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Bell, George (1882–1970)

by W. D. Refshauge

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

George Bell (1882-1970), surgeon, was born on 10 July 1882 at Warrambine, near Shelford, Victoria, eldest of seven children and only son of Lewis Bell, a sheep-farmer from Scotland, and his native-born wife Mary Ann, née Armstrong. The Bells were pastoralists mainly in the Hay-Booligal area of New South Wales. George attended Scots College, Sydney, where in 1900 he was dux, school captain and played in the first XI and Rugby XV. Graduating from the University of Sydney (M.B., 1906; Ch.M., 1910), he held junior and senior residencies at Sydney Hospital in 1906-07. Bell entered general practice in 1908, sharing his uncle's rooms in College Street, and in 1910 was appointed relieving assistant honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital.

Commissioned captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 25 April 1916, he was sent to the 3rd Australian General Hospital, Brighton, England, as surgical assistant to (Sir) Henry Newland; at Newland's recommendation, Bell was posted to the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station on the Western Front in April 1917. He displayed excellent surgical technique and dedication in dealing with the large number of casualties during the offensives on the Somme in April and May, and his long hours of working without a break became legendary. In August the hospital was moved to the Ypres salient where Bell again performed outstandingly. With A. W. Holmes à Court, he carried out one of the earliest direct blood transfusions. During the Ypres offensive, the A.C.C.S. was shelled and had to be moved to the rear. Early in 1918 Bell was appointed surgical specialist to the 1st A.C.C.S. as a temporary major. For his achievements, he was mentioned in dispatches and appointed O.B.E. in 1919.

Returning to Sydney in June, Bell resumed practice in College Street. He was visiting surgeon to the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, in 1919-47, and to Sydney Hospital in 1921-42; thereafter he was consulting surgeon to each hospital. Bell was a foundation fellow (1927), councillor (1938-50) and president (1949-51) of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was, as well, surgical consultant to the Royal Australian Navy from 1929, and an honorary surgeon commander (1941-47) and captain (1947-69) in the reserve. Deputy-chairman (1941-42) of the New South Wales Medical Coordination Committee, he was its executive officer (1942-46).

Bell was active in the British Medical Association: State president (1931-32) and treasurer (1934-55), he was also treasurer (1935-44) and vice-chairman (1939-44) of the federal council. In 1941 he was sued for negligence by Mrs Stella Hocking following her thyroidectomy; in 1947, after six trials and some £70,000 in legal fees, the Privy Council upheld the award of £800 to Mrs Hocking. Honorary treasurer and president (1964) of the postgraduate committee in medicine at the University of Sydney and founding honorary treasurer (1946-69) of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine, Bell was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, in 1958 and elevated to C.B.E. in 1967.

Possessing an intense love of the outback and a simple, strong, quiet faith, Bell regularly attended St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. There, one Sunday, he had met Rev. John Flynn and been inspired by his endeavours. In 1935 Bell was a convener of a public meeting to develop the Australian Aerial Medical Services (Royal Flying Doctor Service from 1954) and in 1937 helped to establish its Broken Hill base. President (1937-38 and 1953-54) of the New South Wales section and federal president (1938-40 and 1959-61), he was to be associated with the service until 1969. He also had a long association with the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association of which he was president in 1953-59.

At St Stephen's Church on 11 October 1945 Bell married Elena Adèle Quinn, whose love and support were so important to him. He was a big man, six feet (183 cm) tall and weighing fifteen stone (95 kg), but surprisingly deft. A member (from 1921) and chairman (1954-69) of Scots College council, he was a board-member of Sydney Hospital, and could be seen in all weather on the course at Royal Sydney Golf Club. Survived by his wife, Bell died at his Rose Bay home on 22 August 1970 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Scots College Old Boys' Union, Lang Syne, 16, no 3, Sept 1969, p 4
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 30 Mar 1970
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 26 Dec 1947, 10 June 1967, 1 Sept 1970.

Citation details

W. D. Refshauge, 'Bell, George (1882–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bell-george-9480/text16679, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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