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Valentine Graeme Bell

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Valentine Graeme Bell (1839-1908), Civil engineer.

1839 June 27th. Born at Spitalfields, the son of William Bell and his wife Elizabeth Kinnear

1864 Married (1) to Rebecca Filson

1868 Patented design of locomotive for use with centre-rail mountain railways[1]

1868 Supervised construction of engines for the Mont Cenis Railway to the design of Mr. J. R. Crampton[2]

1882 Married (2) to Emily Georgina Lynch

1883 Went to Jamaica

1908 May 29th. Died.

1908 June 18th. Probate. C.M.G. of Kingston, Jamaica. Probate to Widow Emile Georgina Bell

1908 Obituary [3]

THE HON. VALENTINE GRAEME BELL, C.M.G., who died at a nursing-home in London on the 29th May, 1908, had only recently resigned the post of Director of Public Works in Jamaica, to which he was appointed in 1887, his connection with the island in an engineering capacity dating from 1880.

Born in London on the 27th June, 1839, he was the youngest son of Mr. William Bell, merchant, of Aldersgate Street, subsequently official assigne in bankruptcy.

After being educated at private schools, he served an apprenticeship to an engineering firm at Manchester, and subsequently became a pupil of Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Brunlees, Past-President, with whom he remained as chief assistant on completing his pupilage.

For 3 years, Mr. Bell acted as Resident Engineer of the Cleveland Railway, Yorkshire (now part of the North Eastern system), and then for 2 years as Resident Engineer of the Mont Cenis (Fell) Railway. After the destruction by flood in 1866 of the Route Imperial between St. Jean de Maurienne and Lanslebourg, he constructed a temporary road and rebuilt the permanent road for the French Government, while still responsible for the Mont Cenis Railway; and in 1869-70 he was entrusted with the design and supervision of the erection of the special locomotives for the line at Messrs. Cail and Company’s works in Paris.

During the next decade he was variously occupied with railway projects at Marseilles, inspection of mines in the United States, consulting practice in London, and in designing and constructing waterworks at Cadiz. As director and shareholder in the last named enterprise, he sustained heavy financial loss, and this circumstance reconciled him to the prospect presently offered him of a career in Jamaica, although he was then recognized as a very promising member of the younger generation of engineers of his day at home.

In 1880 he was selected by the Colonial Office to investigate and report upon the Government railway in Jamaica, then in a very disreputable and unsafe condition. He reconstructed and extended the road, and in 3 years had converted it into a line which was a credit to the island,

Sir Henry Norman, then Governor of Jamaica, being deeply impressed with Mr. Bell’s administrative ability and energy, appointed him in 1886 a member of the Legislative Council, and in the following year he was confirmed in the appointment of Director of Public Works, a position which he occupied with ability and distinction until his retirement in 1908.

He took a leading part in the material development of the island, both as an engineer and an administrator, and although friction at. times resulted from his energetic methods, his administrative capacity and disinterested motives were recognized on all hands, and by none more than those who were temporarily opposed to him upon particular questions. The transfer in 1889 of the Government railways to an American syndicate aroused considerable controversy, Mr. Bell being unfavourable to the scheme, and in later years it was reconsidered, the Government resuming control in 1900.

The extent of his influence upon the progress of the colony may be gathered from the fact that, besides erecting 110 bridges and practically all the modern public buildings, constructing waterworks, and drainage works, and revolutionizing the lighting in the chief towns, he added during his period of office no less than 1,166 miles of roads to the 801 miles which existed in 1886; and, with the exception of the mountainous regions, he left no spot in the colony which was not within 5 miles of a good main road. He earned the goodwill and esteem of successive Governors of Jamaica, and in 1903, in recognition of his valuable public services, he received the decoration of C.M.G. The strain upon his constitution entailed by his manifold exertions, especially in and after the earthquake of January, 1907, was undoubtedly responsible for a serious breakdown in health in that year, and ultimately, after a severe operation from which he failed to recover, resulted in his death.

Mr. Bell was twice married, and leaves a widow and family; his son by the first marriage, the Hon. A. G. Bell, is now Director of Public Works in Trinidad.

Mr. Bell was elected a Member of the Institution on the 4th May, 1869.

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