Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Henry James Bell; the first of our Bell ancestors to emigrate to NZ

                                HENRY JAMES BELL
                                             Written by David Bell

1844 ~ 1915
HENRY JAMES BELL was born in London 1 April, 1844 to James and Elizabeth Bell. Henry's family had a history of curriers, leather workers and shoemakers going back generations in London. His father possessed a flourishing leather tannery in London as well as many properties and several ships to transport his goods across the empire.

Henry emigrated to New Zealand in January 1867 on the ship, Maori. The following is the report of the trip as published in The Daily Southern Cross newspaper, 1 February, 1867, page 8.

The good ship Maori, Captain D. F. Roberts, made the harbour early on the 24th ultimo from London, after a pleasant but somewhat protracted passage of 117 days. The Maori left Auckland on the 4th of April last, under charter to her Majesty's Government for the conveyance of detachments of the 68th and 43rd Regiments. Colonel Mould and family, and Colonel Carey, were also passengers on the occasion, and the vessel reached her destination after a pleasant run of 13 days. (Perhaps this should read 113 days as it would be impossible to sail from Auckland to London in 13 days.)

After discharging Government cargo she was laid on again for Auckland, and left a full ship on the 4th of September. Owing, however, to a continuance of adverse winds, she was unable to take her final departure until the 26th September ; and after having ridden out several gales in the Channel roadsteads, during a prevalence of the equinoxials, she passed the Isle of Wight on the day named. On the 10th of October passed and sighted the Island of Madeira, with variable westerly winds, which continued for several days afterwards. Made the passage inside the Cape de Verde Islands, and on the 4th of November, in 24' W., reached the equator 38 days out from the Isle of Wight. Had favourable winds generally, and made the Cape of Good Hope on the 4th December, 68 days out, in latitude 44-37 S. On the following day, in latitude 45' S., 21½ E she spoke to the ship Sir Harry Parkes, bound to China from London. On the same day, December 5th, at 3 p.m , fell in with an iceberg, about 270 feet in height, in shape resembling a sugar-loaf laid longitudinally. The vessel was then in latitude 45 37 S., longitude 112.20. At 5.30 the same evening passed another iceberg, apparently of smaller dimensions ; and on the following day, in latitude 46 43 S., longitude 118 19, spoke the barque Monkchester, from London to Brisbane, 78 days out, the captain of which reported having seen the ice alluded to. On December 7, in latitude 46-29 S., longitude 122 34 E., passed more ice, and saw the last on the 30th of December, at 7 p.m., in longitude 126 48, latitude 46 41. On the 5th instant, rounded Tasmania in 46 S., 14740 E:, having experienced a succession of easterly winds since the 14th of December, when the vessel was in 33 51 S., 171 15 E. Sighted the Three Kings on the 17th instant, and had variable winds down the coast. The Maori brings a full general cargo and 77 passenger, and reports no sickness during the passage. On the 18th of November, the wife of Mr. George Stapp gave birth to a male child. The passengers were in medical charge of Dr. C. F. Lethbridge. The Maori is again freighted by Messrs. Shaw, Savill, and Co., and comes consigned to Messrs. Cruickshank, Smart, and Co.

 Passengers-  Saloon :
 Miss Coumbe
 Miss F. Hemming, Major Fitzgerald (68th L.I.),
 Mr. 'Thomas Steele, Mr. McDermott (M.S.S.)
 Mr. Charles W. Alexander
 Mr. Wilmoit Holworrthy (M.S.S.), Edith, Winifred, and Charles Holworthy
 Miss Ellen Lynch
 Mr. T. G., Sarah, Sarah E., Julia C, Joseph, and Eva Stack
 Mr. Thomas and Emilie Davies
 Mr. W. C. Bailey
 Mr. Edward and Harriet John

 Second cabin and steerage :
 Elizabeth Seates
 Charles and Rhoda Buckland
 Mary Melville
 Herman Fairfield
 Ann Gillespie
 Helen Morrison (2)
 Henry, Jane, and John Smith
 Ellen, Charles, and Sarah Hardwick
 Mary A., Eliza, and Sarah Ellis
 William Hopkins
 Solomon and John Salmon
 John Tootel
 Henry J. Bell
 James Koulston, William Hammond
 Michael and Elizabeth Petereit
 Francis Hemming
 John Green
 Lewis Morris
 Sarah and Jane Lee
 Charles Combs
 William and Henry Davy
 Gilbert Morrison
 Ann Harvey
 George, Mary A., Alfreld, and George Stapp
 Richard Cameron
 James O'Brien
 Ann Baileys
 Robert, Harriet, Mary A., Gertie, and Arthur  Adlington
 Walter, Susan, Sarah A., Robert, Margaret, and Henry Adlington
 William White
 Total : English, 48 adults, 15 children, 5 infants ; Scotch, 1, Irish, 6 foreigners, 2; grand total, 77— equal to  64½ statute adults. The following are the trades and occupations of the passengers ;— 5 farmers, 2 clerks, 1 shopman, 1 ironmonger, 1 carder, 1 miller, 1 toolmaker, 1 calico printer, 1 carpenter, 3 farm labourers, 5 servants, 2 labourers, 1 mechanic, 1 miner, 2 merchants, 1 miller and farmer, 2 officers, 1 Government officer, 3 gentlemen, 1 settler.

His journey, as taken from these notes would have been as follows:

1. The ship, Maori, left London for Auckland, New Zealand on 4 September, 1866, carrying cargo, military personnel, and an assortment of emigrants of varying trades, of which Henry James Bell was one, probably classified as a merchant. There were 77 passengers in total.

2. Bad weather stalled the departure and they had to take shelter for twenty two days before finally leaving on 26 September, 1867, passing the Isle of Wight the same day. It must have been a great relief to finally be on their way; twenty two days is a long wait and the incident shows how dependent the emigrants were on the elements; not like today when we get impatient when our flights are delayed for even an hour or two.

3. After fifteen days at sea they passed the Islands of Madeira on the tenth of October, 1866.

4. On the fourth of November the Maori and it's passengers passed the Cape Verde Islands and then reached the equator three days later on the seventh.

5. They rounded the Cape of Good Hope on the fourth of December, 1866.

6. Large Icebergs were sighted on the sixth of December continuing to the end of the month. One can only imagine that to Henry and the other passengers the icebergs must have been both a spectacular sight and a cause for concern; a collision with one of these crystalline wonders could easily send their small ship to the bottom of the sea.

7. On the fifth of January, 1867, they rounded Tasmania and sighted the Three Kings twelve days later on the seventeenth.

8. The ship's report doesn't say the day it arrived at Auckland but it would have be on or about the seventeenth of January, 1867, after a journey of five months.    

Henry settled in Auckland and established a successful tannery business at Whau Creek, Avondale. He married Sarah Ann Absolum in Parnell, Auckland, in 1872.

Sarah Ann (Absolum) Bell, 1851 ~ 1905
The lure of good land proved irresistible to Henry and he later sold his flourishing business by auction and moved to the Waikato where he purchased 'Queenwood', a property of around one thousand acres situated at Mangapiko along the main road to Te Awamutu and stretching back southward to Frontier Road.

While at Queenwood, his parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand, arriving on the ship, Fernglen in October, 1880. The following is the Fernglen's passenger list showing that James and Elizabeth were on board.

19 JULY 1880 – 21 OCTOBER 1880

The Fernglen.

From the Bay of Plenty Times 5 October 1880.

ADAMI (sic)  George H  Saloon
BEAMAN  Arthur H  Second Cabin
BEAMS  John  Saloon
BEAMS  Sarah Miss  Saloon
BEAMS  Mary Miss  Saloon
BEAMS  Helen Miss  Saloon
BELL  James  Steerage
BELL  Elizabeth  Steerage
BIRKETT  Joseph  Steerage
COX  Edwin  Saloon
COX  Mrs  Saloon
COX  Jessie Miss  Saloon
COX  Herbert  Saloon
COX  Norman  Saloon
HARRISON  James  Steerage
HARRISON  Mary  Steerage
HARRISON  Annie  Steerage
HARRISON  Albert  Steerage
HARRISON  James  Steerage
MYLES  James P  Steerage
MYLES  Bertha J  Steerage
MYLES  Margaret E D  Steerage
MYLES  Percy  Steerage
SCOTT  Robert  Steerage
SUMMERS  Margaret  Steerage
WHATFORD  Arthur  Steerage
WOODCOCK  Emma  Steerage

James and Elizabeth (Jones) Bell, Henry's parents.
His father would have been around sixty five at the time and had abandoned his leather business after the parliament seized the land his tannery was on for a public purpose (probably to build a road), and in those days there was no such thing as compensation. Prior to this setback he had the contract to supply the British forces in the Crimea with all their leather needs. Unfortunately, one big shipment went down in a storm on the way to the Crimea costing him dearly. He was striving to recover from that loss when the Parliament seized the land his business was on, effectively driving him out of business. One could also assume that the injustice of the whole matter left him with a bitter taste in his mouth about life in the old country, giving him the impetus to seek a new start with his son, Henry, in New Zealand.

Henry's parents, James and Elizabeth Bell, joined Henry and Sarah at Queenwood where they saw out their days, both passing on in 1901, eleven years after their arrival in 1880. One would hope they enjoyed their old age on the Queenwood farm with Henry and his wife Sarah. Henry and Sarah were married in 1872.

While at Mangapiko Henry James became an active participant in the Waipa community and as a member of the Waipa County he was a prime mover in the construction of the all steel American bridge which once spanned the Mangapiko stream at Pirongia, a big matter for the times.

He lived at Queenswood for many years before moving back to Avondale, Auckland, sometime after the death of his wife, Sarah, on the 24th of October, 1905.

The Bell Family. Back row from left to right: Harold, Henry, Sarah, Clara, Walter.
Middle row: Kate, Elizabeth, James, Alice.
Front row:Ernest, Frank. 
Henry lived at Avondale until his own death on the 21 November, 1915, aged seventy one years. He had remarried to his housekeeper but at his death was buried at the Pirongia cemetery alongside his first wife, Sarah, who had preceded him by ten years. His death notice in the New Zealand Herald, dated 22 November, 1915, is brief:

BELL-On November 21, at his late residence, Rosebank Road, Avondale, Henry James Bell, late of Te Awamutu, in his 72nd year. The funeral will leave his late residence for Pirongia cemetery, tomorrow (Tuesday), at 8:30 a.m.

While at Queenswood one of his sons, Walter Henry, married Adele, the daughter of Jean (John) Aubin who owned the local mercantile store in the nearby township of Alexandra, now called Pirongia. Walter had worked Queenwood for years but at Henry's death he was left out of any inheritance by his father's second wife and lost any entitlement to the farm. He eventually went into partnership with his father-in-law at the store. Later, he bought the store and his family ran it for three generations thereafter. It was famously known in the district as 'Bell's Store'.

1. Writings of Reg Bell, grandson of Henry James.
2. Article in Timespanner, (on internet) by Nicola Bell.
3. The Bells of Pirongia, a family history compiled by Robin Wood, daughter of Reg Bell. Published 2001.
4. New Zealand Shipping Records (found online)

Below: Headstone James Bell                                   Headstone Sarah Ann (Absolum) Bell
Pirongia cemetery,                                                    Pirongia cemetery.

1 comment:

  1. Dear David,

    I am interested in Reginald Bell, as the collector of a most unusual fungus (a species of Ganoderma) that is only known from his 3 specimens dating from 1969-1972. The species has not been seen since. As a researcher of fungi, and particularly interested in fungal conservation, the fungus found by Reg (and reported to GB Rawlings at Forest Research Institute) is one of New Zealand's rarest species. Along with research colleagues, I am keen to try to re-collect this species, by finding those who knew Reg and who might recall (albeit so long ago) where he found the fungus. Can you please contact me at

    Peter Buchanan, Fungal Scientist, Landcare Research, Auckland