Click for larger imageThe first steamer to run commercially in Europe was built on the Clyde in 1811-12 to the order of Henry Bell (1767-1830), who had submitted proposals to the British Admiralty in 1800 for the steam propulsion of vessels. The Comet had a 4-h.p engine driving two side paddle wheels; on her trials in August 1812 she steamed from Greenock to Glasgow, about 20 miles, in three and a half hours. John Knox (1778-1845) the Scottish artist painted this view The Paddle Steamer Comet on the Clyde, 1812 (left) from Dalnotter Hill of the historic voyage of the tiny Comet along the Clyde between the tall sailing ships.

Click for larger imageBell in 1819 used Comet to establish steam communications between the West Highlands and Glasgow. The Margery, launched in Dumbarton in 1814 was the first 'steam packet' to be seen on the River Thames in January 1815, astonishing the crews of the ships anchored in the harbour and the London public. She maintained a public service between London and Gravesend, until she was sold to a Paris operator, who renamed her Elise. She sailed from Newhaven on the 17th March 1816 and after a stormy voyage across the Channel reached Le Havre after 17 hours at sea, the first paddle steamer to make the crossing. She then sailed down the Seine to receive a tumultuous welcome on arrival in Paris, the occasion being celebrated with the issue of a coloured print inscribed; Arrivée de Londres à Paris le 29 Mars 1816 du bateau à vapeur 'Elise' (above right). She remained there to carry passengers along the Seine between Rouen and Elbeuf. By now in England passenger steamboats were plying on the Thames, Mersey, Trent, Tyne, Ouse and Humber rivers, and there was a ferry service between Scotland and Ireland.

In 1816 William Wager crossed the North Sea from Margate to Rotterdam in his steamboat Defiance; this had the new feature of a permanent awning structure abaft the funnel to provide sheltered deck space at the stern for the passengers, an improvement introduced by Watt's son James on his steamboat Caledonia, (1815). King Willem welcomed and honoured Wager, but refused to grant him the concession to operate four steamboats on the Dutch inland waterways, largely in response to the objections of the city councils of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They feared the effect this fast and comfortable transport would have on established stagecoach and horse-drawn passenger-boat services (described as the 'trekvaart' in the essay on Rivers and Canals).

In 1821 the 88-ton Rob Roy with a 30 h.p engine established a regular Dover-Calais service taking about 2 hrs.45 mins. Only two years later the Chain Pier at Brighton (see left, Turner, The Chain Pier, Brighton) was built to provide a landing stage for the steamboat Swift (80 h.p) to operate a bi-weekly service to Dieppe.

Click for larger imageThe first iron steamboat was built in 1821 by Aaron Manby (1776-1850), an iron-master from near Tipton, in association with Captain, later Admiral Sir Charles Napier. The hull was fabricated in sections at the Horseley ironworks, which were taken to London and assembled at the Surrey docks. The 116 ton Aaron Manby crossed the Channel to Le Havre, thus becoming the first iron-built vessel ever to put to sea, and proceeded up the Seine to arrive in Paris on the 10th June 1822, (right).

It provided a steamship service between Paris and Le Havre, and was the precursor of two further iron steamboats, built by Manby in his new ironworks built on the Seine. The vessel remained in working condition until 1842. The river Seine service was thereby dominated by British-built steamboats, a source of some pride to Turner, who included them in many of his pictures and sketches.