Our Bell Family in Australia – Alice Bell, 1863, Picton.

My  2x Great Grandfather, George Bell was born in East Farleigh, Kent, England in 1817.

In 1837 he and his brother, James emigrated to Australia as sailors on a convict ship.

George Bell married Sarah Sargent at Sutton Forest, New South Wales in 1844.

See Our Bell Family in Australia- George Bell’s Marriage 1844

This couple settled in Picton, New South Wales, and had a family.

Their children were all born in Picton, New South Wales.

George Bell Jr was born in 1845 and baptized in 1846.

See   Our Bell Family in Australia – George Bell, 1846, Picton.

He was named for his father.

James Bell was born and baptized in 1847.

See  Our Bell Family in Australia – James Bell,1847, Picton.

He was named after his uncle, his father’s younger brother who immigrated with him.

Thomas Bell was born in 1849.

See  Our Bell Family in Australia – Thomas Bell, 1849, Picton.

He was named for his Paternal and Maternal grandfathers.

According to the Bell Family Bible, I have, after three sons, George and Sarah Bell had a daughter. She was called Harriet, after George Bell’s, sister who had died in East Farleigh, Kent, when George was six years of age.

Harriet Bell was born in 1852

See Our Bell Family in Australia – Harriet Bell, 1852, Picton.

Henry Bell was born in 1854

See Our Bell Family in Australia – Henry Bell, 1854, Picton.

He is believed to have been named for his mother’s younger brother, Henry Packham Sargent.

John Bell was born in 1856.

See Our Bell Family in Australia – John Bell,1856, Picton

Emma Bell was born in 1859.

See Our Bell Family in Australia – Emma Bell, 1859. Picton

The Bell family bible listed the next child as a daughter, named Alice with a birth date given as the 21st January 1863.

I checked for her baptism.

I found an entry on Ancestry.com website which was for St Marks Anglican Church, Picton. Sourced from the Anglican Parish Registers for the Sydney Diocese. This I was able to download to add to my records.

I have made a transcription of this record. See below.

I checked for references in the online index of the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in New South Wales in Sydney at  https://bdm.nsw.gov.au/ .

I found this entry and was able to apply for a birth certificate.

BELL ALICE, 12460/1863  dau of GEORGE and SARAH registered PICTON

My transcription to share is below.

There was no Birth Notice in a newspaper.

As all the above sources give the same date of birth I feel confident that was her birth date.

It is believed that Alice was named for her Maternal Grandmother, Ellis or Alice Sargent(nee Packham). She had separated from her husband and four eldest children and journeyed to South Australia with a new partner and younger children in about 1846. She died a few months after Alice Bell’s birth, but it is not known if she knew she had a granddaughter named for her.

It would appear that with the opening of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Picton that this church became the family church.

 Alice Bell was only two years of age when her mother died. She was raised by her sister Harriet and sister-in-law Ellen Bell. Her father did not remarry.

History of St Mark’s Picton.

 The foundation stone of – St Mark’s Church, Picton – was laid by the Rev Edward Rogers – Minister of the Parish – on the 16th day of July AD 1850 – J M Antill, J Templeton, T Larkin, J Crispe ~ Building Committee.   A heritage plaque displayed in the grounds records that the original church was opened in 1856. The first Anglican services were held in 1825 at the home of Major Antill, one of the first European settlers in the Picton area. When a small court house was built on the Major’s property (he was the Police Magistrate, and the family served the local court for three generations), services were held there. – The local rector was the Reverend Thomas Hassell of Denbigh, Cobbity, and his parish stretched to Goulburn, across to Wollongong, and south to Mulgoa. In 1839 the Reverend Frederick Wilkinson had a smaller area to cover, from his house at the Hermitage, The Oaks. Next came the Reverend Edward Rogers from 1848, and by now money was being raised to build a church on land donated by the Antill family, in Menangle Street West. The foundation stone was laid in July 1850, the church being designed by Edmund Blacket, with Thomas Smith, G Wandess, and Barnsdale as masons. T Cashman and John Iceton as carpenters. Whitfield doing the ironwork, painting by W Brown, and fencing by Abel Sant and Rosette. Unfortunately, the work went very slowly, as the gold rushes affected the supply of labour, and it was not completed until 1856. – The original church was tiny, and as the town grew in the 1860s with the arrival of the railway line, so the nave was extended 12 feet, and a vestry was added. Then in 1886 Blacket’s sons, Cyril and Arthur designed the transepts which provided even more room. The original wooden shingles were replaced with slate in 1904, and then by tiles in 1930. Oil lamps were used for lighting until 1922 when electricity was connected. – The earliest burials in the graveyard date from 1858, though severe flooding in the 1860s and later has affected those graves closest to Stonequarry Creek, as well as the church. Although levy banks provide some protection now, severe flooding can still occur. The building, its furnishings, and the organ were badly impacted by the 2016 floods, together with the pioneer cemetery. It has now been restored. [1]     [1] Sourced From <https://www.churchesaustralia.org/list-of-churches/locations/new-south-wales/n-s-towns/directory/8327-picton-anglican-church>    
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The Long Engagement- Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell

In my last blog, I began the story of my Maternal Grandparents Arthur and Harriet May Baxter’s (nee Bell) romance leading up to their engagement. I also revealed that her parents were not keen on the match and in fact, her mother had refused to give consent or blessings to the marriage.

Perhaps I should give a little background of the Bell family which might account for the mother, Alice Bell’s (nee Sherwood) attitude.

John Bell, born 1856 was the fifth son and sixth child of George and Sarah Bell (nee Sargent) of Picton. At the time of John’s birth, his father was a labourer, mostly working on the roads around Picton.

However, he had purchased several blocks of land in Upper Picton and had built a home there. In 1860 he took up a government contract for building a portion of the Great South Road (from Sydney) which went through Picton.

In 1865 his wife Sarah Bell died leaving him with a young family. He remained at Upper Picton and apprenticed his sons to the blacksmith and wheelwright trades.

In the early 1870s, there was a severe economic slump in Picton and the Bell family split up. George Bell Sr, along with his son James, remained in Upper Picton and carried on the Blacksmith and Wheelwright business. George Jr had a wood-yard and carrying business at Newtown. Thomas, Henry, and John Bell went west to Burrowa where their mother’s brothers, Thomas and George Sargent had taken up land a few years before.

With the many gold rushes in the western districts, Burrowa was a thriving town.

It was there the now twenty-one-year-old John Bell, met and married Alice Sherwood.

Their eldest daughter was born at Burrowa in 1878. Soon afterward the family returned to Picton where John took over an established blacksmith shop in Argyle Street.

John and Alice built a new home in Wild Street, Upper Picton not far from the original Bell family home. Their new home was called ‘Wyuna’.

They had a further seven children, all born at Upper Picton.

Their daughter Harriet May was born in 1891. She grew up in Upper Picton and attended Miss Clarke’s Private School. She was a very popular girl as were her sisters and John Bell was said to be very protective of his six daughters.

Now we move to 1908. What had happened to make Alice Bell so adamant that Arthur and May should not marry.

Firstly, Alice Bell had lost two sisters and other members of her Sherwood family to the ‘chest complaint’ (Consumption).

She had lost her eldest daughter, Emma Frances, in 1899 a few short months before her 21st birthday, also to Consumption.

Her second daughter, Alice, had married Amos Kiss in 1904. They had three daughters. He was said to have a ‘weak chest’ and after suffering for several years died in 1912.

Arthur’s grandmother, Ann Kennedy, struggled to bring up her family when her husband was sent to Parramatta Asylum for the Insane in 1866. Everyone in the district knew of her ‘troubles’. Only two of her eight children made it to adulthood.

Alice and John Bell wanted so much more for their daughters.

Arthur and May just had to wait. Meanwhile, Alice Bell hoped a better match would come along for her daughter.

In 1909, Arthur and his friends went back to Chillingham clearing the Growcock block. They made the long trip home for Christmas again. Arthur still hadn’t earned enough to buy land.

Early in 1910 saw the boys back on the Tweed. William Growcock married in 1910 and built a small house and left Arthur and his friends in the makeshift Timber Cutters Camp.

Having lost their eldest daughter, John and Alice Bell were concerned about the health of their younger daughters. The family moved to Thirroul a small seaside village on the south coast in 1910. John Bell opened a Blacksmith shop there with his son Harry.

John Bell Blacksmith shop,1912,Thirroul,NSW                                                     John  Bell’s Blacksmith Shop at Thirroul c 1914 [original held by Nola Mackey]

In 1911, Arthur and his friends returned to Chillingham and continued to clear scrub. He was saving his money and reckoned another few months and he would have the required amount to buy his own block. He made the trip south again for Christmas.

May Bell remained resolute about marrying Arthur Baxter, so after her 21st birthday in early 1912,  her mother gave in and helped her plan a Spring Wedding. The date was set. They were to be married on 27 September 1912 at St David’s Church of England at Thirroul with refreshments afterward at the Bell home, ‘Wyuna’ (Thirroul). One of May’s older sisters had married the year before.

St David's Anglican Church,1986,Thirroul,NSW

                 St David’s Thirroul 1986, copyright by Nola Mackey

[The original church was built at the corner of Main Road and Raymond Road in 1909. It was later moved to its present site in 1938. When the new St David’s was built next door, it was used as a  church hall. ]

Some old photographs of the church on the original site can be found at

St David's Thirroul 1911   https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/260935342
St David's Thirroul 1912    https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/260935330

So it was back to the Tweed in 1912 for Arthur, and he and May continued to correspond.

Arthur Baxter could, at last, inform John Bell, his future father-in-law his intention of soon selecting a block of land and erecting a home. The problem was there were few suitable blocks left in the Chillingham area so he would have to select further into the scrub and getting a suitable home built in the time was going to be a huge challenge.

May’s wedding dress was to be made by her Aunt Emma, her father’s younger sister, who worked as a tailoress in David Jones in Sydney. This was her gift to her niece.

Her wedding ring was a plain wide band, which was reportedly fashioned from a single nugget of gold. It is said to have been found by John Bell’s brother Harry, in the Tumbarumba Ranges in southern New South Wales. Thomas, Harry, and John Bell had been involved in gold mining in that area for many years. This nugget was said to have been a gift to the couple from her Uncle Harry, who had remained a bachelor.

At last, the long engagement of Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell was soon to be concluded with a Spring Wedding. That was until Murphy’s Law came into the picture.

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World War I, Family Hero – William George Blanchard

Many years ago, when I seriously began researching my maternal grandmothers family ‘The Bells,’ I was very fortunate to be able to track down various branches including the Blanchard family, who had migrated to Western Australia. These were first cousins of my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Bell.

 William George Blanchard, born 1885,at Picton, New South Wales, was the second child, and eldest son of Joseph and Alice Blanchard (nee Bell). Through family connections, I found and corresponded with, his eldest son, Charles William (Charlie) Blanchard, for a number of years. He was able to tell me his father had served in World War I, and that his ‘job was to drive ammunition trains to the Front Line’. I was able to access William George Blanchard’s military service records at the Australian Archives, but these were basic, and had very little actual information. I also visited the Australian War Memorial seeking information on these ‘engine drivers,’ but found very little in official records. Even recent searches on the Internet had little success.

However this week I struck ‘gold’ in the historical newspapers on TROVE at the National Library of Australia. Now using family oral history, Australian Archives World War I military service records and extracts from the newspapers I have been able to add much information to this Blanchard twig of my family history.

 When a young child, William George, along with the family moved to Western Australia where the father, Joseph Blanchard found employment as an engine driver on the Midland Junction Railway. In 1906 Joseph Blanchard died suddenly leaving his wife Alice Blanchard with seven children. William George, the eldest of the children had also found employment in the railway by this time.

 William George Blanchard married Maud Lyons in 1908. They had a family of three surviving sons by the time World War I had been declared.

William George Blanchard had served several years in the local militia. He tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, but was turned down for medical reasons. In December the same year he applied to join the newly formed Railway Corps. He was finally accepted and was put into basic training. In January 1917 he was promoted to Sergeant and on 21 January embarked at Freemantle on the troopship ‘Miltiades’ for overseas service.

 DSC02798

The ‘Miltiades’ was of 7814 tons and a cruising speed of 13 knots. It was owned by G Thompson and Company of London and was leased by the Government for the transporting of troops and supplies from Australia in World War I.

 William George Blanchard disembarked at Devonport, England on 27 March 1917 and after further training was deployed overseas in France on 19 April 1917. On 12 October 1917 he was attached to the (British)Royal Engineers for special duties. [See below] While there, he ‘ was reprimanded by his commanding officer for failing to salute a ( British) officer’ — and I bet he wasn’t the only one.

He became ill in May 1918 and was admitted to Lakenham Military Hospital in Norwich, England.

 This Military Hospital was located in the premises of Lakenham Council School, which had only been built by the City Council in 1913.It had scheduled to receive its first pupils in August 1914. In fact, with the outbreak of First World War hostilities, its intended use for educational purposes was delayed until 1919, because the premises were requisitioned by the Army Council for use as a military hospital. [Ref:http://eventful.com/norwich/events/lakenham-military-hospital-colmans-detective-barry-/E0-001-087655001-9

 William George Blanchard later joined his unit in France and was transferred to ‘old gauge’ rail operations with the narrow French line.

When the war was over he spent a long furlong in England, before returning to his unit, to be transported home to Australia. He boarded the Konigin Luise on 21 June 1919.

 I believe the Konigin Luise was originally a German ship which had been converted by the Germans for mine-laying duties in the English Channel. She was later shelled and after much damage the wreck was finally captured. She was virtually rebuilt and was later used by the Government to bring troops and nurses home to Australia.

 After the war, William George Blanchard returned to employment with the Western Australian Government Railway. His son Charlie Blanchard was able to send me copies of much of his service in the railway.

 My ‘gold’ this week was in the form of informative newspaper extracts detailing the service of the Australian Railway Corp:-

 Australian Railway Corps on the Western Front as recalled by Lieutenant R J Burchell (MC), 4th Company Australian Railway Corps,( and Member of Parliament for Freemantle 1913-1922).

” There were three broad-gauge and three light railway companies, the original strength of each being 269 of all ranks which was increased by reinforcements to 300, so that the Australian railway operating troops totalled 1800. We were attached to the Royal Engineers for duty and discipline–a fact we did not appreciate. Our only connection with Australian corps was that we received AIF orders and an AIF paymaster visited us periodically for the purposes of pay. We took our places alongside our comrades of the Britain and French railway services, and whatever work came our way, in whatever circumstances, we did it.

Our first job was in the Ypres area with the British Second Army, under General Plumer. That started on October 5 1917, and we were at work up to the conclusion of hostilities-13 months. We were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even Hazelbrouck, the furthest back station of the 4th company, was under fire from the 15in guns. The first time I went into the station on a train the water tower was toppled over by a shell just as the train was entering the station. In the latter stages of the war the aeroplane bombs were of huge size. At Peronne the Australians captured German bombs estimated to weigh a ton, while for some time before the end the British planes were using 15cwt bombs. With both planes and guns the enemy paid systemic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realize that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Company, [William George Blanchard’s Battalion] based at Peselhoek, had the worst spot of the lot in the Ypres area for danger. Their section of the line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy.

In military railway work, owing to the conditions resulting from continual interruptions in the line by shell fire, you so not worry about mileage, or time-table. The main thing is to deliver your load safely where it is wanted. If you come to a spot on the direct road where the line has been blown up by the enemy, you go back, and endeavour to reach your destination by a roundabout route. The amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and the trains carry 1,000 ton loads. The system of traffic adopted mainly for army work was that of the Midland Railway Company, England. The French system of railway signals, which was in use, is much different from the British, and entails a much greater eye-strain on the engine drivers. Many of the men practically ruined their sight in the service.

As I have said, the lines were frequently cut by enemy fire. The British Engineers carried out repairs at any hour of the night or day, with remarkable expedition, but the French were not nearly so prompt.

After three months in the Ypres area, we were sent to the Somme, near Peronne. We had 30 miles of line to work, our main function being to supply ammunition, material, and food to the 5th Army, under General Gough, and provide engine power for six 15-inch guns, mounted on railway waggons, which operated from the ends of our lines. The 5th Army connected with the French Army on its right, and our corps was the last connecting link of British railway troops on the Southern end. We had exceptionally heavy work in this sector, culminating with the great German offensive. The attack began on March 21, and three days later we were compelled to evacuate as the 5th Army was pushed back. The Australian railwaymen did particularly fine work during those critical days. The men of our company were warmly commended for their services at Tincourt in unloading ammunition at the advanced dump under heavy machine gun fire. Three of them were awarded the DCM, and six received the Military Medal over that episode. The German attack was pressed home so rapidly that the big rail-mounted guns were abandoned b. We managed to get two of the pieces away y the gunners in the nick of time. An attempt was made to rescue two more, but, while they were being hauled away, the line was so badly cut up by enemy gunfire that the rails spread, and the guns could not be moved further. Our fellows stuck to it as long as there was work to be done, but quitted only when everything that could be shifted had been shifted. The French railwaymen had all gone 12 hours before….Lieut. Burchell was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty… on this occasion]”

[See also http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bellenglise/calvaire-cemetery-montbrehain/tincourt-british-cemetery.php for those Australians that died there]

Lieut Burchell continues, “Many hard things have been said about General Gough and the 5th Army, …often by Australian soldiers. But the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised. In numbers the odds against them were eight to one, and the enemy had an immense concentration of artillery. The attack began on March 21, but the Australians did not come into contact with the remnants of General Gough’s force until the following Tuesday. In the intervening five days the 5th Army were forced back over 30 miles, fighting continuously, at a terrible disadvantage. The whole of their ordinary transport organisations was gone, and they had no fixed supply and ammunition points, and they were for long periods without food.

After unceremoniously leaving the Somme we were sent to Dunkirk, where we served until the conclusion of hostilities. Even Dunkirk can hardly be described as a safe spot well behind the firing line. Indeed it had the reputation of being the most heavily bombed city on the whole front. The official figures carefully recorded by the municipal authorities show that 7514 projectiles were dropped on it during the war… the town was decorated by the British Government in recognition of its sacrifices

Our welcome to Dunkirk was a warm one, for on our very first night there was a succession of air-raids, and 500 bombs were dropped. The port has fine wharf and harbour accommodation, which was used for the purposes of landing great quantities of ammunition from England, and it was on this account that it received so much attention from the Germans. Their spy service must have been remarkably good, for every time one of the great lighters full of ammunition arrived there would be an air raid. We were there for six months, working ammunition from the docks….”

[Reference:- With The Railway Corps on the Western Front, Interview with Lieutenant R J Burchell, Western Australian (Perth, W A: 1879-1954), Monday 2 June 1919, page 6, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27606481 ]

 Another newspaper extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Fewtrell [DSO] invalided home 1918….” There was a light railway running out to the Ypres salient, and on this railway I trained my 4th Battalion officers and men. I am as you know, a railway construction engineer, and there were a number of others. The result was that in about four weeks we had a first-class railway construction battalion, our reinforcements having come up in the meantime. Then the whole of the Anzac Corps was suddenly removed south again on the Somme, and we arrived there about the beginning of November, 1916. We had taken over a new area from the French, and the mud was frightful on the roads along which the ammunition and supplies had to be got up to the troops holding the front line. There was so much stuff that had to be got up that I have seen at night time as many as three lines of traffic. As the mud was 2 feet deep in many places you can imagine what a task it was, and one of the first things we were asked to do was to make decent roads.

Then I was made officer commanding light railways. We constructed a mile of light railway a day, and within ten weeks we were supplying 40,000 men and 8000 horses with all they required, carrying the supplies right into Bapaume. One night we took up to within 300 yards of the battle positions the whole of the guns, with the exception of one battery, for one of the Australian divisions. At the end of ten days the Canadians had built a broad-gauge line into Bapaume and when we pushed out to the Hindenburg line we had passenger trains running into the town every half-hour-just like the suburban system at home…”[Reference:- Colonel Fewtrell’s Return, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW:1842-1954),Saturday 30 March 1918, p12, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15782819

 What a productive day with my Bell Family History with researching and writing up.

The moral of the story in family history research, never give up and think’ outside the box’

Family Heirloom-Bell Family Bible

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. img_4899

 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 Bellimg_4902

George Bell Junior

James Bell Junior

Thomas Bell Junior

Harriet Bell

Henry Bell Junior

John Bell

Emma Bell

Alice Bell

 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.