The Bell Family

Thomas Bell


Thomas Bell

Thomas Bell was a native of Northern Ireland and came to Australia in charge of convicts. He brought his family of three sons and two daughters. His youngest son, Joshua Peter, was three years of age when he arrived in Australia about 1829.

Thomas Bell purchased Jimbour with sheep, cattle and all improvements for the sum of 3,200 pounds sterling. Records of depasturing licences, held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney, state that a license was issued to Thomas Bell on 6 March, 1844 for the period from July, 1843, to 30 June, 1844. In the manuscript the property is called Gimba, in the district of Darling Downs. Subsequently, on 18 October 1844, the Government Gazette shows a licence for “Gimba” having been issued to Thomas Bell on 10 October, 1844.

After purchasing Jimbour, Bell left the management of it to Henry Dennis, who was later drowned in Moreton Bay when the “Sovereign” went down in 1847. After the death of Dennis, Bell undertook the management himself.

From then on the property was run as a partnership under the firm name of Bell and Sons, of which the partners were Thomas Bell, and his sons, Joshua Peter Bell, John Alexander Bell and Marmaduke Bell.


Joshua Peter Bell

In 1861 Joshua Peter Bell married Margaret Dorsey, the daughter of an Ipswich doctor. Six children were born of the marriage – Joshua Thomas, 1863; William, 1865; Colin, 1867; a baby girl who died in infancy in 1868; Oswald, 1871; and Maida, 1872. With the exception of Joshua Thomas, all were born at Jimbour.

After the death of Thomas Bell in 1874, Joshua Peter Bell, who was 47 at the time, became the sole owner of Jimbour. He was already well on the way to making for himself and Jimbour a name which will always be identified with the early history of Queensland.

The sheep, cattle and horse studs that he established became a hallmark throughout the country, and Jimbour sheep were in great demand for stocking of new stations, which were being continually developed at that time.

Politically, Dalby and the Bell family were closely linked. Joshua Peter Bell had a distinguished Parliamentary career. He was first elected to Parliament as Member for West Moreton in 1863- four years after the separation of Queensland from New South Wales.

He soon made his mark in Parliament and, in 1864, was appointed Treasurer in the Herbert Ministry. In 1868, after a redistribution of electorates, he contested and won the seat of Northern Downs (afterwards known as Dalby) which he represented until 1879, when he was appointed to the Legislative Council as President.

Joshua Peter carved out his own greatness. He occupied many executive positions in his time, being Treasurer on several occasions, Minister for Lands, Speaker, President of the Legislative Council and finally, acting Governor of Queensland. He was knighted in 1879.

Joshua Peter Bell’s public career was said to be characterised by the strictest integrity and honourable dealings. From all accounts he was not a brilliant orator, but he always commanded the attention of Parliament.

He had a distinguished racing career. He was founder of the famous Grange Stud near Ipswich and, for some years, was president of the Queensland Turf Club. He won nearly every race of importance on the Queensland racing calendar, including the Derby four times, the Brisbane Cup, the Brisbane Handicap and the St. Leger. Joshua Peter Bell also took a keen interest in country racing. He raced in Dalby and in the small townships around Jimbour. The Jimbour four-in-hand coach which conveyed the family from meeting to meeting was famous throughout the district and its arrival at any function was of great interest.

Joshua Peter Bell was one of the founders and original shareholders of the Queensland National Bank, which was established in 1872. He also served as President of the Queensland Club from 1872 to 1875.

margaret bell

Margaret Bell

In 1881 Sir Joshua Peter Bell merged his pastoral interests with those controlled by Sir Thomas McIlwraith and Smyth to form the Darling Downs and Western Queensland Land Company. The original directors were Sir Thomas McIlwraith, J. C. Smyth, Sir J. P. Bell and W. V. Ralston, who was later General Manager of the Queensland National Bank. Sir Thomas McIlwraith was Premier of Queensland at the time, having attained that position in 1879. The reason for the merger seems to have been the need for an injection of capital for the development of the property.

Sir Joshua Peter Bell died suddenly in a cab in Queen Street, Brisbane on 20 December, 1881 at the age of 54 years.

This merger seems to have marked the decline in the Bell fortunes and there followed a series of disasters in addition to Sir Joshua Peter’s sudden death, including a major drought and floods. Ultimately both the property and the House came under the control of the Queensland National Bank, which itself then collapsed.

Joshua Thomas Bell was educated at the Brisbane Grammar School and went to England in 1881 and entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He remained there during the next four years except for a brief visit to Queensland on the death of his father in December, 1881.


Joshua Thomas Bell

On leaving the University he entered the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in due course.

After his return to Queensland in 1889, he became Private Secretary to Sir Samuel Griffith in 1890 and later, in 1893, followed the political footsteps of his father, being elected Member for Dalby. He represented Dalby for eighteen years and was many times returned unopposed.

He unsuccessfully opposed Lyttleton Groom for the Federal seat of Darling Downs in 1902.

In 1903 he married Mrs. Sydney Jones, a daughter of the Hon. John. Ferguson. They had two children – a son and a daughter.

During his term as Dalby’s political representative and up to the time of his death in March, 1911, J. T. Bell always used Jimbour as his headquarters and spent many weekends there when Parliament was not sitting. He did not, however, make Jimbour his home.

His administrative ability was soon recognised and he was appointed Minister for Lands in the Morgan Government in 1903 and again in the Kidston Government in 1907.

J. T. Bell had a well defined plan for the settlement of the unoccupied lands in the Dalby district and designed a network of railway lines to serve them. Between 1908 and 1914 his railway scheme came into operation. The first branch line ran to Bell, the second to Tara and the third to Jandowae.

He was elected as Speaker of the Queensland Parliament in 1910, a position he held at the time of his death.

Members of the Bell family have continued their family’s connection over the years.  Family members from as far away as Ireland, and as diverse as musicians participating in the regular concerts, have been welcome guests.  Many were able to attend a church service held in in the Chapel on 7 April 2002 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the family taking up residence in the House.

>> Bell Family Anniversay Sermon  | PDF

Sir Joshua Peter Bell’s great grand-daughter, Margaret Macarthur-Onslow, attended school with Hilary Russell, and subsequently spent part of her honeymoon at Jimbour.  In 2003 she opened the Jimbour Visitor centre and Cellar Door in the Water Tower .


The Bell Family