Sinking of the Comet

On this day in 1825, the P(addle) S(teamer) Comet II sank half a mile off-shore after colliding with the Ayr near Gourock, Scotland. The Comet had no lights, both lookouts were apparently otherwise occupied, and by the time the boats spotted each other, it was too late to avoid a collision. The Comet went down in 3 – 4 minutes, killing 62 of its 80 or so passengers, among them Charles MacAlister of Strathaird, aged 32, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh. Charles was the 3rd of three brothers to die within 15 months. (His nephew John MacAlister also perished, but apparently his dog survived: 16 year old Jane Munro reported that a dog “belonging, it is believed, to Mr M’Allister” came up beside her in the water and “materially aided” in her own survival.)

Although a nearly identical collision had sunk the Catherine only three years earlier, the ‘quality’ of the passengers lost with the Comet meant that a much greater fuss was made over this incident. It was immediately suggested that in light of the rapid speeds with which these boats travelled – up to 10 miles an hour! – greater regulation was called for (not to mention better lighting), and as a result, steam travel on the Clyde did become safer. For the Strathaird family, however, this was probably little comfort.

You can read more about this incident at:

Original newspaper reports are also available on-line: 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011


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