|The first text is paraphrased from the classic book ‘Echoes of Old Clyde Paddle Wheels’, written by Andrew McQueen almost a century after the disaster, in 1924. McQueen tells us that the Clyde River steamer services were remarkably free from serious accidents in the 60 years up to 1924 but in the period prior to that some significant catastrophes had led to serious loss of life. McQueen states that the most appalling tragedy happened in the 14th year of steamship operation on the Clyde. “The victim was the second Comet, a boat which Henry Bell, with the financial assistance of a number of wealthy gentlemen, had built in 1821 to carry on the Highland service after the wreck of his original vessel (The world famous ps Comet of 1812 that was wrecked at Craignish Point in the infamous Dorus Mhor near Crinan on 20th December 1820). The second Comet was a much larger and more powerful boat than the first. Far better fitted to face the weather to be expected on the station, and she appears to have plied with considerable success. The Caledonian Canal being opened in an unfinished condition in 1822 afforded a water passage to Inverness, and the steamer’s journeys were prolonged to that town instead of terminating as the had previously done at Fort William.
On the morning of 18th October 1825 the Comet sailed from Inverness arriving at Fort William same evening, her passengers disembarking there for the night. Next Evening she reached Crinan where the passengers were again put ashore, to rejoin the steamer the following morning. Owing to some unforeseen delay, Lochgilphead was not reached till ten o’clock, by which time the water was too low to enter Loch Fyne, so that she was compelled to wait until six o’clock in the evening. A detour to Rothesay for the purpose of obliging two passengers who wished to be landed there caused further delay. So that it was nearly 2 o’clock in the morning of 21st when the steamer rounded the Cloch and stood up towards Gourock. The moon which had lighted her way up firth had now set, and the passengers, after a dance on deck, had nearly all gone below. The steamer was carrying no lights, and a jib which had been set interfered with the view ahead, so that the ‘Ayr’ steamer, making her way down past Kempock Point, neither saw nor was seen by the Comet in time to avoid a collision at full speed. The Comet immediately began to fill and sank within three minutes, taking with her the majority of her passengers and crew. The Ayr at once put about and returned to Greenock with no attempt to save the drowning victims and her skipper, Thomas McClelland, has been much censured for his inhuman conduct, but, as his own steamer was only kept afloat with great difficulty and reached Greenock in a sinking condition, it is possible that his apparently cowardly action was the means of averting greater loss of life.” Although he was exonerated of blame at a subsequent inquiry, he emigrated soon after. “The death roll was about 70, the exact number never being ascertained, as no particular note had been kept of passengers landing or embarking at intermediate ports. “ McQueen concluded his description of the tragedy by stating “The hull of the Comet was later raised, but found only fit for breaking up.”
"From the Glasgow Courier of this day, 22nd October 1825 -
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 21st October 1825, when, off Kempock Point, she was suddenly Struck by the Steamer 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 Steamer 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 instantaneously, when above 70 passengers were, in a moment, precipitated into the deep, into Eternity. Ten only are saved of above 80, which were believed to be on board. Amongst those who 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 person in the superior ranks of life.
Twelve dead bodies had been washed ashore at an early hour on Friday morning, amongst those were two genteely dressed females, two black servants, and Mrs Wright, widow of Mr Archibald Wright, Druggist in Glasgow. In the pockets of the body of a gentleman washed ashore, £70 was found.
Among those who perished, and whose names we can state with authority is Mr Graham, of Corpach, Mr McAllistair, 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 awl 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 forsaid Mr Anderson, and the Engineman, Captain McInnes, the Pilot, the Carpenter, a man passenger, from Fort George, a young girl, 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."
Moir & Crawford’s ‘ Clyde shipwrecks ‘ gives the following additional information
An attempt was made to raise the Comet in December 1825 but it was hampered for various factors. The wreck was finally beached on 21st July 1826.
Capt Duncan McInnes of the Comet was charged with culpable homicide, culpable neglect and reckless command. He was jailed for 3 months.