Saturday, August 17, 2013

Souvenir Saturday : Captain William Bell 1807-1869

Born 2 October 1807 at Glasson, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumberland, and baptized in the parish of St Michael’s, Bell was the son of Thomas Head Bell (1784-1872) and Elizabeth, b Millican or Milliken (1785-1867). His grandparents were William Bell and Barbara Head.

Bell’s baptismal entry does not include the middle name, Douglas, which appears in most of his colonial records.

William Bell married Mary Ann Caithness at Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) on 29 June, 1838. By this time he was master of the schooner Conch engaged in coastal trade in Cape waters. In recognition of his services at Natal in 1842 he was appointed Harbour Master at that port in 1844 but relinquished the position when no satisfactory agreement could be reached with the Government as to his duties and salary. He became Port Captain of Natal in 1850 and remained so until his death on 10 April 1869.

During his time Natal was at the height of her settler era and Bell oversaw ship arrivals and departures; many of his handwritten passenger lists survive as archival records. Between 1850 and 1863 he witnessed and compiled reports on over fifteen shipwrecks within and outside the Bay and as a member of the Natal Harbour Board was closely involved in the investigations into their causes. He was a member of the committee which reported to the Natal Legislative Council on the continued efforts to improve the harbour, as well as accompanying Dr Sutherland, the Government Geologist and Surveyor-General, on an expedition along the North Coast to find and chart suitable harbours or landing places.

Bell and Mary Ann had twelve children, whose descendants are now spread across the globe. 

Bell's mariner's telescope, seen under his arm in the photo portrait,
was of brass, by Dolland.

1 comment:


An impressive historical figure, mirrored in his portrait. Ports were the gateways to the Colony's future. This man played a key role.