Charles Davidson Bell (1813-1882)

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Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait

Charles Davidson Bell was the Surveyor-General in the Cape, an artist and designer of Cape stamps. Bell landed in the Cape in 1830 and through his uncle Sir John Bell, Secretary to the Cape Government, was given a post in the civil service. He was appointed as expedition artist on Dr. Andrew Smith’s two-year journey north as far as the Limpopo in 1834. He went from Acting Clerk of the Legislative Council in 1838, to Assistant Surveyor-General in 1843, to Surveyor-General in 1848. Appointed to the Postal Enquiry Board in 1852, he designed the well-known Cape of Good Hope triangular stamp, the first of that shape, which became extremely rare and consequently much sought after by philatelists. His design of rectangular stamps remained in use until 1902.

Stamp Designed by Bell

Stamp Designed by Bell

Many of his sketches and paintings show a whimsical sense of humour, though his sensitive portrayals of the mixed population of Cape Town and of the tribes he encountered on the Smith expedition to the north, have become an invaluable record of life in nineteenth-century South Africa. The return of many of his paintings from England to South Africa in 1978, gave art historians a fresh appreciation of his work and greater insight into that period of Cape history.

Bell was a founder member and chairman of the South African Mutual Life Assurance Society, and a prominent Freemason. He was awarded a gold medal in 1851 for his oil painting depicting the Landing of van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope. A large number of his originals hang in the Library of Parliament in Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand and the Africana Museum in Johannesburg. The book Travels in the Interior of South Africa (1868) by James Chapman, was illustrated by Bell. His Reports of the Surveyor-General, Charles D. Bell Esq., on the copper fields of Little Namaqualand (1855) was written after a three-month visit to the area. He gave his name to the town of Bellville in the Cape, and Bell, a small village between Peddie and Hamburg, near the mouth of the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape.

The Landing of van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope 1652

The Landing of van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope 1652

John Bell was a traveller and the eldest son of Charles Davidson Bell. Between 1861 and 1862 he accompanied Henry Samuel Chapman from Cape Town to Walvis Bay, through Hereroland to Lake Ngami and back to the Cape Colony via Shoshong, Kuruman and Hopetown. He was married to Margaret Roome in 1865 and died in 1878 in England.

Charles Bell was a friend of Andrew Geddes Bain and was a pall-bearer at his funeral in 1864. After his retirement in 1872 he returned to Scotland in 1873 with Helena and their 3 surviving children, where Helena Bell died on 10 September 1881 and he died on 7 April 1882.

Cape Wagon Crossing a River

Cape Wagon Crossing a River

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