Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bell, Patrick

BELL, PATRICK (1799–1869), one of the first inventors of the reaping machine, was born at Mid-Leoch, a farm of which his father, George Bell, was tenant, in the parish of Auchterhouse, a few miles northwest of Dundee, in April 1799. When he was a young man studying for the ministry at the university of St. Andrews, he turned his attention to the construction of a machine which might lessen the labour of harvesting, This was in 1827, and in the following year a machine which he had made was tried on a farm in Perthshire belonging to his brother, Mr. George Bell. For a long time Dr. Bell was considered to be the original inventor of the machine, though claims were also put forward on behalf of McConnick in America. It has, however, been ascertained, with tolerable certainty, that John Common, of Denwick, was the first to produce a machine having the essential principles of the modern reaper. This was done in 1812, as is proved by an entry in the minutes of a committee of the Society of Arts in that year. There is also evidence to show that Common s machine was really the original of that brought out by McConnick, and shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851. It should be added that there were before this many experimental reaping machines; but those of Common and Bell seem to have been the only two which were in any way successful. Dr. Bell never took out a patent for his machine, but it was worked regularly from the time of its first construction until about 1868, when it was purchased for the museum of the Patent Office, where it now remains. A full account of the invention was given by Dr. Bell at the meeting of the British Association at Dundee in 1867; but unfortunately only a very brief report of the paper appears in the reports of the association. Dr. Bell was ordained in 1843, and became minister of the parish of Carmylie, Arbroath, which cure he held till the time of his death. As a recognition of his services to agriculture he was presented by the Highland Society with 1,000l. and a piece of plate, subscribed for by the farmers of Scotland and at others. He also had conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. by the university of St. Andrews.

[A fair account of Dr. Bell is given in Nichols's Register and Magazine of Biography, 1869, p. 473. It includes some particulars about the origin of the invention, evidently taken from the British Association paper. A short obituary notice appeared in Engineering for 30 April 1869. This seems to contain nothing beyond what is given in Nichols. For a description of his and other early reaping machines see Woodcrofts Appendix to Specifications of Patents for Reaping Machines, 1852 (published by the Patent Office). For an account of Common's machine see Soc. of Arts Journal, xxvi. 369, 419, 479, xxxi. 324.]

H. T. W.