Henry Bell was born at Torphichen Mill near Linlithgow, Glasgow on 7th April 1767 the fifth child of Patrick Bell and Margaret Easton. He grew up in a family of Millwrights and builders giving him an early introduction to mechanics and construction. He started work as a mason working for his uncle at Jay Mill and then working on ship modelling for Shaw and Hart at Borrowstonness. In 1787 he worked with James Inglis to gain a thorough knowledge of engineering then on to work in London with the famous Mr. Rennie.
In 1800 and again in 1803 he tried to persuade the Admiralty of the importance of applying steam power to propelling of vessels which would allow them to sail against the winds and tides which restrict sailing vessels. On both occasions Lord Melville of the Admiralty rejected his applications saying that they had no faith in steam navigation. Strangely Lord Nelson thought differently and was concerned that if Great Britain did not adopt steam power other nations would. Indeed this did happen with America and Mr. Fulton putting Henry Bell’s plans into reality. Many newspaper editors tried to rally in support of Bell against the Admiralty as well as leading industrialist such as Thomas Telford and Isambard Brunel.
Disappointed by this Bell started his own steamboat company and built the ‘Comet’ in 1812 to run on the Clyde. In 1819 the 'Comet' was improved and ran between Oban and Fort William but by 1820 it was shipwrecked and 'Comet11' was built only to collide with the 'Ayr' with severe loss of life. After this last disaster he gave up ship building and in 1830 died aged 62.