piper’s chest was found yesterday, and bank notes to the amount of about £75 enclosed; none of which were in the least injured, though completely saturated with water. A pocket-book lay on deck, containing £6 in small-notes, all entire; some silver and copper were also picked up on deck. A number of bottles, supposed to have originally contained whisky, were found full, but the spirit was invariably changed for a liquid of bitter taste.

The vessel herself is so complete a wreck that she must be broken up; she can never again float. It reflects great credit to the ingenuity of Mr. Brown that he succeeded in bringing her ashore. Both stem and stern are quite smashed, and the deck planks torn up. This must have been done chiefly by the chains last winter, in the first attempt to raise her.

The copper boilers have collapsed in a surprising manner, and, as boilers, are useless. The sudden condensation of the steam must have produced a vacuum, and the pressure of the surrounding water on the outside caused this effect. Engineers have already set to work to take the machinery to pieces, under the direction of some of the proprietors.

It is a remarkable circumstance that the body of the female found floating from the wreck on Tuesday, and supposed to be that of Mr. M‘Donald of Borrodale’s cook-maid, was in a better state of preservation than any other yet found; and it has been freely asserted that she was in a state of intoxication at the time the accident happened.

The Sheriff, Mr. Marshall, has been indefatigable in his attentions to the preservation of property. It was found necessary to prevent so many people from coming on board as presented themselves for admission, and orders accordingly were issued to a boat’s crew, from one of the revenue cutters on this station, under the command of an officer, to admit none on board. Still, curiosity prompted many respectable Gentlemen, and even Ladies, to appeal personally to the Sheriff, who was thus placed in the disagreeable predicament of being obliged to make special refusals; for had all been admitted who applied, there wouldnot have been standing-room for them, and none at all to work.

Sunday Morning.—Owing to an accidental circumstance, the Comet has not been moved so far in as to ebb the Cabin at low water, yet a number of articles have been got out, among other things, Mr. Rollo’s travelling bag. I saw it opened, and the money so much talked of recovered; it was tied in a pretty large parcel by itself, without any wrapper, but perfectly unruffled and fresh-looking. The Sheriff is now engaged in counting it, but it is a tedious operation, and I cannot say how much there will be of it.

A silver tea-pot belonging to Capt. Sutherland, an Andrew Ferrara sword of Sir Joseph Radcliff’s, some shooting and fishing apparatus, and a few small baskets and parcels of wearing apparel, have all been got from the wreck this morning; but no more bodies.

Nothing farther can be done at this time (nine o’clock) till seven in the evening, when it will be near low water again.

The Guard of the Mail Coach, who came up last night, says, that the report in Greenock was, that nine hundred pounds had been found in Mr. Rollo’s travelling bag.

The money found in Mr. Rollo’s travelling bag amounted to £632 13s.

The Clyde Shipping Company undertook to raise the wreck for £400 but Mr. Brown was to receive £80 if unsuccessful and £300 if successful. He managed it with great ability but will not gain much, expenses being considerable. The boat is now on the beach, and nearly dry at low water; and workmen are employed taking out the engine. On Friday last, precisely nine months had elapsed from the date of the accident.

The wreck and appointments of the Comet were sold at auction in August.

Comet steam boat, hull and machinery for sale. The hull of the Comet of Fort-William, with appurtenaces connected therewith, as now lying on the shore at Gourock, will be exposed to public sale on Wednesday 30th August. There will be sold at the same time a quantity of the boat’s furniture recovered from the wreck.

Next day, the steam engine and machinery detached from the hull of the vessel and lying within the works of Mr M‘Arthur, engineer, Glasgow, will also be exposed to public sale.

The hull of the Comet is known to be strong and well-built, and only five years old.

The steam engine has a 29 inch cylinder, every part thereof executed in the most substantial manner, and the boilers are of strong copper—their weight when new from eight to nine tons. James Macgregor, Esq., Secretary to the steam-boat owners.

The hull was purchased, most likely by John Chapman of Dumbarton and converted into a sailing vessel named Ann, trading on the Clyde and the Irish Sea. She was registered at Port Glasgow where her builder’s certificate by James Lang indicates that she was built in 1828-1829 with no mention of the Comet. Perhaps this not unusual.

However, the Ann had a number of adventures.

Scotsman 17th April 1833:—On Sunday last, a sloop, heavily laden with lime shells, was observed on the river at Dumbarton, sending forth copious wreaths of smoke, and shortly afterwards it was seen to burst and sink. It had become leaky, and the water acting upon the lime had the effect of swelling it to such a degree, that after the sides had become considerably charred, the vessel burst. The history of this vessel is very remarkable. The awful catastrophe occasioned by the Collision of the Comet and Ayr steamers on the Clyde in the month of October 1825, will not soon be forgotten. The vessel above alluded to, was the Comet, which till then sailed on the Clyde as a steamer. After lying under water for some months, it was raised, and became the property of a skipper in Dumbarton, who converted it into the sloop in question.

The Ann was raised and sold to John Smiley, a Larne merchant, and was registered at Belfast. In March 1869, she was again carrying lime and sprang a leak and was burnt at Larne. She was again rebuilt and lengthened. In 1875

“A Vessel with a History.—The Glasgow Evening Citizen says that about daylight on Wednesday morning two vessels, a smack named Cottager and the schooner Ann, broke away from a tug which had them in tow at Greenock, and both went down. The Ann is a vessel with a history. She was the Comet of Henry Bell, was afterwards converted into a schooner, and at one time took fire and was burned almost to the water’s edge. The crews of both vessels saved themselves by swimming.”—Belfast News-letter, February 27, 1875

In Notes and Queries Of August 5, 1876, there was some correspondence on the issue, pointing out that Henry Bell had nothing to do with the second Comet. Another correspondent gave an account of the Ann, also disputing the link.

“The Ann, fifty-nine tons, was originally built at Dumbarton, in 1828, by James Lang; was registered at Port Glasgow on Jan. 30, 1829, and is described as “a vessel never before registered”; John Chapman, of Dumbarton, was the sole owner. She was not sunk on Feb. 24 last, but on that day of the last year; has since been recovered, and is still afloat.”—Everard Home Coleman

However, it is clarified in the account from Sheldrake’s Gazette. Just part of the hull came from Comet.

“Fate of the First European Steamer.—A serious accident has occurred on the Clyde at Greenock. The schooner Ann, of Larne, and the sloop Cottager, of Port Glasgow, left Bowling early in the morning, in charge of a tug. Off Greenock they were thrown off, in order to proceed under sail to their destinations. A strong gale was blowing at the time, and the two vessels, being unable to clear the narrow channel, were driven with great violence against Princes Pier, Greenock. The tug immediately came to their assistance, but the Ann was found to be rapidly making water, and the sea was breaking over her. The crew, consisting of five persons, went on shore by means of a ladder. The vessel sank soon after, a few yards from the pier. The Cottager, which came in contact with the steamer Brazilian, also went down, the crew escaping with some difficulty on board the steamer. It is a curious fact that a portion of the hull of the Ann was all that remained of the steamer Comet, the first vessel which ever sailed in European waters.”—Supplement to Sheldrake’s Gazette, March 6, 1875

The Ann, probably on account of the proximity to the pier, was again raised and was eventually broken up around 1903.


  1. Roger Morrison

    April 1, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Thank you for this comprehensive account of the events. Colin Anderson from Appin, who is extensively mentioned in the report as the only passenger survivor from below decks was my Great Great Grandfather. This was discovered through family ancestry research; he had an illegitimate son with a Janet McGregor of Lismore (which is the line to me), before he emigrated to Australia and made good (mainly because his step- father was Lachlan McQuarrie from Ulva who was the Governor General of NSW at the time). Strangely, I live in Gourock in sight of the scene of these events.

  2. Massimo Corradi

    December 27, 2017

    Post a Reply

    I have a curiosity I could know how the pictures in the article were taken?
    Thank you

    • valeman

      December 30, 2017

      Post a Reply

      Hi Massimo: Most are scans of old photographs, postcards and engravings from my collection. Some are from very old books, now out of print.

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