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 first 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 board 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 oversee the health of all those on board. He was required to hand in a detailed report in his Journal, on his return 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 with a passage of 123 days. The return voyage to England was by way of Batavia in the East Indies,

So it was Benjamin Freeman’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, 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 list as cured. (treated for nearly a month.)

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

12 November 1837 Put off the 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  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 there 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


6 thoughts on “My Bell Family Ancestors – George Bell (1817-1894) – Red Herrings Sorted

  1. I wonder if George spent any of that early time with Robin & Mercy Bell, who after arrival in 1836 went direct to the Howes at Gundy, then a few years later to the Dockers at Thornthwaite.

    • Hi Dale, Hope you are settling into your new life.
      Robin & Mercy arrived on the Woodbridge in 1838, but that does not mean that George and James Bell did not spend time with their Aunt and Uncle on the Hunter. I just haven’t, as yet, found any record of either of George or James for several years after arrival.

  2. Hi Nola, Sorry to say we haven’t met but I’d love to chat with you about the Bell family, having done my own research to do an article for the local paper.

    I’ve received an email from you with a copy of your article. Curious because I tried to email you on your blog bug it went back to the web page.

    Where do you live? Is it Queensland? I’ll be in Brisband on 16 February and would love to meet for a chat if you have time, that is if you live in Qld. Hope to hear back. Best wishes Lynette Styles

    Date: Mon, 1 Feb 2016 11:01:02 +0000 To:

    • Hi Lynette,
      Not sure what is going on but I have only received notification of your comment today some 12 days after you wrote. I live in Grafton in Northern NSW. Sorry I will not be in Brisbane on the 16th. I would love to catch up sometime too as I must admit the Bell family is my favourite line. How can I help you?
      Regards, Nola

  3. G’day Nola – I’ve just stumbled on your name following a suggestion from the Newcastle Family History Group. I’ve hit a brick-wall with my ancestor – GGGF William Bell.

    1. My main problem is trying to find out more about my GGGF – William BELL (thought to have been born around 1830 – but POB ,and if overseas, how he came to Australia is completely known, as is his final resting place/details – research has certainly not been helped by the commonality of his name). What I do know are the following:
    * He married Mary MATHESON/MATHEWSON in St Joseph’s East Maitland on 16/1/1851. Mary was about 8 years when she and her family (father, mother and 4 kids) arrived in Sydney on the “Asia” on 10/5/1839. Her father Alexander MATHEWSON was engaged by Edward Sparke at Hunter River
    * William & Mary had three children that were still alive when Mary died in 1881 at Dumaresq Island/Wingham. Elizabeth Ann BELL was born in Dingadee in 1851; Alexander BELL was born in Dungog in 1853; and John BELL was born in Dungog in 1856. A female child was dead at that time – possibly Catherine BELL born abt. 1856
    * Mary’s Death Certificate in 1881 records that William was living in Lansdowne at that time
    * Mary and William have specific links to Maitland; East Maitland; Hexham; Taree; Dungog; Wingham; Dumaresq Island; Lansdowne; and Cundletown;

    I’m looking for any more details about William BELL – particularly (a) when and where he was born; (b) his parents; (c) how he came to be in Australia; (d) when he died, (e) where he is buried.

    2. Also on board the “Asia” when she arrived in Sydney in 1839 was Ewen KENNEDY and his family (only one daughter survived the voyage from Cromarty to Plymouth – with 3 other kids dying on route). One of his daughter, Christina KENNEDY b. Cooley’s Camp in 1853, is my GGMother – she married Alexander BELL – the son of my elusive William BELL – in Taree in 1877.

    Does any of this ring any bells with your family research (hope so!!!)

    Best regards

  4. Pingback: Our Bell Family in Australia-George and Sarah Bell in the 1840s. | Nola Mackey – Family History

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