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Bell, Peter Albany (1871–1957)

by M. Tamblyn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Peter Albany Bell (1871-1957), caterer and philanthropist, was born on 20 April 1871, near Clare, South Australia, son of Peter Bell, farmer, and his wife Jane, née Craig. He had little formal education before moving with his widowed mother to Western Australia in 1887. For six years he was in turn a draper's delivery boy, an inland stockman and a shop assistant; then in 1894 he opened a small shop in Hay Street, Perth, making and selling confectionery and lemon squash. In the next decade he opened more shops and a confectionery factory, and in 1898 studied the soda-fountain trade in the United States of America. On his return he introduced new products and methods, such as pure fruit juices and sundaes, but after Federation the competition of confectionery from the eastern States led him to begin manufacturing cakes and pastry. His shops were transformed into tea-rooms. Albany Bell Ltd, formed in October 1911, ultimately controlled eleven city tea-rooms and three in Kalgoorlie and Boulder. He employed about four hundred workers in the shops and in an attractive model factory at Mount Lawley. All received two weeks annual leave on full pay before awards required it; his goldfields workers also received holiday rail-fares to the coast.

For nearly thirty years Albany Bell's tea-rooms were famous, but in 1925, as chairman of the Master Caterers' Association, he was involved in a disorderly strike lasting over four weeks for a union shop led by the militant Hotel and Restaurant Employees' Union. Wide public criticism of police inaction led to a censure motion against the government. An appeal by Albany Bell Ltd for deregistration of the union failed, but compulsory unionism clauses in the final agreement were modified. Discouraged by the strike, rising costs and fiercer competition, he sold his interest in the business in 1928.

Bell was an early convert to the Churches of Christ and his creed and a social conscience turned him to philanthropy. An enthusiastic member of the Young Men's Christian Association, he volunteered to work for it overseas in 1916, sailed in October in the Afric and served in both England and France. He returned home in February 1919 and was discharged in March. He had been commissioned as a justice of the peace in 1909 and had served on the Children's Court; on a business trip to the United States in 1915, he had studied progressive treatment of juvenile delinquents. After retiring from business in 1928, he bought 3750 acres (1518 ha) at Roelands near Bunbury which became the Chandler Home for Unemployed Boys and, later, the Roelands Aboriginal Mission. The annual harvest of a citrus orchard on his own property at Roelands was left in trust for missions and orphanages; it produced an average crop of over 2000 cases in 1965-75. He made many other charitable donations.

Bell died on 14 September 1957, survived by his wife Edith Agnes, née Clark, whom he had married on 11 March 1896 in Adelaide, and by eight of their nine children; he was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. Albany Bell is significant as a manufacturer in the early years of the century when Western Australia lagged behind the other States in developing urban industries.

Select Bibliography

  • A. B. Maston (ed), The Jubilee Pictorial History of Churches of Christ in Australasia (Melb, 1903)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Western Australian Industrial Gazette, 26 Aug 1925
  • Westralian Worker, 15, 22 May, 6 June 1925
  • West Australian, 20, 23 May 1925, 10 Mar 1956
  • P. A. Bell, interviewed by R. Wright (tapes 73, 74, State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

M. Tamblyn, 'Bell, Peter Albany (1871–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bell-peter-albany-5197/text8741, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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