After establishing William Bell's place of origin I visited the parish of Bowness-on-Solway and found St Michael's Church where Bell had been baptised and where various other Bell events had taken place. I'd heard there was a memorial stone in the churchyard of St Michael's, commemorating members of the Bell family. I searched for and eventually found this stone, in a reasonable state of preservation. The inscription read as follows:
Erected to the Memory of Elizabeth Bell of Drumburgh who died Feb 27 1867 aged 82 years Thomas Bell, who died Decr 10th 1872, aged 88 years Also their son William who died at Port Natal South Africa, April 3rd 1869 Aged 63 years Also their son John who died at Port Carlisle Decr 17th 1880 aged 63 years Also Elizabeth Bell of Drumburgh Who died December 4th 1906 aged 81 years.’Elizabeth and Thomas Bell were William Bell's parents. William is mentioned as having died at Port Natal - a useful detail to find in a memorial inscription - but the date of his death should be April 10 1869.
The existence of a brother named John, who apparently died at Port Carlisle in 1880, was news to me. So far the identity of the last-mentioned Elizabeth Bell of Drumburgh remains uncertain.
Finding the stone wasn't the end of the journey, though, as the details shown in the inscription had to be checked. Next stop was Cumbria Record Office, then in the Castle at Carlisle, where I discovered that Bowness parish records began in 1642. The number of Bell families in the area were legion and hours of research were needed to identify the 'right' Bells. It's probable that links between these families will emerge as the search continues.