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Bell, William Thomas (1830–1885)

We have once more to record the death not only of an old colonist, but one who will be widely regretted, and whose departure makes a void in our little community that will long remain unfilled. Yesterday afternoon Mr. W. T. Bell, well known in Launceston and the surrounding districts as an auctioneer for the last thirty-five years, died at his residence, Ashfield, St. Leonards, and the news spread rapidly through town and evoked a general expression of regret. Mr. Bell had practically withdrawn from an active part in his business for some four years past, but used to still attend to matters, and occasionally conduct sales. He was last at the well-known mart in Charles-street on Tuesday, and then complained of being very unwell, as he was suffering from a severe attack of diarrhoea, which in his weak state of health had a very injurious effect. On Wednesday he was unable to leave his bed, and early yesterday morning, as he seemed worse, a messenger was sent to his medical attendant, Dr. Maddox, who went out to St. Leonards at 7.30 a.m., and ordered medicine which he hoped would give relief. Shortly after 2 p.m. the doctor was again summoned, but on going out found Mr. Bell had passed away peacefully from exhaustion and debility, shortly after the despatch of the messenger.

Mr. W. T. Bell was the son of Mr. J. W. Bell, an auctioneer in Launceston in the olden days of the town, and was born in 1829 at his father's residence, where Mr. J. H. Lithgow's chemist shop now is, at the corner of Charles and York streets. He went to school to Mr. Kennedy at the White Hills, and when a mere lad was sent to England to complete his education. After his return, about 1846 his father and brother-in-law (Mr. Walter Powell) removed to Melbourne, where the former commenced business as an auctioneer in Collins-street, which he carried on for some years, ultimately returning to Tasmania, where he died at New Town, near Hobart. Mr. W. T. Bell, who had accompanied his father to Melbourne, returned to Launceston in 1849, and purchased the auctioneer's business then carried on in Central Charles-street, where Mr. Atkinson's grocer's shop now stands, by Mr. Matthew Lassetter. Here he commenced business on his own account, but soon afterwards went to Melbourne and arranged with Mr. Henry Howe, then a clerk in his father's establishment, to join him, and bringing with them Mr. F. Green as clerk, the partners arrived in Launces- ton in the brig Swan, Captain Bell, in February, 1850. The new firm of Bell and Howe opened where Messrs. William Hart and Sons' ironmongery establishment now stands, and their first sale was held on the 2nd March, 1850, while on the 5th March they held a stock sale at Carrick. Since that date the Carrick sales have always been in Mr. Bell's hands, and they are now reckoned the most important stock sales in the island. Many of our readers will recall the stirring times when Bell and Howe started business, when the Californian gold fever was at its height, and before it subsided the Victorian goldfields were discovered. We may mention that the town had then more auctioneering firms than now, as besides Messrs. Bell and Howe, there were Mr. J. C. Pyle, Messrs. Underwood and Eddie, and Mr. C. J. Weedon. The partnership of Bell and Howe only lasted a few years, and leaving Mr. Howe to carry on the business, Mr. Bell built a place for himself where Mr. Alex. Webster's ironmongery establishment now stands, at the corner of Charles and York streets, which was then part of a paddock belonging to Field's estate. After carrying on business here for a short time, he sold out to Mr. Webster, having previously secured a lease from the same owners of the site of the present Tasmanian Mart, which was then built by Mr. Bell, and where he has since conducted business up to the time of his decease. About 1858 Mr. W. H. Westbrook, then manager of the Commercial Bank at Launceston, resigned his position to join Mr. Bell, and as Bell and Westbrook the firm became widely known. About nine years ago the firm took over the produce sales and commission business established by Messrs. Hudson and Sherwin in Cameron street, which is still conducted by Mr. Bell. In 1870, owing to ill-health, Mr. Westbrook withdrew from the firm and took an intercolonial tour, which fortunately had a beneficial result, and in 1879, some time after his return to Launceston, at the request of Mr. Bell, whose health was then commencing to fail, he again entered the establishment. For the last four years Mr. Bell has practically relinquished the conduct of his sales to Mr. Westbrook and Mr. W. H. Dodery. The latter is at present absent in Victoria through ill health, and Mr. Westbrook was conducting a stock sale at Evandale yesterday afternoon when a telegram announcing the death of his old friend was put into his hands, and, it is, needless to say, brought the sale to an abrupt conclusion.

In private life Mr. Bell was noted for his kindly nature and large-hearted charity. To a stranger he would often appear as a "peppery" and hot-tempered man, but further acquaintance showed this to be mere mannerism, and that be neath the surface beat one of the most kindly hearts in the community. No tale of distress, no deserving case for practical sympathy or a helping hand, ever came under his notice in vain, and his charity was confined to no class and no denomina tion. Nor was his liberality confined to charitable objects. Though neither a racing nor a betting man, he nevertheless took a warm interest in local sporting matters, and aided them by his own personal influence as well as by his subscription. He was a very old member of the Northern Horticultural Society, a large and constant exhibitor, its President for some years, and a most useful and valued member. The Tasmanian Agricultural and Pastoral Society, in the establishment of which he was a promoter, is another institution that will greatly miss his support and influence. At the village of St. Leonards his loss will be felt as irreplaceable. It is now 25 years since he left his residence in Mulgrave-street, Launceston, for Ashfield, at St. Leonards, where he has ever since resided, end where he has been almost the father of the village. No public or social movement took place without Mr. Bell having some share in it, and as often as not he was the leading spirit. His personal services or his support were in constant requisition, and both were given generously, and put to valuable use. The school children will recall many a pleasant treat in the beautiful gardens of Ashfield, and those of older growth will remember the genial hospitality of its late owner.

Mr. Bell was a widower, but leaves one son, Mr. W. W. Bell, and three daughters, one of whom (Mrs. Robert Barnfield) is married, and resides in Melbourne. The funeral will take place to-morrow, leaving the late residence of the deceased at 3 p.m. for the Church of England Burial Ground, where the cortege will arrive at 4.30 p.m.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 20 April 1885, p 3

Citation details

'Bell, William Thomas (1830–1885)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bell-william-thomas-22315/text32100, accessed 25 January 2021.

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