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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bell, Arthur Frank (1899–1958)

by Peter L. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Arthur Frank Bell (1899-1958), agricultural scientist and public servant, was born on 9 November 1899 in South Brisbane, fifth child of Queensland-born parents Frank Bell, produce buyer, and his wife Ellen Louisa, née Hopkins. Educated at Ipswich Grammar School, in 1916 Arthur joined the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock as a junior assistant. On 19 December 1917 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and served as a gunner on the Western Front in late 1918. In England he attended the Manchester College of Technology in 1919, before returning to Brisbane and being discharged in December. Bell rejoined the department, studied part time at the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1925) and won a sugar research travelling scholarship in 1924. After graduating from the University of California (M.Sc., 1926), he obtained a diploma of membership (1927) of the Imperial College, University of London.

In 1928 Bell was appointed plant pathologist to the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Brisbane. On 15 January 1929 he married a schoolteacher Rose Isobel Bartholomew at All Saints Anglican Church, Duaringa; they were to remain childless. While attending the triennial conference (1932) of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists at Puerto Rico, Bell learned of and later reported on the success of the giant American toad (Bufo marinus) in reducing populations of cane beetles—then the scourge of the Queensland sugar industry. In 1935 a colony of these toads was brought to Queensland from Hawaii, where they had been introduced from South America. That year Bell convened the State's first annual conference of cane pest and disease control boards. Having been acting director of the bureau from 1943, he was appointed its director two years later. Following a review which he had helped to carry out in 1944, the Department of Agriculture and Stock was radically reorganized. In 1947 Bell became the first qualified scientist to be appointed under-secretary of this department.

A large, robust man, with an orderly view of the world and the interest of industry at heart, he was ambitious and always busy, yet approachable and good natured. Bell was a member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization from 1949), and chairman (1948-55) of its Queensland committee. Active in professional bodies, he was general secretary (1932-35) of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists and president (1941-46) of the local body in Queensland; federal president (1948) and a fellow (1958) of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, he was awarded the A.I.A.S. medal in 1954 and the Farrer medal in 1956. Bell broadcast and lectured widely; his published papers included A Key to the Field Identification of Sugar Cane Diseases (1929). He was a member of several committees of inquiry and had a recognized capacity for reducing complex problems to understandable terms.

Survived by his wife, Bell died of a coronary occlusion on 14 May 1958 at his desk in Brisbane and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. The A. F. Bell memorial medal for agricultural science at the University of Queensland has been awarded annually since 1959 by the State branch of the A.I.A.S.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Fifty Years of Scientific Progress (Brisb, 1950)
  • P. J. Skerman et al, Guiding Queensland Agriculture, 1887-1987 (Brisb, 1988)
  • Queensland Agriculture Journal, 65, 1947, p 43
  • Journal of Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, 14, 1948, p 93, 20, 1954, p 61
  • Australian Sugar Journal, 45, 1954, p 485
  • Australian Journal of Science, 21, Aug-Sept 1958, p 40
  • North Queensland Register, 21 Nov 1931
  • Queenslander, 9 Jan 1936, pp 15, 19
  • Queensland Times, 13 June 1947.

Citation details

Peter L. Lloyd, 'Bell, Arthur Frank (1899–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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