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Horace Bell

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Horace Bell (1839-1903)


Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement

BELL, HORACE (1839–1903), civil engineer, born in London on 17 June 1839, was son of George Bell, merchant, of Harley Street, London, by his wife Frances Dade, of Norfolk.

Educated in France and at Louth, Lincolnshire, he began engineering at fifteen, under Mr. John Wilson, in Westminster, served as apprentice to Messrs. D. Cook & Company of Glasgow, and spent some time later in the workshops of the Caledonian railway.

After employment on the London, Chatham and Dover railway he entered the Indian public works department as a probationary assistant engineer on 1 July 1862. At first he was employed on the Grand Trunk road in the Central Provinces (1862-70).

On 1 April 1866 he became an executive engineer, and in that capacity, after a few months on the Chanda railway survey, served on the Indore (1870), the Punjab Northern (1874), the Rajputana (1875), and Neemuch (1878) state railways. On the opening of the Punjab Northern in 1883 he was mentioned in the list of officers employed, and was congratulated by the viceroy.

Promoted a superintending engineer on 1 Jan. 1880 and a chief engineer, third class, on 22 Oct. 1890, and first class on 31 Jan. 1892, he was successively (1881-4) chief engineer of the Dacca-Mymensingh railway surveys, and (1884-7) chief engineer to the Tirhoot state railway, of which for a time he was also manager. He received in 1887 the thanks of the government of India for services in connection with the completion of the Gunduck bridge on that railway.

His next employment was as engineer-in-chief on the surveys for the Great Western of India and the Mogal-Serai railways.

From 8 Aug. 1892 until his retirement in June 1894 he was consulting engineer to the government of India for state railways, acting for a short time as director-general of railways.

Bell published 'Railway Policy in India' (1894), which dealt with constructional, financial, and administrative matters. A paper by him, 'Recent Railway Policy in India' (1900), was reprinted from the 'Journal' of the Society of Arts. For natives of India he published at Calcutta a 'Primer on the Government of India' (3rd edit. 1893) and 'Laws of Wealth' (1883); both were adopted in government schools.

On leaving India he established himself as a consulting engineer in London, and under his guidance were carried out the Southern Punjab railway (5 feet 6 inches gauge), 1897, and the Nilgiri mountain railway, a rack railway of metre gauge opened in 1899 (Minutes of Proceedings Inst. Civ. Eng. cxlv. 1).

He was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers 5 March 1867, and a member 30 Jan. 1892. In 1897 he was elected to the council, on which he served until his death.

He died at 114 Lexham Gardens, W., on 10 April 1903, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. By his wife Marcia Napier Ogilvy he had issue four sons and five daughters. One son and three daughters survived him.


1903 Obituary [1]

HORACE BELL was born in London on the 17th June, 1839, and was educated in France and at Louth in Lincolnshire.

At the age of 15 he was placed as a pupil with Mr. John Wilson, a civil engineer in Westminster; but recognizing, even at that age, the need of thorough grounding in the profession he wished to follow, he left very soon and went to Glasgow, where he entered the firm of Messrs. D. Cook & Co. as an apprentice; afterwards he worked in the Caledonian Railway shops as well as on surveying.

In 1859 he was employed on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway as an Assistant Engineer under Mr. Mills.

After more than eight years of railway work in England, at the age of 23, he was successful in an open competition held in London in May, 1862, for an appointment as an Assistant Engineer in the Indian Public Works Department. He joined the service in India in December, 1862, and was posted to the Central Provinces, then under the Chief Commissionership of the late Sir Richard Temple, and was employed under Mr. J. S. Heyman on the construction of the Great Deccan Road, which formed part of the main line of communication between Calcutta and Bombay. While thus employed Horace Bell received several steps in promotion, becoming Fourth Grade Executive Engineer in April, 1866, Third Grade Executive Engineer in September, 1867, and Second Grade Executive Engineer in March, 1869.

His services during this period received frequent recognition and commendation in the Central Provinces Annual Administration Reports.

In January, 1870, he was sent on Railway survey work to the Wardha Valley, and was enlisted in the new State Railway Service initiated by Lord Mayo's Government in May, 1870, and posted to the Indore State Railway, receiving promotion to First Grade Executive Engineer in March, 1871.

In April, 1873, he went home on furlough, returning to India in December, 1874, when, after a short term of service on the Punjab Northern State Railway, then under construction, he was transferred in July, 1875, to the Rajputana Malwa Railway, then to the Sindia State Railway, and subsequently to the Rutlam Neemuch Nusserabad Railway, and it is with those lines that his name will be long and honourably identified.

He was appointed Superintendent of Way and Works of the Rajputana line in August, 1875, and officiated as Manager in addition to the other duties in May, 1876. While thus employed he was promoted to Third Class Superintending Engineer in May, 1877, and to the Second Class in June, 1880.

Once more taking leave to England in July1 880, during which time he had charge of the students on the practical course at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Coopers Hill, he returned to duty in November, 1881, and was appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the Dacca Mymensingh State Railway, and early in 1884, was transferred to the Tirhoot State Railway, first as Engineer-in-Chief, and then as both Manager and Engineer-in-Chief. With the exception of a short interval from July to October, 1881, when he officiated as Director of the North Western State Railway, Horace Bell was employed on the Tirhoot State Railway until March 1888, and received the thanks of the Government of India for his services in connection with the construction of the Gunduck Bridge on that line in 1887.

He then took six months’ leave to England, and on his return was appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the Great Western of India Railway Survey, and in February, 1889, was posted in a similar capacity to the Moghal Serai Railway Survey.

In August, 1890, he was appointed Consulting Engineer for Railways, Calcutta. While holding these various appointments he received promotion to Third Class Chief Engineer in November, 1889, Second Class in June, 1891,and First Class in January, 1892.

After a further four months’ leave to England in May, 1892, Horace Bell returned for a final term of service, as Consulting Engineer for State Railways to the Government of India, which office he held till his retirement in June, 1894. During that period he also acted for a short time as Director General of Railways in India.

This rapid promotion to one of the highest posts in the Public Works Department was an acknowledgment of his technical ability and high administrative capacity. His talents as a writer were great; he was the author of “Laws of Wealth,” a work on political economy, and also of a “Primer on the Government of India,” both written for natives of India, and his “Railway Policy in India” has long been recognised as a standard work on that subject.

A fluent French scholar and a frequent speaker on Indian railway work, it was natural that his interest in India should not cease with his career in the service of Government. He therefore commenced practice, on leaving India, as Consulting Engineer in London, and, among other works, the Nilgiril Hill metre-gauge rack railway and the Southern Punjab 5-feet-6-inches-gauge Railway were constructed under his guidance.

His varied talents and sterling qualities endeared him to his many friends, and his bodily activity seemed to promise a long life after his arduous work in India, but an attack of influenza in the autumn of 1902 developed heart disease, and he died on the 10th April, 1903.

Horace Bell was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 5th March, 1867, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 30th January, 1872.

In 1897 he was elected a Member of the Council, on which he served till his death.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1903 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries