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The Right Honourable Sir Francis H. D. Bell, P.C., G.C.M.G., K.C.,: His Life and Times

Chapter I. — Ancestry

page 1

Chapter I.


Speaking in 1916 on his proposal to exempt the Quakers from military service, Sir Francis Bell paid a tribute to—

"the men who since the beginning of the seventeenth century have in evil times and in good times consistently maintained the one and single position; who have suffered imprisonment and torture, and who have through all that held and now hold the respect of the people who have tried to coerce them. I should be happy enough to have the same guide or the same aid to my life as they have. They have and hold by and recognize their Master's command and their Master's word, and whatever laws we may make, and however we may require that the minority shall yield to the majority in matters mundane, we cannot, we are unable to compel men, morally or physically, who earnestly believe that their Divine Master has directed them to the contrary. I do not agree with them or hold their faith. I do not believe that it is really the desire of any member of the Council to compel a man who in himself believes that he is guided and governed by a Divine Revelation which page 2requires him to disobey. If I am the author of this clause, I am the author of it because of that which I have already informed the Council."

In these eloquent words Sir Francis Bell unconsciously revealed the rock from which he was hewn. It was surely the call of the blood of his long Quaker ancestry. To those who were familiar with his temperament and outlook, there seems something whimsical in the fact that he was descended from a long line of Quakers. For while he knew the Bible more thoroughly, and with greater appreciation than most people, there was in his makeup more of the spirit of Montaigne than of George Fox, more of Gallio than of William Penn.


So far as the history of the family has been traced, it begins with the marriage of John Bell on April 2, 1651, to his Wife Elizabeth, at Embleton, near Cocker-mouth in Cumberland. This couple appear to have been Congregationalists, as the only mention of them is found in the History of the Congregational Chapel at Cockermouth. It is there stated that in 1688 the congregation met their Minister, who had been expelled under the Five Mile Act, at the house of John Bell at Embleton. At this time the congregation of the Chapel was suffering serious losses owing to the numbers that had joined the Society of Friends.

Among these seceders was Jonathan Bell, born 1654, the eldest son of the above-named John and Elizabeth. Jonathan married a lady who belonged to the Society of Friends. This lady was Rebecca Hall of whose father we read that, "he fought first for the King; then for the Commonwealth; and finally turned page 3Quaker and gave up fighting altogether." The Quakers of these times seemed to have been a prolific race, for the original John Bell and his son, Jonathan, each had ten children.

One of Jonathan's sons was Daniel Bell, born in 1685, who was a prominent Minister in the Society of Friends. In the next generation there was another Daniel Bell, born 1726, who was the great-grandfather of Sir Dillon Bell. He married Kathleen Barclay, a grand-daughter of the famous Robert Barclay of Urie, the Apologist, whose ancestry traces back to Princess Arabella, the daughter of King James I. The Barclays had been leading Quakers for some generations, and from one branch was descended the famous William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania.

This marriage of Daniel Bell and Kathleen Barclay is the real starting-point of interest in our story. Many of their descendants achieved distinction in various walks of life, and seem to have derived no small portion of their force of character from their inheritance of the Barclay blood. If the reader looks at the table of descent printed overleaf, he will see easily enough the steps by which, from the marriage of Daniel Bell, we arrive after four generations at Sir Francis Bell.

Through the various children of Daniel Bell and Kathleen Barclay are descended such famous people as Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the grandson of Priscilla Wakefield, Elizabeth Fry, the great prison reformer, who was a grand-daughter of Katherine Gurney, and other notable Quaker families.

The history of these various Quaker ancestors was compiled some years ago in an interesting volume written by Lady Chapman, the wife of Sir Edward Chapman, page break
Table Of Descent.

Table Of Descent.

page 5whose mother's name appears among the children of Daniel Bell. Unfortunately the volume has not been published and can be read only in type-script. But it does not seem fanciful to trace in Sir Francis Bell some characteristics that came down to him from his Quaker ancestors. For example, we read of one ancestor; "He was intelligent, kind-hearted, particularly polite and courteous." Of another, the record says:

"He must have been a fine, florid young man, as in his later years he had a fresh, ruddy complexion and rather a stately person. Attractive, full of urbanity and extremely affectionate. He was a striking person, particularly engaging, most gentlemanly in manners; indeed, a complete gentleman."

Many other similar quotations might be made, and those who knew the courtesy and dignity of Sir Francis Bell will agree that these qualities descended upon him in full measure from many of his ancestors.


Sir Francis Bell was justly proud of his Quaker heritage. He was interested to discover on one occasion when he was acting for a client why the Quaker records are so accurate.

To Arthur Bell,

September, 8, 1920.

"It happens," he writes, "that the marriages and births of Quakers do not appear on old Parish registers because they were not celebrated by the Parish Minister. Therefore the Quakers kept a Quaker register themselves which is now in Somerset House, and curiously enough, is a far better record of ancestry than any other."

But he refused to acquiesce in the claims of some page 6branches of the family that they were entitled to a Coat of Arms by reason of their descent from the Barclays of Urie. His view was that Quakers "could not ex necessitate have borne arms or been entitled to a Coat of Arms."

"I much prefer the Quaker side to the Barclay … Recently I have been asked by the Duke of —— to subscribe to the Garter Knights' Fund to restore the Saint George Chapel at Windsor 'on the ground that at least two of your ancestors were K.G.'s.' I replied that that might be so through the Barclays', a mere accident of old Urie being converted to Quakerism, but that I was only interested in Bell, whose ancestry certainly did not include K.G.'s.' … The Duke again wrote 'that your ancestry including K.G.'s. is beyond question' but we are not snobs and I certainly will not allow my name to be included in such a list … If I did agree solventur risu tabulae."

When he himself became a knight and was granted Arms he made clear that what he really valued was his Quaker descent, and the fact that his father was one of the founders of New Zealand.

To Arthur Bell,

November 20, 1918.

"I daresay you know that our great-grandfather, old Jonathan Bell, was a Quaker, and married a Quaker and all her kin quaked … But a Quaker descent is as fine an inheritance as any man can wish for … I therefore wish my children, not ignoring the Quakerdom, to begin their family history with the fact that our father was one of the founders of New Zealand. A century hence that will be in New Zealand as the Mayflower is for Americans— page 7the one thing worth tracing back to And more than all I want my children not to use Arms or Crest to which it is demonstrable they have no right on any account. So following Shakespeare's precedent I asked the College of Arms to grant Arms to all the descendants of Sir Francis D. Bell, senior, giving us the crest and motto he used—dog and fortiter, and designating somehow in the Arms themselves the foundation of the Colony by him amongst others. The College of Arms is really interested and even "Garter" has taken a hand. They propose to stick the Southern Cross on the dog and the Arms, and I think will put in ships and bells, etc. There will be a formal grant and record of these Arms at the College of Grant from, the Arms-Marshal. If we go back beyond the Mayflower, let us be satisfied with a long absolutely proved descent for three centuries from men of courage who could not ex necessitate have borne arms or been entitled, and remember those Quaker ancestors of ours were all people in a small way of life, humble enough but every marriage and birth recorded. I think of one hundred years hence. I am quite with Ovid: sed genus et proavos et quae non fecimus ipsi vix ea nostra voco (but as to race and ancestors and things we have not ourselves had the making of—these can scarcely be called our own)."


But, although Bell was justly proud of his Quaker ancestry, he found the intense religious fervour of some of his relatives in England a little overpowering. On one occasion he visited an uncle and found him "a page 8Plymouth brother of the most rabid kind, probably evolved from the Quaker element. When I stayed a night with him," Bell writes to his brother Arthur, "he indulged in family devotions of great length including a chapter of Numbers. He apparently went through the Scriptures by daily course and enlarged in his prayful discourse on the wonderful message conveyed by a damnable genealogy of obscure Hebrews." But he adds that the uncle "had a saving grace of humour as you have detected from his letters and he was absolutely free from snobbery," and when the claims of some relatives to a Coat of Arms was brought to his notice the uncle wrote: "Ca fait du bien de rire parfois" (It does one good to have a laugh now and then).