H M S Comet


'Mr Lang was the first to design a steam vessel for the Royal Navy and the Comet

paddlewheel steam vessel of 80 horse power built under his superintendence at

Deptford is still in the service . . . ' 
The Gentleman's magazine, 1853

'It was not till 1822 that the Admiralty indulged in a steamship of their own,

when Oliver Lang, the master shipwright of Deptford, built for the navy a small

tug or tender, which, strange to say, their Lordships named the "Comet", as

another mysterious visitor had crossed the heavens since the one from which

Bell named his little pioneer ten years before.'

The screw propeller: and other competing instruments for marine propulsion,

Albert Edward Seaton,1909



page 330

LAUNCH OF THE ROYAL ALBERT. -- The Royal Albert, screw three-decker, 131 guns, was

launched at Woolwich dockyard at one p.m. on the 13th inst., in the presence of the

Queen, Prince Consort, the Royal Family, the members of both Houses of Parliament,

and an unusual assemblage of the aristocracy and general public. A ship launch is an

ordinary matter of every day occurrence; not so, however, a ship of war, and that ship

a first class three-decker, screw-propelled, and in the presence of the Sovereign and

her family. There will arise in the minds of the reflective among the myriads of

spectators who thronged to see this grand national spectacle, some peculiar thoughts

anent the rise and progress of naval (steam) shipbuilding, on contemplating the

stupendous floating structure presented by the Royal Albert, when compared with

such vessels as her designer and builder (the late Mr Oliver Lang) first tried his hand

upon in the shape of a steam man-of-war - the Comet, now in commission, and but

last week sent round to Portsmouth. The Comet, Lightning, and Meteor (sister vessels)

were the first steam vessels that ever appeared in the British Navy, and the Comet was

the first that ever carried a pennant. They were constructed by Mr. Oliver Lang, when

Assistant-Surveyor of the Navy in the year 1820, the three Surveyors who were then in

office having refused to take the responsibility of constructing a steam vessel for sea

The three vessels above named were all built at Deptford in the course of

about three years, from Mr Lang's own drawings and plans of fittings, without the

interference of any one, solely under his own direction and personal superintendence.

We subjoin their respective dimensions from Admiralty returns to the House of Commons

moved for by Sir Charles Napier in May, 1846:--

                                                                     *This vessel has been broken up now some time since

Now contrast the size and character of these vessels (and none afloat have ever done

their duly better - very few so well) with the enormous fabric just launched, the work

of the same handicraftsman :--

 Engines by John Penn and Son on their patent trunk principle of 500 horse power


HMS Comet (1831) 

This, the tenth ship to carry the name HMS Comet, was a

3-gun, wooden paddle vessel.

Built at Deptford Dockyard, launched 23-May-1822, 115ft long,

21ft wide and of 238 tons builders measurement.

The first steam vessel built by the Royal Navy but did not

appear on the Navy List until 1831.

Broken up at Portsmouth 1868.

[I have found no pictures of the Comet, but it would have looked much like the stylised early paddle steamer on the right.]


Canadian Military Heritage

In military circles there was initial scepticism that these small steamships could constitute a serious threat. 

The admirals of the Royal Navy were particularly doubtful about the innovation, but in 1822 they were

convinced by the arguments of the famous inventor Marc Isambard Brunel and ordered construction of the

first Royal Navy steamship, the HMS
Comet.  Like all boats of its type, it was a small sailing ship, in the

centre of which was an engine and a tall chimney stack, and it was propelled by paddle wheels on either

side of the ship.