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Bell, Sir George John (1872–1944)

George Bell, by T. Humphrey & Co, 1910s

George Bell, by T. Humphrey & Co, 1910s

National Library of Australia, 23207698

A distinguished political and military career ended with the death early yesterday morning at his home, Parklands, Burnie, of Colonel Sir George Bell, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., V.D.

For more than 20 years he represented Darwin in the Federal Parliament, and as Speaker of the House of Representatives for six years won the esteem of both sides of the House. Acting on medical advice he did not seek re-election when his term expired last year. Although relieved of political duties to which he had applied himself with diligence, his health showed no improvement, and for many weeks he had rarely left his home.

Sir George was born at Sale (Vic.), on November 29, 1872, and was a son of the late Mr. George Bell, of Cambridge (Eng.). When he came to Tasmania 40 years ago, he took up land at Parrawe and Henrietta, and at the time of his death still held the properties he selected in both districts. He was a successful farmer, and won a high reputation as a fattener of stock. He had as a primary producer, a sympathetic understanding of the problems of farmers, and fought for their interests with such ability in the political forum that the rural electorate of Darwin returned him time after time as its representative.

Sir George's return from the last war coincided with a Federal election. He was nominated for Darwin and won the seat, which he held until he was defeated in 1922. At the election three years later he was again successful, and was a member of the House of Representatives until last year, when he felt he could no longer afford to ignore advice that he should avoid the strain imposed by active participation in politics. Regret that it was necessary for him to retire was expressed on all sides, and tributes to his ability were paid by many public men. Both his political supporters and opponents agreed that his retirement was a big loss to the national Parliament.

Among the important political positions Sir George held was that of Chairman of Committees from 1932 till 1934 and as a result of his conspicuous service he was elected Speaker on October 23, 1934, holding the office for six years. He did not seek the Speakership when the life of the next Parliament began in 1940.

As Speaker he won the esteem of both Government and Opposition members. Prime Ministers spoke highly of his ability and impartiality, and the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) more than once referred to his "great admiration" of Sir George.

At the two Federal elections prior to last year Sir George retained his seat with increased majorities. The value placed on his services by the electors was indicated by the fact that at his last election he secured his biggest majority, although State elections, both before and after showed a decided swing to Labor in Darwin.

Sir George began his military career at a very early age, when he joined the Victorian Mounted Rides and was among those chosen to go to England to the celebration of Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897. From 1899 to 1902 he served in the South African War, leaving Australia with the first contingent as a captain commanding a squadron of Victorian Mounted Infantry. He was severely wounded, mentioned twice in despatches, and awarded the D.S.O. in 1902.

In 1914 he went to the Great War with the 1st Division as a second lieutenant. He served with the Australian Light Horse and Camel Corps, and was at Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine, being promoted to the rank of lieut.-colonel. He took part in the capture of Jerusalem, and it was there that he was awarded the C.M.G. in 1918. He was also mentioned in despatches. He returned to Australia in 1919, and commanded the 3rd Light Horse Regiment from 1920 till 1927. Since the last war he had taken an active interest in the R.S.L.

His inclusion in the King's Birthday honors list in June, 1941, when he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, was a fitting recognition of his service to the nation.

Besides his wife (Lady Bell), he leaves two daughters and three sons — Misses Ruth Bell (A.W.A.S.), Ellen Bell (Burnie), Lieut. Charles Bell, and William Bell (A.I.F.) and Athol Bell (Burnie).

The funeral will leave the residence at 3 p.m. to-morrow, and after a service in St. George's Church, will proceed to the Wivenhoe cemetery.
 
Paying tribute to the services rendered the nation by the late Sir George Bell, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) said in Canberra last night the Government would arrange a State funeral.

Mr. Curtin's tribute was: 'The late Sir George Bell had a very distinguished career. He was a gallant soldier, in two wars, and gave to Parliament fine service, both as a private member and as Speaker in the last Parliament. His passing came as a great shock to many."

Tributes by other political leaders were:

The Leader of the Federal Opposition (Mr. Menzies): 'Everybody in Canberra will be very sorry to hear of the death of Sir George Bell. He was very widely respected by all sides of the House. He was a man who did not speak at length as a rule in the House — that is he was relatively a man of few words — but he always spoke with great earnestness and sense and as a result was always listened to. He was a successful occupant of the Speaker's chair, and both in the House and in the party was able to speak with great personal knowledge, particularly of defence problems, on which his advice was always followed. In brief, he was a fine man, and a fine servant of the public, and he will be greatly missed."

The Premier (Mr. Cosgrove): "Sir George gave Tasmania and Australia outstanding service over a long period. He had served his country with great distinction in two wars. Entering Parliament shortly after the last war he represented Darwin in the National Parliament for 20 years. He was a great worker in the interests of his electorate, and was a dogged fighter for the rights of the State as a whole. The Government and I extend sympathy to Lady Bell and her family."

The Leader of the State Opposition (Mr. H. S. Baker): "The news of the death of Sir George Bell will be received with the greatest regret, for he had gained the admiration and personal esteem of all with whom he came in contact. As a soldier in the last war his personal courage and qualities of leadership were known far beyond his own regiment and were often recalled with pride by his old comrades. In the sphere of politics he held a unique record for the long period in which he held an enormous personal vote from all sections of electors. As a member of the House of Representatives, and later as Speaker he gained a distinguished place in the National Parliament. His death will be particularly deplored by all with whom he had worked in the interests of the U.A.P. in Tasmania."

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'Bell, Sir George John (1872–1944)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bell-sir-george-john-5193/text37120, accessed 20 November 2019.

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