Major "Big John" Bell
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John Bell - "Big John" Bell -  (b.1821 Middlebie Hall, Dumfries) came to Australia in 1838 and lived in Van Diemen's Land, probably with his uncle(?) Captain John Bell of the "Minerva" and "Caledonia". Captain Bell settled in Hobart, Tasmania in 1827 with his wife. On 14 August 1840, a John Bell arrived in Launceston from South Australia aboard the "Minerva", a 99 ton schooner. Cargo on board included sundry cargo and beef.  Presumably he was accompanying cargo for Captain John Bell who was then the owner of at least 10 000 acres at "Annandale", Tasmania. 

By 1842, he was living in the Port Phillip Colony, as the owner of land leases. His leases until 1863 included: 

  • 1842 - Nov 1850
Watch Hill / Pollock's Station, with John Calvert
  • 1842
Irrewarra/Korangamite with John Calvert
  • 1850 -Aug 1854
Watch Hill / Pollock's Station
  • Jan - Sep 1853
  • Jan 1853 - June 1858 
Lake Bolac
  • Aug 1854 - Aug 1864
Mt. Mercer , Warrambeen - lease cancelled 1864
  • ?1863?
Bell Park, Geelong

On 20th May 1846, John Bell and Elizabeth Bell (his sister?) are listed in local newspapers as passengers departing Tasmania aboard the vessel "Shamrock" bound for Port Phillip. There was 122 passengers total who are listed on the Papers of the Geelong and Portland Bay Immigration Society, as due to depart from Tasmania aboard the Shamrock on the 20th May 1846. The passengers were leaving for Port Phillip (Victoria) under the auspices of the Geelong and Portland Bay Immigration Society. The Shamrock made several journey's for the Society between 1845 - 1847, conveying immigrants to Port Phillip.

John Bell apparently supported several churches in the area - Leigh Church and St. George's Geelong. The Rev. John Gow, a licentiate of the Church of Scotland came to Geelong in 1841, and he is reported to have lived at John Bell's Watch Hill and at Warrambeen during the 1840's. He is quoted as replying to George Russell's request on behalf of the Leigh Church in 1868: " it comes rather hard to support two churches from the same property". See Alexander Armstrong.

During the 1850's, Mrs. Louisa Meredith (Captain John Bell's mother-in-law from Tasmania) visited the Shelford area, and stayed at Warrambeen.

John Bell was an M.L.A. Victoria from 1856-59.

In 1861, he convened a meeting at Inverleigh to establish a local government for the Shire of Leigh.

As the owner of "Bell Park", Geelong, his neighbour was his uncle and partner John Calvert ofBell Park, Geelong, home of "Big John" Bell (Courtesy LaTrobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria) "Morongo" Bell Post Hill. Both properties were the subject of engravings (now in the possession of the State Library, Victoria) by Samuel Calvert (1828-1913). At right is "Bell Park", with "Morongo" in the background.

See "The Properties" for more information about Bell Park.

John Calvert(b1811) was the uncle of John Bell (b1821). John Calvert (b1850) was John Bell's cousin.  John Bell's mother was Mary Calvert (b.1797, Dornock, Dumfries). Her brother was John Calvert (b1811).  John Bell's brother, James Bell (of Woolbrook), had a son named John Calvert Bell. 

Victorian BDM records show that a John Bell married Ellen Emma Cobham Watson (b1842 Port Macquarie) at Geelong in 1859, and that a daughter Margaret Percie Chirnside was born at Fitzroy, Victoria in 1861. (FG No. 9373). Other records show that a John Bell Chirnside married Ellen Emma Cobham Watson.

John Bell married Margaret or Margaretta Chirnside (at right), and they had no children.Margaretta Bell nee Chirnside

On Boxing Day 1888, his wife, Margaret Bell (neé Chirnside) presented presents to the local children of Teesdale, apparently a yearly tradition of hers.  Mrs Bell was visiting Teesdale at the time, from Geelong, her then place of residence. Mrs. James Bell also participated in this form of stewardship each year.

Go to Chirnside Family for more detail.

He was sometimes referred to as Major John Bell - a title earned as a volunteer in the Prince of Wales Light Horse Brigade, Geelong.

Obituary    By all accounts he was a powerful man. He died on 27 January 1867, and his obituary in the the "Geelong Advertiser" read:

A finer specimen of an English Cavalry Officer was never seen, being of Herculean strength and manly form; indeed the late Dalmahoy Campbell (see below) and himself were looked upon as the two most powerful men in the colonies. Many are the stories told of their prowess. It is said of Major Bell that, when in his prime, he could clear a 4-rail fence with a full grown sheep under each arm. The writer of this article has seen him clear 2 bullocks opposite Mack’s Hotel (see below) and can remember seeing a “Striking Machine” in the Great Exhibition of 1851 smashed. This he was told was the work of a gigantic Australian. This Australian he learnt years afterwards was Major John Bell – see Hobart Town “Mercury” of 4.2.1876.

Notes on obituary: 

  • Mack's Hotel was an imposing building clearly visible from the Steam Packet Wharf, Geelong, and still stands today.

  • Dalmahoy Campbell was born in Kingsborough, Isle of Skye in 1811, arrived in Sydney in 1821, and overlanded to Adelaide with E. Sturt in 1838. He married Catherine Anna Goodsir, the daughter of Assistant Commissary-General Goodsir, in Sydney in 1840, and arrived in Melbourne soon after. He worked as a station superintendent and stock and station agent from 1845 until his death in 1867. He owned several leases in the Port Phillip district from 1851-1861. 

Transcript from Western Australian Times     Tuesday 7 March 1876
The death of Major John Bell, of Bell-park, Geelong, has also occurred. He was an old colonist, and arrived in Victoria in l940O, and took
up land at Colac in conjunction with Mr. Calvert. Mr. Bell died at the age of 54. He left wealth to the extent, it is estimated, of between
£400,000 and £500,000.

Last updated: 23 October 2008