James Thompson Bell, Clerk of the County of Hastings, and Professor of Mining and Agriculture, and Lecturer in Zoology in Albert University, Belleville, is a native of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, and only son of Captain Wm. Bell, of H.B.M. Transport Service, and Mary his wife, née Henderson, his birth being dated January 8, 1811. On the Burgess Roll of Newcastle the name of the Bell family dates back for over 300 years.
The subject of this sketch was educated at the Royal Grammar School of his native town, and assumed the profession of a private tutor at the early age of fourteen. In January, 1828, he went to reside with the late Christopher Atkinson, Esq., of Linhope, an eminent agriculturist, in the twofold capacity of tutor to the children, and agricultural student, and remained in that position for three years. In 1831 he returned to Newcastle, and resumed the occupation of private teaching.
In 1834 he married Isabella, youngest daughter of George Smith Esq., of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and in 1841 removed to that place for the benefit of his health, which had become enfeebled from over work, with the intention of adopting the profession of a landscape painter; but his sight becoming affected by the close application necessary to success, he was obliged to relinquish that occupation. In 1851 he sailed for the United States, intending to settle near Peoria, Illinois; but at Chicago Mrs. Bell took cholera, and died in a few hours, and the afflicted husband, after committing her remains to the grave, took his children, seven in number, back to their English home. After remaining a widower five years, he married again, and for some time edited the Berwick Journal, a political and literary weekly newspaper.
In 1859 he removed to Canada, and settled at Belleville, Ontario, which place he has made his home up to the present time. His first engagement here was as head master of public school No. 2, which position he held for eighteen months, when he sent in his resignation, and went to assist in the County Clerk’s office. In 1862 he purchased the Belleville Independent newspaper, which he conducted till 1865, when he sold out and re-entered the County Clerk’s office. During the Madoc gold-mining excitement in 1867-8-9, he practiced as a Public Assayer, and in that capacity rendered essential service in detecting and exposing the nefarious practices of mining speculators and fraudulent assayers. For this lie received honorable notice in the public papers, and in the “Hastings Directory for 1869-70;” and the County Council, in consideration of his services, and desiring to make his practical knowledge and skill more generally available, appropriated by by law, an annual sum of two hundred dollars for the establishment of a Professorship of Mining and Agriculture in the University of Albert College, and nominated Mr. Bell as the first incumbent. This nomination was confirmed by the authorities of the University, and on February 14, 1869, Professor Bell delivered his inaugural address in the Chapel of the College, before the professors and students, and a number of friends from the town and vicinity. In addition he successively held the situations of Deputy-Clerk and assistant Treasurer under the Corporation of Hastings County, and on the former County Clerk, Thos. Wills, being appointed to succeed F. McAnnany, late Treasurer, who died in 1877, Mr. Bell received the appointment of County Clerk, which office he still holds.
In 1870 he was again deprived by death of his domestic partner; and in 1873 entered a third time into matrimony with Sarah, second daughter of the late Nathaniel Boulter, of Gloucester, England.
Professor Bell is an ex-officio member of the University Senate, College Council, and Board of Examiners of Albert University, and of the Council of the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario. He is also Chairman of the Board of Health of the City; President of the Murchison Club, a local scientific society, and an ex-president of the St. George’s Society and the Workingman’s Temperance Association, in which latter connection he was the first to introduce into Canada the English system of “Penny Readings,” which he initiated by reading Professor Aytoun’s magnificent poem, “Edinburgh after Flodden.”
Although he has never undertaken any literary labor of magnitude, he has been a frequent contributor to various literary, scientific, and political publications, and he has by no means laid aside his pen.
He has taken a prominent part in the proceedings of the Ontario Dairymen’s Conventions, having delivered the Annual Official Address for the years 1874-75-76-77-78 and 79, all of which are published in the reports of the Association, and have been extensively quoted in Canadian, American, and British journals. In 1876, the Centennial year of American Independence, he represented the Ontario Dairymen’s Association at the American Dairymen’s Centennial Convention, held in the Judge’s Hall of the Exhibition buildings, Philadelphia, where he delivered a spirited address, which was printed in the Report of Proceedings of Convention for that year, as was also an able paper contributed to the adjourned Convention subsequently held at Ingersoll, Ontario, on the establishment of a Model Dairy and Agricultural Station.
In addition to his University work, Professor Bell has delivered several public lectures on various subjects; one of which, on “Epidemic diseases and their prevention, in connection with the Water supply of the Town of Belleville,” has been printed for gratuitous distribution at the expense of the City Council. His studies embrace Geology and Physical Geography, Mineralogy and Metallurgy, Agricultural and general Chemistry, Zoology and Palaeontology. He pays attention to Entomology, and keeps a collection of Canadian insects, comprising nearly 3,000 species, nearly all of which have been collected by himself in the City of Belleville and its immediate vicinity.
In politics he is a Conservative, and in religion a member of the Church of England. Mr. Bell has always been deeply imbued with the national fondness for field sports, and though not naturally of a robust frame or constitution, and now verging upon the allotted span of three score years and ten, he can still handle both rifle and shot gun effectively, and is proficient in .the art of angling. By aid of the great physicians, temperance and exercise, he retains much of the activity of mind and body which belonged to him in earlier life, and never pursued scientific studies with greater ardor and relish than now.
Of fourteen children, the fruit of his first and second marriages, eleven are living. His three elder sons reside in the United States, following different occupations. His fourth son edits the Belleville Intelligencer, an influential Conservative daily and weekly newspaper. His fifth son is a printer at Toronto. The sixth has learned the trade of a tinsmith, and the seventh is learning the printing business. His remaining children are daughters, one of whom is married, and the others are at home.