Fulton was by no means the inventor, but he was the successful introducer of steam-boats. He had frequently inspected the Charlotte Dundas of Symington, while she was lying at Lock Sixteen ; and had adopted Symington's invention. The engine itself he purchased of Messrs. Boulton and Watt, it is said under an assumed name ; and for the forms and proportions of his vessel he was indebted to the calculations of Colonel Beaufoy. After the Clermont there followed in succession from Brown's Yard, the Rariton, the Car of Neptune, the Paragon, and the Fire Fly. Before his death, which took place in 1815, Fulton had the satisfaction of seeing steam navigation introduced in both the old and new hemispheres.
Thirty years after his first experiment on the Hudson it was computed that 1300 steam-boats had been built in the United States, of which 260 had been lost by various accidents. The first explosion, an example since so widely and fearfully followed in America, is believed to have occurred in the Washington on the Ohio River, in the year 1816. A profound thought, issuing from the secluded study of some deep thinker, ofttimes has conferred more benefits upon the world than the life-performance of its most energetic actors. Yet to a casual observer the quiet scholar would be an object of incomparably inferior interest to the successful practitioner. So Symington's Charlotte Dundas, laid up at Lock Sixteen, might have been regarded by careless spectators as a useless abortion. This vessel was, however, the germ of steam navigation in America as well as in Europe. We have seen that the first practical American steam vessel, the Clermont, originated in Fulton's inspection of the Charlotte Dundas, and in like manner the first boat of this description used for the service of the public in Great Britain, was built by Bell, after the same model. Indeed, Symington's vessel is pronounced " superior in its mechanical arrangements to either Fulton's Clermont or Bell's Comet." It would appear that the American was indebted to Mr. Bell for the attraction of his attention to this successful pursuit.
The latter had fruitlessly endeavoured to excite the interest of the British Government in his experiments; first in 1800, afterwards in 1803, and again in 1813. Conscious of the valuable results which would accrue from the employment of steam as a ship-propelling power, he explained his object to many
foreign governments, including that of the United governments, and the last-named government, when he explained the great utility that steam navigation would be to them on their rivers, appointed Mr. Fulton, as he states in a letter written in 1814, to John Macneil, Esq., of Glasgow, to correspond with him ; so in that way," he concludes, " the Americans got their insight from your humble servant, Henry Bell. This gentleman, a native of Helensburgh, completed his first vessel on the 18th of January, 1812. He built it of 40 feet keel, and 10½ feet beam, and fitted it with an engine of three horse power. She was named the Comet (because a great comet had appeared that year in the north-west of Scotland), and was established on the Clyde as a passenger-boat between Glasgow and Greenock. At first the speculation did not prove very profitable to the proprietors, the expenses being scarcely cleared during the first year for so great," says Bell, was the prejudice against steam-boat navigation, by the hue and cry raised by the fly-boat and coach proprietors, that for the first six months very few would venture in her. But in the course of the winter of 1812, as she had plied all the year, she began to gain credit ; as passengers were carried twenty-four miles as quick as by the coaches. and at a third of the expense, besides being warm and comfortable.
But even after all, I was a great loser that year. In the second year I made her a jaunting boat all over the coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland, to show the public the advantage of steam navigation over the other mode of sailing." The voyage was accomplished in three hours and a half, and the fares demanded were three shillings for the second, and four for the best cabin. After the efficiency of the Comet became apparent, the numbers of travellers increased ; for whereas previously eighty up and eighty down formed the average numbers of passengers, four years afterwards, as Stuart informs us, " it was not unusual for five or six hundred persons daily to enjoy the healthful amusement of a water excursion, and the enchanting beauties of the Clyde."
Emulation was soon excited by this success in many parts of the kingdom ; the efficacy of steam-boats was fully established, and they quickly multiplied. In 1812 there was " but one in the United Kingdom, the solitary Comet: in 1820 there were 43 ; in 1830 there were 315 ; in 1840 they numbered 824, and in 1848 they had increased to 1100 ; when their aggregate length, it has been calculated, was 125,283 feet; their aggregate breadth 19,741 feet, their aggregate tonnage 255,371 tons, and their aggregate horse-power 92,862".-
SG Page 203 ; 1851.
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