On the death of my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Baxter (nee Bell) I was very fortunate to inherit some of the family treasures.
One such item was the ‘Bell Family Bible’. It is not a large tome with specially printed pages of ‘Family Register’, as found in many printed Victorian Bibles.
It is a small volume of 11 X 18 mm, bound in brown cloth. It is the ‘King James’ version printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society.
The British and Foreign Bible Society dates back to 1804 and from the early days, the Society sought to be ecumenical and non-sectarian. It’s aim has always been to translate, revise, print, and distribute affordable Bibles throughout the world. Although it began in England and Wales it soon extended its work to Australia, India, Europe and beyond.
Baskets of Bibles and religious tracts were put on board convict and immigrant ships for ‘instruction’ and education on the voyages to Australia. Later they were also available in bookshops and other outlets in Sydney.
In my small volume, no year or place of publication has survived as the cover has come off and the title page is missing.
On the inside of the front cover and fly-leaf are written, in possibly two hands, the names and birth dates of my Bell family:-
George Bell Senior
Sarah Bell wife of George Bell
George Bell Junior
James Bell Junior
Thomas Bell Junior
Henry Bell Junior
There is no indication when these were written into the bible, but it must have been accurate personal knowledge as all dates can be confirmed by church infant baptism entries and birth certificates where applicable. Comparing signatures of George Bell (Senior) from land records and his Will, it would appear to be the hand of George Bell up until the entries of ‘John , Emma and Alice Bell’, which appear to be in another hand. Maybe Sarah Bell, his wife, or another altogether. I have no examples of Sarah Bell’s hand writing for comparison.
A couple of things puzzle me, which I plan to research further. ‘George Bell Senior’ and ‘George Bell Junior’ are self- explanatory as they are ‘father’ and ‘son’. Even ‘James Bell Junior’ as he was named for his uncle ‘ James Bell’, who was George’s older brother and came out to Australia on the same ship. He and his family lived at Picton for a number of years too, so there may have been a reason to differentiate . However who were the ‘Thomas Bell Senior’ and ‘Henry Bell Senior’ who lived in the area and necessitated the designation of ‘junior’? Is this a clue that other members of the family came to Australia and lived in the area? Or were there other Bell families in the area?
Another puzzle to investigate.
I really like the tradition of recording family details in a bible, and handing it on. It’s interesting to consider nearby families of the same name but no apparent, immediate connection and wonder were they relatives who immigrated separately, did they hark from the same place originally. There are at least 3 separate Newling families, who appear to have no Australian family connection to the others but I believe have -way back- common ancestry.
Hi Dale, Thank you for keeping in touch. It seems in the past many families had these ‘family bibles’ in various forms with family information entered for posterity. Some of these I fear must have been lost as descendants didn’t realize the value when clearing out family homes. I am trying to make sure this doesn’t happen with this one. It has been enclosed in a mylar bag,placed in appropriate sized box, with the story of how and why it is a family heirloom, and then placed in a special cabinet. All our children know that anything in that cabinet is important to the family and should not be disposed of. If someone in the family has already expressed an interest and is willing to hold it ‘in trust’ for the family in the future, then their name and address has been added to the box. I know this is not a perfect system, but I’m doing the best I can at this time. As I write up each family’s story I include photos and the stories of each item, in the material I share with cousins, as well as blog about it.
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