My Bell Family Ancestors – George Bell (1817-1894) – Red Herrings Sorted

In an earlier blog I wrote about the puzzle concerning the arrival of my ancestor George Bell into Australia, and the fact that he might have been a convict on board the convict ship ‘Asia’ in 1837. At fist glance it looked as if  the family might have been trying to cover up the fact.

The first thing I did was to follow this convict, George Bell/Ball, who was on boad the on the ‘Asia’, from his arrival, through his assignment, marriage and death. In all the records I found in New South Wales, he was listed as ‘George Ball”. He was assigned to J Andrews of Invermein on the Hunter River. He later married Mary Drumphy or Dunkley in 1844 and they had a number of children.. He received a Ticket of Leave in 1842 and later a Certificate of Freedom. He died on 8 September 1858.

I had researched my ancestor backward from the known to the unknown, and realized that the information on the convict George Bell/Ball did not match most of the information on my ancestor, George Bell. Right name, age and year of birth, and even in the same English county. However, the records in Australia -wrong wife, place of residence, occupation and death date didn’t add up

How could my George Bell arrive on the convict ship ‘Asia’ if he wasn’t a convict? He could have been the son of a convict; a soldier in the convict guard, an appointed government official, or a sailor. How was I to sort this out.

All convict ships because they were ‘Government Ships’ were well documented especially after about 1810.

The Captain was required to keep a log of all the details of the voyage.

A Surgeon Superintendent was appointed by the Home Office to overseer the health of all those on board. He was required to hand in a detailed report in his Journal, on his returned to London, and would then be paid for his services.

The ‘Asia’ was a ship of 533 tons, built in Calcutta, India in 1814 for the East India Company,. probably for the lucrative tea and spice trade.She was the fifth ship by that name for the Company and was often termed, ‘Asia V’. In 1827 she was first used as a convict transport and left Portsmouth on the 17 August under Captain Henry Agar, with 200 male convicts onboard. The Surgeon Superintendent was George Fairfowl.

In 1831 the Asia V was again used to transport convicts. On that voyage she brought out 220 male convicts, leaving Cork, Ireland on 6 August.The Captain was again Henry Agar. After a fast passage of 118 days she arrived in Sydney on 2 December. The return journey was made via Batavia, leaving Sydney on 2 January 1832.

The ‘Asia’ was commissioned for her third voyage as a convict transport in 1837. The captain for this voyage was Benjamin Freeman and the Surgeon Superintendant John Gannon.

A family story passed down to my Maternal Grandmother, Harriet May Bell, was that her grandfather, George Bell had come to Australia on an ‘uncle’s ship”. Was this a reference to the captain of the ship, rather than the owner? If that was true what relationship could Benjamin Freeman to the Bell family.

George Bell’s father, Thomas, had a younger sister, Ann Bell who married William Freeman at East Farleigh, Kent, in 1817. He is believed to be a relative, perhaps even a brother, of Benjamin Freeman.

Benjamin Freeman had come to Australia in 1836 as captain of the ‘Henry Wellesley’ on its first voyage as a convict transport. The ‘Henry Wellesley’ was a barque of 304 tons built in India in 1804. It left Ireland on 7 December 1835 with 118 female convicts and had come out direct with a passage of 123 days. The return voyage to England was by way of Batavia in the East Indies,

So it was Benjamin Feeman’s second voyage to Australia as a captain of a convict ship when he brought out the ‘Asia V’ in 1837. As far as I know The Captain’s Log Book has not survived, but Surgeon Superintendant Gannon’s Journal has survived, and is on microfilm at the National Library of Australia in Canberra as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

From his Daily Sick List I found.

2 August 1837, George Bell, 20 years, seaman, inflamed thigh on sick list.

29 August 1837 Put off sick sick list as cured. (treated for nearly a month.)

5 November 1837, George Bell, 20 years, seaman, inflamed thigh.

12 November 1837 Put off sick list as cured.

This was John Gannon’s first trip to Australia as a surgeon on a convict ship. He made one more trip on the ‘Barossa’ on its third voyage in 1844 to Tasmania.

Another family story was that George Bell’s father, Thomas, had remarried after his wife’s death, and George and his brother James couldn’t get on with their step-mother, and decided to emigrate. At this stage the Bell family were very poor and there was no money for a passage on a ship. There were no Government Immigration Scheme’s to assist young men to emigrate either. I believe George and James made use of a family connection with the Freeman family to gain a place as a seamen on the convict ship coming to New South Wales. It was indicated that he had a letter of introduction to a settler at Camden and made his way their on arrival.

I believe the above mentioned George Bell is my ancestor. His older brother, James was also on board the ‘Asia’ and is also mentioned on the sick list, which is supportive evidence.

I have may have solved the problem of how and when my ancestor arrived in Australia. However, there were still more questions to answer.

Why did his marriage certificate state that he was ‘free by servitude’? Was it an error made by the clergy, or had he got into trouble after he arrived in Australia?

His marriage was seven years after his arrival in Australia and to date I have not been able to find him in the records during this time.

Although, I have many documents to tell the story of George Bell after his marriage in 1844,the seven years before his marriage in Australia, is a complete mystery. Still plenty of research to do on this ancestor.

Headstone George Bell

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Edward Herbert Vidler, born 1883, was the second son and the third child of Thomas Nathaniel and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin). In the family he was known as ‘Bert’.

He had grown up in the Shoalhaven area and migrated with the family when they moved north to settle on the north arm of the Tweeds River. The family took up land at Chillingham.

He enlisted in Brisbane on 27 October 1916, along with his younger brother Sydney Vincent, and went into Ennogera Camp. Their cousin Frederick Cecil Vidler, known as ‘Fred’ and also of Chillingham, enlisted the following month.

An article in the local newspaper the Tweed Daily, stated

“SEEING IT THROUGH

The following names are those, of local and district- boys, who, preferring the “wents” to the “sents,” have after ‘attestation; voluntarily enlisted’ for active service abroad” …. H. Vidler, S. V. Vidler, …. F. C. Vidler… and are now in the A;I.F.”

After several weeks of training Bert Vidler was attached to the 47 Battalion and embarked on the troopship Ayrshire on 14 January 1917, for England. When he arrived on 12 April he was sent to Codfield, on the Wiltshire plain for further training, before being sent to France on 16 July, along with his cousin ‘Fred’.

Within three weeks they were sent to Belguim and were engaged in the trenches in the lower ground west of the Passchendaele Ridge. Three months of constant shelling had made this flat landscape a crater filled no-mansland. On the night of 4th October it began to rain which made the whole area a quagmire, and movement of men and equipment nearly impossible, although the German defences continued to shell constantly.

Bert Vidler was severely wounded in the left hand and was evacuated through Ypers to the coast. He embarked on the Peter de Conick for the 3rd Auxilary Hospital at Dartford in England. He was later sent to Weymouth Convalence Camp No 2 to recover before being sent to Sutton Vesy No 1 Australian Command where there was a hutted military hospital of more than 1200 beds.

Appauling wet weather set in and he hadn’t been there long, when he became ill with a sore throat and cold, which turned into bronical pneumonia. He didn’t recover in the cold damp English weather and it was decided he was to return to Australia for a warm dry climate.

Bert Vidler embarked on the Suevic on 25 April 1918. On arrival in Australia he was discharged as medically unfit for any further service.

It is particularly sad that more than a hundred Australian men and women who had survived the terrible conditions and slaughter of the battlefield were to die at Sutton Veny of sickness, many on their way home.They are buried in the Sutton Veny Australian War Cemetery, which is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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