Captain John Bell
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Captain John Bell 1790 - 1841

Ship's Captain and Owner        Captain Bell was an owner and master of ships used for transportation of convicts and for trade, between Great Britain and Australia. Between 1818 and 1827, he was the master of several ships arriving in Van Diemen's Land. In 1827, he was a passenger travelling to Tasmania with his wife and children.  Ships included the "Minerva" a 530 ton convict transport, and the "Caledonia", a 275 ton brig. Registers show it brought Spanish dollars to Hobart in 1827. He sold the the ship to a Captain John George Briggs in March 1827, after which it conducted trading in goods including wheat and sugar. Captain Bell's voyages as Master included:
Ship Departure Port Arrival Port(s) Points of interest On board
Minerva  (530 ton convict transport) Cork on 1 January 1818 7 June 1818 at Van Dieman's Land    160 male convicts - 3 died during transport. Guard of the 48th.
Minerva Hobart on 25 June 1818 Batavia, Calcutta, London Captain Bell discovered the Minerva Shoal in the Coral Sea en route. (Minerva Reef in Sth. Pacific Ocean?)  
Minerva   February 1820 at Van Diemen's Land     
Minerva   November 1821 at Van Diemen's Land     
Caledonia (275 ton brig) Portsmouth on 10 June 1820 17 November 1820 at Van Diemen's Land    150 males - all alive in Van Diemans Land
Caledonia Portsmouth on 19 June 1822 6 November 1822 at Van Diemen's Land    150 males - 6 died during transport
Caledonia London on 1 November 1826 24 February 1827 at Van Diemen's Land  Assorted merchandise. Brig underwent repair for damage sustained  off  St. Pauls (small French island between Capetown and Tasmania). One seaman drowned.   


He was the owner of ships including:-


Arrivals Hobart on 5 October 1828;  December 1829, trading merchandise
Fly Arrival Hobart on 5 April 1828, trading merchandise


He also travelled as a passenger:-

Ship Departure Arrival Points of interest
Medway  (450 ton ship) London on 1 April 1827 Hobart on 20 August 1827 Travelling with family via Bahia and Brazil; tobacco and assorted goods; 35 passengers
Ephemina   Hobart on 31 December 1827  
Medway Sydney on 10 February 1828 Hobart on 15 February 1828 Cedar and bluegum planks, boxes of seeds, bales of wool, 3 female prisoners, 10 passengers



Captain John bell was born in 1790 in Dumfries, Scotland, and died in 1841 in Hobart, Tasmania.

His first wife, Mary Rogers, was born in 1791 in Scotland and died in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1831, from fish poisoning. It is uncertain whether they had any children, but possibly a son was born in 1831.

In 1832, he married his second wife Louisa Meredith, born 1808 in Glamorganshire, Wales, daughter of George Meredith of "Cambria" near Great Swan Port, East Coast, Tasmania.  Their children were:

  • Sabina Letitia BELL (b. 20 May 1833-Hobart,Tasmania, m 1864 Walmer, England, d 1910 Bath, England)              
    sp: Lt. Col. Theophilus Vaughton-Dymock, b.1829 Whitchurch, Shropshire, England, d.1905 Bath, England     
    Click here for more detailed Vaughton-Dymock tree.

  • Louisa Sarah BELL (b 1834-Hobart,Tasmania)

  • George Meredith BELL (b 1836-Hobart, Tasmania)

  • Emily Mary  BELL (b 1837-Hobart, Tasmania                                   

(Pictures at right courtesy of Charlotte Oriel Maunsell)

Sabina Letitia Bell

Lt Col T Vaughton-Dymock


Land Owner

On his arrival in 1827, Captain Bell was granted land at New Town, Hobart. The family built "Belle Vue" and owned an estate named "Annan" (see below). He is recorded as subscribing to the New Town church appeal in 1830. In 1836, a block of six acres at New Town was sold to Robert Pitcairn, the first lawyer to qualify in the colony.

John Bell became a merchant, shipper and landowner.

By 1835, he owned several parcels of land, including: 

  • 613 acres in the Parish of Milton,
  • 667 acres in the Parish of Milton, and
  • 2000 acres in County Somerset, near Lake Crescent to the west of Table Mountain.
Annandale, Tasmania (unknown date) Click for larger image

According to a letter to Dr. George Bell by the Chief Secretary's Dept. Hobart, dated 1939,  Captain John Bell owned over 12 000 acres by 1841 - one property named "Annandale" was 10,000 acres. Annandale is near Tunbridge.


Lewis Bell visited the area in 1872 Read his diary entries here.



Captain John Bell died on 13th December 1841.  Executors of his will were Charles Swanston, George Read and Charles Meredith. Witnesses to the will included Thomas Pitcairn and Robert Pitcairn, the lawyer who purchased property from him at Newtown. In his Will he bequeathed an annuity of £40 per year to his sister, Elizabeth; he also mentions a young son George Bell. His other children's names are not listed. Mrs. Louisa Bell was still living in 1854-5. 


Runnymede Information:    Robert Pitcairn was a leading advocate for the abolition of transportation. In 1850 he sold the house to the first Anglican Bishop in Van Diemen's Land, the Right Reverend Francis Russell Nixon, who added the music room and renamed the house 'Bishopstowe'. He had a strong interest in art, as did Louisa Anne Meredith, Captain Bell's mother-in-law. The seafarer, Captain Charles Bayley, acquired the house in 1864 and named it 'Runnymede' after his favourite ship. The State Government leased it to the National Trust  in 1967.  More pictures of Runnymede




The following biography comes from the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition at


BELL, JOHN (1790-1841), merchant, was born on 30 November 1790 at Middlebie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. After early training at sea, Bell took command of the Minerva, carrying convicts to New South Wales. He first arrived at Port Jackson in April 1818, and after coastal voyages returned there in December 1819 to find himself the subject of obloquy for having allegedly failed to supply full rations to convicts in the Minerva. He appealed successfully for a full inquiry and was completely exonerated. In February 1820 he sailed for Bengal in the Minerva and returned to Sydney two years later. In 1824 he again arrived at Port Jackson in the Minerva, this time from the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1825 he applied by letter for land in New South Wales and was granted 1200 acres (486 ha) by Governor Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane. Expensive cattle were bought and left with an agent who was to choose the land. In England Bell, who had done well as a trader, bought the brig Caledonia and brought out his wife, an overseer and farm hands when he sailed for New South Wales in 1826. In a severe storm the ship was nearly wrecked and three lives were lost. Bell put in to Hobart Town in February 1827 where extensive repairs were found necessary. He altered his plans and exchanged the disabled Caledonia with Captain J. G. Briggs for his wharf store, shipping agencies and fine house at New Town. Bell soon held the agencies of many ships trading with Mauritius and the Far East, entered a trading partnership in 1827 with Captain Cooling of the Admiral Cockburn and arranged an agency in Launceston for the export of colonial wool and wheat.

In the same year he took a foremost part in establishing a commercial club. In 1830-32 he was a director of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land and in 1832 was associated with the first attempt to establish a life assurance association in the colony. Bell was a director of the Hobart Town and Launceston Marine Insurance Co., established in 1836. He held a similar position in the Tasmanian Fire and Life Insurance Co.; it declared no dividends in its first three years, but in 1839, when Bell was managing director of both insurance companies, it paid a 50 per cent dividend and thereafter continued to prosper.

Bell applied for a second grant in Van Diemen's Land and was awarded 2000 acres (809 ha) which he located at Green Lagoon. He failed, however, to claim his New South Wales land before January 1828 when another application for it displaced his. His costly cattle were turned loose and soon became wild, but his protests, although continued throughout the 1830s, failed to win him any compensation. His Tasmanian property, Annandale, was increased by further grants on the strength of his imported capital, which he claimed amounted to over £11,000 by 1830. Some of this had gone into importing pure merinos of which by 1840 he had built up a large stud flock, as well as 7000 improved sheep. High prices for his wool in London had induced him to join the quest for land in Port Phillip in 1836.

In 1832 he had acquired Betsy's Island then stocked with silver-haired rabbits for the fur trade with China, and in 1835 further allotments on the wharf in Hobart. Another attempt to contravene the land regulations when he bought an order for 800 acres (324 ha) after grants had ceased proved unsuccessful. In 1840 Bell retired from active life through ill health; his midland estates of nearly 12,000 acres (4856 ha) then extended from the Clyde to the Blackman River. He died on 12 December 1841 at Belle Vue, his New Town home, survived by his second wife, Louisa, daughter of George Meredith and Sarah Westall, née Hicks. Bell's first wife had died childless, of toad-fish poisoning, in March 1831, and he had remarried in June 1832. There were three children by his second marriage.

Two relatives had followed him to the colony. John Calvert (1807-1869) had managed Bell's properties for him before settling at Port Phillip, and John Bell (1821-1876), nephew of Bell and Calvert and a trained surveyor, joined him after surveying for some time in Van Diemen's Land. Together they owned Irrewarra of 68,000 acres (27,519 ha), later divided between them into Watch Hill and Lake Colac. Bell finally built Bell Park, Geelong, and John Calvert, Morongo.

Select Bibliography

P. L. Brown (ed) Clyde Company Papers, vol 3, (Lond, 1958); manuscript catalogue under J. Bell (State Library of New South Wales); correspondence file under Bell (Archives Office of Tasmania). More on the resources

Author: A. Rand

Print Publication Details: A. Rand, 'Bell, John (1790 - 1841)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966, pp 80-81.


 Last updated: 20 December 2009