Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Thomas Marsh Bell (1839–1903)

by Norman S. Pixley

This article was published:

James Thomas Marsh Bell (1839-1903), pastoralist, son of James Thomas Bell and his wife Elizabeth, née North, was born on 25 December 1839 at Belmont, a farm near Richmond, New South Wales, inherited by his father from Ensign Archibald Bell. Educated at The King's School and Sydney Grammar School, he left prematurely when Belmont was sold after the insolvency and death of his father. He worked as a station manager for his uncle George Henry Cox, then bought a share in Therilby East on the Namoi River with John Hobart Cox.

After selling out profitably, Bell leased Tingan and later Glengabba, near Goondiwindi, Queensland. In 1874 he became managing partner with the wealthy Englishman Vincent Colville Hyde in Camboon, a 700-sq.-mile (1813 km²) leasehold with 22,000 head of cattle. On 24 July 1875 in Sydney he married Gertrude Augusta (1855-1946), daughter of James Norton. They had eight children, two of whom, Bertram Charles and Victor Douglas, had distinguished records in the Royal Air Force in World War I. Gertrude travelled widely, kept a journal throughout her life and published two novels, Under the Brigalows (Melbourne, 1921), set on an Australian cattle-station, and Sarabande (London, 1915), set in Egypt.

For the sake of his wife's health, in 1883 Bell bought, with Hyde, the 22,000-acre (8903 ha) freehold property, Coochin Coochin, near Boonah in Queensland coastal country, as a fattening station for their other holdings. They had been the first to introduce Hereford cattle to the Dawson valley and sold much of Coochin to finance a Hereford stud on the residue in 1895. The homestead became noted for hospitality: many distinguished guests stayed there including Edward, Prince of Wales, whose autograph is still on the wallpaper in one room. Hyde broke the partnership early in 1900 and moved to Armidale, New South Wales, where he died next year. The Camboon herd of 20,000 in 1897 was reduced to 800 by the drought of 1902. Bell began to restock but suffered a stroke in Toowoomba. He recovered briefly but died at Coochin Coochin on 5 May 1903, and was buried in the Church of England section of Toowong cemetery, Brisbane. His estate was valued for probate in Queensland at £63,327 and in New South Wales at £3915.

His second son ERNEST THOMAS (1880-1930) was born on 31 March 1880 at Camboon. Educated at Toowomba and Ipswich grammar schools, he became manager of Combargno station, near Roma, in 1900 but, after his father's death, joined his brother Francis in managing Camboon and Coochin Coochin. On 17 August 1910 in Brisbane he married Pauline Eva, daughter of Dr W. F. Taylor, M.L.C., and built Aroo homestead on part of Coochin Coochin.

Bell acquired Planet Downs in 1913 and was elected on 24 April to represent Fassifern in the Legislative Assembly as a Liberal. He consistently won absolute majorities, was unopposed in 1929 and died as member for the district. His maiden speech showed him to be a firm and intelligent defender of rural interests; subsequently, he spoke rarely but usually to the point. He was elected as a Nationalist in 1918, a member of the Country and Northern Country Party in 1920, a United candidate in 1923 and a Progressive Country Nationalist in 1927 and 1929; he was a consistent opponent of unionism and of the Labor Party.

The years immediately following World War I were critical for the meat industry, as South American producers began to dominate traditional European markets. More concerned with the affairs of his industry than with political preferment, Bell travelled overseas in 1920 and before his return in March 1921 visited meat-producing establishments in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and cattle markets in Denver and Chicago. In 1922-25 he was chairman of the Cattle Council formed by the United Graziers' Association of Queensland, and in October 1922 he attended a conference in Melbourne called by the Federal government to establish the Australian Meat Board, on which he became Queensland representative.

Bell attended another Melbourne conference in March 1923, at which combined graziers' organizations created the Australian Meat Council. He was its salaried chairman in 1925-26, but the council failed to satisfy the industry and was disbanded in 1927. He was chairman also of the Queensland Meat Advisory Committee from 1925, and president of the Queensland Stockowners' Association. In 1926-30 Bell was a council-member of the United Graziers' Association and represented it on the Queensland committee of the Australian Overseas Transport Association. He was also a member of the Queensland Board of Advice of the National Bank of Australia in 1928-30, president of the Fassifern Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and a Goolman shire-councillor; fifteen years a council-member of the Royal National Association of Queensland, he was a vice-president in 1922-23 and 1930.

Bell died of renal failure at his home at Ascot on 2 May 1930, survived by his wife, a son and three daughters, and was buried in Toowong cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £45,976.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • P. Cox and W. Stacey, The Australian Homestead (Melb, 1972)
  • N. S. Pixley, ‘The Bells and “Coochin Coochin”’, JRHSQ, 8 (1965-69), no 4
  • Pastoral Review (Melbourne), 16 June 1930
  • Queenslander, 8 May 1930, 28 July 1932
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 11 Aug 1946
  • Gertrude Bell, journals and newsclippings (privately held).

Citation details

Norman S. Pixley, 'Bell, James Thomas Marsh (1839–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 December, 1839
Richmond, New South Wales, Australia


5 May, 1903 (aged 63)
Boonah, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.