Inventor of the Steam Boat - Henry Bell, has died.
12th September, 1831. The Sydney Herald
In February last, at Helensburgh, a romantic village on the Clyde, in the West of Scotland, the celebrated Henry Bell, one of the most unassuming, and inoffensive of men; but, at the same time, one, whose influence on general society, has surpassed that of all his contemporaries.
Since the days of James Watt, the unrivalled improver of the steam engine, no man could compete with him in his claims to universal respect, as the person who first applied a power to machinery, which has produced a more decided change on social intercourse, than any other agent with which we are acquainted.
To him, beyond dispute, the world is indebted, not only for the introduction of steam navigation into Britain, but indirectly, also, for its first successful application to purposes of commerce in North America.
In the year 1776, a steam boat model was erected in Dumfriesshire; in 1786, another was erected on the Forth, and in 1801, another on the Forth and Clyde Canal; all of which were subsequently laid aside.
Bell, and Fulton, men of great practical experience, were both employed in the vicinity of the latter, and were familiar with the principles and machinery.
Fulton went to America, and prosecuted the subject in the United States; but, being still unable to bring his ideas into action, he wrote to Bell, for the working drawings of the machinery, which were sent to him; and in 1807, the Chancellor Livingstone was launched, and steam navigation was secured for ever to society.
But it should be known, in honor of Bell, that long before this period, and so early as 1799 and 1800, that gentleman constructed, at his own expense, and transmitted to Lord Melville, then at the head of the Admiralty, a beautiful model of a steam vessel, 27 feet long, with a statement of its probable utility and success.
No attention was paid to the subject; and the invention was in danger of being lost to the world, like many other excellent inventions, for want of a patron.
Fortunately, Bell's drawings, &c., were sent across the Atlantic, and his views were realised. Genius will not be repressed, though it may be chilled by neglect.
If overlooked in one country, it will demand universal respect, by bursting forth in another.
The success which attended the efforts of Fulton, induced Henry Bell to turn his attention to his former favourite pursuits.
At considerable expense, and without much assistance, he erected in 1812, upon the Clyde, a small vessel, called the Comet, and furnished her with an engine of four horse power.
The attempt was successful, and she became the parent of all others in Britain, and in Europe. But as Bell was of an easy and careless temperament, in all matters connected with life, though an enthusiast in mechanics, he made no efforts to secure the invention by patent.
He took no interest in the numerous companies that started up on all sides, to benefit by his invention. He contented himself with the praise, while others enjoyed the profit. In a few years, even the praise was withheld, and Bell sunk into indigence and obscurity.
We next find him, retiring to the picturesque village of Helensburgh, on the sea coast, a general resort of valetudinarians.
His mind ever inventive, was set to work, to procure hot, vapour, and medical baths, the first of the kind introduced into that quarter of the kingdom, and upon a new construction.
In 1816, some attempts were made to give the honor of steam navigation to Mr. Symington.
Bell published a spirited and luminous letter on the subject, which was followed a few days after by a second letter, in which he detailed the process of the invention.
Attempts were then made to secure a Government pension for him, but they were unsuccessful, which is to be regretted, as it showed that the Ministry were either unacquainted with the invention, or could not foresee its subsequent and rapid extension.
In 1827 and 1828, powerful efforts were made by several leading merchants in Glasgow, to procure subscriptions for the purchase of an annuity, to enable Bell to spend the evening of his days in ease and competence.
Subscriptions were in a short time procured from all parts of the British Empire, America, the East, and West Indies, &c. One hundred pounds were sub- scribed at one meeting of the gentlemen of Argyle, which County had received more benefit from the invention, than any other in Britain. The Government itself was roused from its inattention, and a handsome sum was added by it to the fund.
Since that period, Bell has lived in retirement from the world. Simple and unassuming, frank and communicative, he was universally respected.
His knowledge of mechanics was unbounded and exhaustless. In other matters, he was simple as a child. Without pretensions to literature, he was an honor to his country.
It seems unaccountable in the ways of Providence, that inventions the most splendid, whose limits no mere man can estimate, should be the result of human ingenuity, working on matter, and combining along with perseverance, a restless spirit of quenchless enquiry.
A casual observer sees no object worthy pursuit or witnesses difficulties that deter from their prosecution.
The true friends of man, are such persons as Watt, or Bell, or Davy, who produce more permanent and beneficial effects upon society, with a pint of fluid, a handful of carbon, or a few inches of wire gauze, than all the conquerors or lawgivers that ever toiled for the race.
It is a matter of exultation to those interested in the case, that the West of Scotland, within the range of a few miles, has produced such men as Watt and Bell, who have carried the power of steam to perfection; and though destitute of wealth and patronage, have secured a fame that is imperishable.
They have changed the aspect of maritime commerce, (and will eventually change that of maritime warfare), of internal traffic, national resources, and personal comforts, by the simplest means, to a greater extent, than all other men of the age have done, an age otherwise abounding in men of the most splendid talents, perseverance, and knowledge.
(From a Correspondent.)