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Royal Naval Biography/Bell, George

[Post-Captain of 1809.]

Was born at Falmouth, co. Cornwall, July 1, 1768. His name appears on the books of the Hebe frigate. Captain Edward Thornbrough, in 1781 and the two following years. We subsequently find him serving as Midshipman, Master’s-Mate, acting Master, and Lieutenant; onboard the Hyaena of 21 guns, Captain John Aylmer; Orion 74, Captain John T. Duckworth; and la Nymphe, Arethusa, and Indefatigable frigates, commanded by his friend and patron, the present Viscount Exmouth. An account of the numerous and important services performed by the last three ships, between June, 1793, and the spring of 1799, will be found at pp. 212–219 of our first volume. Lieutenant Bell afterwards assisted at the capture of la Venus French frigate, and several privateers[1].

From the conclusion of the war in 1801 (at which period the Indefatigable was commanded by Captain Matthew Henry Scott), we find no mention of Lieutenant Bell until the summer of 1801, when he proceeded to India, as first of Sir Edward Pellew’s flag-ship, the Culloden 74.

Shortly after his arrival on that station, the subject of this memoir was appointed to command the Victor sloop, and sent to the Persian Gulph, where he captured les Amis Reunis French privateer, May 7, 1805. The following extract of a letter from Captain Bell to the commander-in-chief, dated at Port Cornwallis, May 22, 1807, contains an account of a most singular and bloody conflict, in which he was unexpectedly engaged on the 15th of the preceding month:

“Your Excellency has undoubtedly ere now received one of my letters respecting the capture of four brigs out of Batavia roads.

“Off Cheribon (a little to the eastward of Batavia), on the 15th April, we chased, and brought to, three proas, under Dutch colours. At five P.M., on its falling calm, we anchored, hoisted out our boats, and sent them armed to bring the proas alongside; two were brought to the larboard-side, the other hung on the quarter: got the prisoners out of the two alongside (amounting to near 120), and placed a strong guard over them, under the direction of Lieutenant Wemyss[2], as I intended sending them away, after overhauling their cargoes.

Lieutenant (Robert White) Parsons[3] had been on board the proa on the quarter, but returned with his people on finding it impracticable to get the crew from below: I instantly ordered her to be hauled close up under the quarter, fired a carronade into her and musketry, which they returned by throwing spears and firing pistols, &c. I then got a gun out of the stern-port and fired into her, the sparks of which most unfortunately reached some powder (which must have been carelessly handed out of some of the proas abaft), and blew the after-part of the ship up: at this alarming moment the guard over the prisoners dropped their arms, and ran to extinguish the fire. The prisoners instantly seized their arms, and picked up several spears and knives which hud been thrown on board, and attacked the ship; by this time (eight P.M.) the fire, most providentially, by the great exertions of officers and men, was got under, proas cut adrift, and the attention of all hands directed to the defence of the ship, which was admirably performed, for in little more than half an hour eighty of them lay dead in a most mangled state, the rest driven overboard; but sorry am I to add, not without a severe loss on our side, including those thrown overboard and those who have since died of their wounds, a list of which I herewith enclose for your Excellency’s satisfaction.”

On this occasion, the Victor’s first Lieutenant (H. Blaxton) and 5 of her crew were killed outright; her commander, gunner, and 24 men, either wounded by the weapons of ihe Malays, or dreadfully injured by the explosion: Captain Bell himself was so much burnt that he was obliged to be taken below; and most of the wounded men died after the Victor’s arrival at Penang.

Captain Bell’s commission as a Commander was confirmed by the Admiralty, Oct. 12, 1807; and he subsequently had the gratification of reading a letter from their Lordships’ secretary, wherein the thanks of the Board were conveyed to him and his surviving officers and men, for their determined courage in the above sanguinary contest.

We next find Captain Bell commanding the Culloden, and assisting at the destruction of two Dutch 70-gun ships, a cutdown two-decker, fitted as a sheer-hulk, an Indiaman of 1000 tons burthen, and a large transport, lying at Griessee; which service completed the entire destruction of the naval force of Holland in the eastern hemisphere[4]. His post commission bears date July 31, 1809.

Captain Bell married, Dec. 23, 1822, Lucy Martha, daughter of the late T. Michael M‘Donogh, Esq. formerly commander of a Falmouth packet. One of his brothers, Stephen Bell, Esq. died in command of the Francis Freeling, a vessel of similar description, on the same station. Another brother was blown up in the Amphion frigate, Sept. 22, 1796[5].

Agent.– J. Copland, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 427, and note at ditto.
  2. The present Captain James Wemyss, M.P. then acting as Lieutenant of the Victor.
  3. A Commander of 1816.
  4. See Suppl., Part I, p. 404.
  5. See Vol. I, Part II, p. 455 et seq.