Biography of Major Thomas Bell

by Carol Wood (E-mail: Carol Wood not available)


Thomas Bell was born 14 Dec 1782 at Dunse Berwickshire Scotland (now called Duns) and his parents were William Bell and Janet nee Corsnip. Presumably Thomas Bell had a reasonable education somewhere as he was said to be a civil engineer when in the Army. Thomas joined the 48th Regiment at the age of 17 yrs as a ensign. He was at the blockcade of Malta. In 1801 he was promoted to Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain in 1805 just before he married. Thomas Bell married on 19 January, 1806 at Hints, Staffordshire to Mary Caroline Bourne. The couple had 2 sons and 5 daughters.

He was wounded at Albuera in 1811. For commanding the regiment at Salamanca in Spain, the Pyrenees, Niville & Orthos in 1813 he was promoted to Major. Appointed CB (Commander of the Military Order of the Bath) and awarded 4 medals and the gold cross. He arrived in Sydney from Ireland on the Lloyds in 1817 as commander of a detachment of the 48th Regiment; in 1818 he was sent to Hobart in the Lady Castlereagh to command the military garrison there and was appointed a justice of the peace, engineer and inspector of public works.

Mary Bell was heavily pregnant when she boarded the ship in Ireland and gave birth to their daughter Margaret off the Island of Madiera soon after sailing. There is no record of any other children being on board the ship with them but it is thought the two older children were in Scotland staying with relatives and attending school and two younger children accompanied them. There were 2 more daughters born in Tasmania.

In his position as inspector of public works he is thought to have designed the Richmond Bridge and overseen the construction of Salamanca Place in Hobart which he named. He was also involved with construction of the notorious convict barracks on Sarah Island. He left Australia in 1824 to serve in Madras, India. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in Sept 1827 while serving in Madras where he stayed until 1829. He retired from the Army in 1843 at the age of 61 years and lived for the rest of his life in Devon, England.

Thomas Bell was given a grant of 800 acres on the Jordan River between Apsley and Bothwell and called it by the rather bizarre name of Four Square Gallows Farm. He then got another 1200 acres north of the first lot as a grant from Governor Brisbane. This further grant went against the rules instituted some years previously which prevented land grants being made to Army officers. However Thomas Bell was held in such esteem by the authorities they apparently made an exception in his case. In 1828, while he was in India, he purchased another 1000 acres.

The Governor of Tasmania wrote in his diary on Thursday 7 June 1821.

Set out after Breakfast in company with Major Bell, Dr. Redfern & Mr. Evans, to inspect the New Road now constructing thro' the Settlement of New Norfolk to the District named Macquarie -- and also to see the Farms on either side of the River. ---We rode as far as Mr. Thompson's Farm in the Macquarie District, about Ten miles from Elizabeth Town -- and then returned Home to Dinner. ---I named a lofty Hill opposite to Mr. Thompson's Farm "Mount Bell", and that part of the New Road constructed in the face of the Hill along the River Derwent, commencing at Elizabeth Town, I have named "Bell's Terrace", both in honor of Major Bell; great credit being due to this officer (in his Capacity of Engineer) for his zeal, activity, and skill in planning and constructing this and the other new Roads here and near Hobart Town.

Thomas Bell was still the owner of the Tasmanian property at the time of his death in 1866 and it is believed one of his sons and a cousin may have been living permanently in Tasmania to administer the property.

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Updated 18-Jul-2008