Chronology [New updated material]

This Timeline records the life of Joseph and the ships he served on, the gallery page has photos of most of them.

1861     Joseph Bell was born on the 12th of March 1861, and christened on the  4th May, in Farlam, Cumberland.

1867     White Star Line purchased by Thomas Henry Ismay.

1876     Joseph Bell aged 15 years was apprenticed with R & H Stephenson & Co Shipyard, at Newcastle upon Tyne.

 1881     Joseph Bell family living in Carlisle.

1883    Joseph Bell aged 22 entered the mercantile marine with Lamport & Holt, Liverpool, sailing under the flag of the Liverpool and River Plate Steam Navigation Company formed in 1870.  He was employed by them for two years the Steamship routes were:  Liverpool to Lisbon, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The Liverpool entrepreneur George Holt of Lamport & Holt shipping line, pioneered the frozen meat trade between the River Plate in South America and the UK.  The  Holt family home in Liverpool was Sudely House that was bequeathed to the people of Liverpool on the death of their daughter Emma in 1944. Sudley houses Britain’s only Victorian merchant’s art collection still in its original domestic setting.  Among the collected artworks here are paintings by Gainsborough, the Pre-Raphaelites, Turner, Landseer and Raeburn.

1885    Joseph Bell joined the White Star Line serving in the following:

RMS Oceanic maiden voyage 2nd March 1871 Liverpool – New York.  Liverpool -San Francisco-Yokahama-Hong Kong.  This was the first ship to have promenade decks and bathtubs with running water for passengers.  The fare  to New York was, Saloon £16 16s Od [Return £28 7s Od], Steerage £6 6s 0d

SS Britannic maiden voyage to New York 25th June 1874, she broke both the eastbound and westbound records with passages of less than 7.5 days at anaverage speed of 15.7 knots.

SS Baltic [2]  maiden voyage 29th June 1904 Liverpool-New York.  On 14th April 1912, the Baltic sent an ice warning message to Titanic: “Greek steamer Athenia reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice today in latitude 41 51′ N, longitude 49  52′ W.  Wish you and Titanic all success”

RMS Adriatic maiden voyage 8th May 1907 Liverpool -New York.  An additional innovation was the inclusion of the first indoor swimming pool and Turkish bath.

SS Celtic maiden voyage 11th July 1901 Liverpool-New York.

SS Bovic maiden voyage 26th August 1892 Liverpool-New York.

SS Suevic maiden voyage 23rd March 1901 Liverpool-Cape Town-Sydney. On her outward voyages carried troops to the Cape and on return, Australian contingents to the Boer War.  Captain Alford R.N.R. was in command and the ship’s Chief Engineer was Joseph Bell.  The ship had the refrigeration capacity for 100,000 carcasses of mutton and could also accommodate 20,000 bales of wool.  She had a gross tonnage of 12482 tons and was at that time one of the largest ship’s afloat.

SS Athenic maiden voyage 13th February 1902 London-Cape Town-Hobart-Wellington New Zealand.

SS Corinthic maiden voyage 20th November 1902 London-Cape Town Wellington New Zealand. ‘Colonist’ news item Wellington May 9th 1904:  CAPTURED POMPOM – Word has been received that the pompom [ 2 pounder quick firing Artillery Gun] captured from the Boers, and awarded by the War Office to New Zealand as a trophy of the campaign, was shipped from England by S.S. Corinthic.

RMS Cedric maiden voyage 11th February 1903 Liverpool-New York. When Titanic sank in April 1912 the Cedric was in New York and her departure was delayed until the Carpathia arrived with survivors, including crew members not required for the Court of Enquiry, who wished to travel back to Liverpool.

SS Laurentic maiden voyage 29th April 1909 Liverpool-Quebec-Montreal.

1889   Joseph Bell appointed 3rd engineer to the SS Teutonic that was launched on the 19th of January 1889.The SS Teutonic was built by Harland & Wolff at Belfast and completed on the 25th July 1889 and delivered to Liverpool, where she was converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser and equipped with 8 4.7-inch guns.  On the 1st of August she sailed from Liverpool to attend the Spithead Naval  Review to mark the Golden Jubilee of QueenVictoria as the first AMC.  At Spithead she was inspected by the Prince of Wales and Kaiser Willhelm 11 the 3rd of August but because the actual review was postponed until the following Monday due to bad weather, the Teutonic had to leave on the Sunday because of her maiden voyage.  Hence the omission from the review line up.  On her return to Liverpool she was disarmed for commercial service and sailed on her maiden voyage to New York.

1890     Joseph Bell appointed 2nd engineer to the SS Majestic that was launched on 29th of June 1889.SS Majestic was built by Harland & Wolff a sister ship of the SS Teutonic, and delivered on the 23rd March 1890. She had her maiden voyage to New York on the 2nd April.  On the 13th December 1899 she was requisitioned as a Boer War transport for service between Liverpool and Cape Town.

1891     Joseph Bell on his first trip to New Zealand was appointed chief engineering officer, aged 30, to the SS Coptic launched on the 10th August 1881.    The SS Coptic was built by Harland & Wolff.  She made her inaugural sailing of service, London – New Zealand –Cape Horn-South America –UK on the 26th May 1884 when the First Class fare was £77, the Steerage £7 7s 0p and the First Class ‘Round the World’ ticket was £105.  She remained in service for 44 years.

‘Press Association’ 17th March 1891 ARRIVAL OF THE SS COPTIC: Wellington March 16th 1891.  The Coptic arrived at 9.30 this morning.  The vessel got up to the wharf at 11 a.m.  She had unsettled weather, with fog, rain, and heavy N.E. swell, on the way from Hobart.  She brings 46 passengers and a full cargo.  She is commanded by Captain Kempson, but Mr Acheson, late second officer, is now chief, Mr Whistler [R.N.R.] third, and Mr Northcote fourth; both coming from the Atlantic service.  Mr Bell [R.N.R.] succeeds Mr Haliburton as chief engineer.

‘Press Association’ 17h December 1891 R.M.S. COPTIC: Wellington December 16th 1891.  The Coptic, from London, via ports, arrived in the harbour shortly before midnight yesterday.  Her dates – London 29th October, Plymouth 31st October, Teneriffe 5th November, Capetown 22nd November, Hobart 11th December.  With the exception of a heavy easterly gale after leaving Plymouth fine weather was experienced throughout the voyage, which was an uneventful one, and occupied 42 days 20 hours 32 minutes.  Her mail is a very small one, consisting of five bags and  one packet.  She brings sixty-eight saloon and fifty-eight steerage passengers for all ports.  The Coptic is still commanded by  Captain Kempson, R.N.R., who has associated with him Mr L D Chapman as chief officer, Mr T A Whistler second, Mr J B Ransom third, Mr J M Cables fourth, Mr Joseph Bell chief engineer, Mr J L McLellan second, Mr E Lloyd third, Mr J Hodgson fourth, Mr J Purviss fifth, Mr S Scoullar chief refrigerating engineer, Mr G McMahon second refrigerating engineer, Mr W S Inman purser,Dr W H Murray surgeon, and Mr H W Ovenden chief steward.

 1892     Joseph Bell married to Maud Bates of Ripley, Derbyshire, and were married in the area of Ripley.

 1894     Joseph Bell appointed Chief engineer to the SS Ionic that was launched on the 16th January 1883.  This was a cargo liner that sailed from London to Wellington New Zealand via the Cape of Good Hope. SS Ionic was built by Harland & Wolff and completed on the 28th March 1883 and was initially a cargo liner.  She made her maiden voyage from London to Wellington, via the Cape of Good Hope, in April 1884, setting a new record for the passage.  In 1894  Harland & Wolff extensively refitted her.

‘Auckland Star’ New Zealand 7th May 1894  THE IONIC:

The Shaw, Saville, and Albion Company’s steamer Ionic, from London, arrived here at 6.55 a.m. to-day.  She left the Royal Albert Docks, London, on Thursday, March 22nd, at 0.47 p.m., and calling at Plymouth on the 24th and taking passengers and mails on board the Ionic proceeding on her way, meeting with fresh S.E breezes across the  Bay of Biscay, from thence strong S.W. to westerly winds until arrival at Teneriffe on  March 29th.  After coaling here she proceeded at 10.32 a.m. the same day for Capetown, experiencing moderate variable breezes to the line, which was crossed on Wednesday, April 4th, at 5 p.m., thence until arrival in Table Bay on Thursday, April 12th, at 10 p.m., moderate to fresh S.E. Trades.  The voyage was resumed on April 13th after having embarked a few passengers.  Light to moderate variable winds were encountered to long. 50deg E., thence strong breezes to an occasional moderate gale, wind varying from N.N.W. to S.W., to long. 100deg E.; from thence to port, rainy, dull and overcast weather was experienced, high following sea and squalls of wind, being principally from W. to N.W.

The Mewstone **was passed at 6.38 a.m., and Ionic arrived at Hobart Wharf at 1.20 p.m.  After landing about 140 tons of general merchandise, and passengers, the  Ionic left at 6.25 a.m. on 2nd May for Auckland, experiencing on the voyage across S.W. to westerly winds and weather squally and rainy till the coast of New  Zealand was sighted.  The run down the coast was particularly fine, wind S.S.W. and sea smooth, arriving as above.

** This  is part of the Pedra Branca group, in geographical terms it is borderline between being classified as a  rock, an islet or an island.  It lies at lat.43 deg.50 S and long.146 deg.58 E. in the Southern Ocean. The smaller islands are Mewstone, Eddystone and Sidmouth Rocks.  Over fifteen thousand years ago this group was part of the Tasmanian mainland and is listed as a World Heritage site.  Three of the islands are composed of  dolerite and sandstone which rise vertically from the ocean floor.

Capt Kidley R N R who is in command, is assisted by the following officers:- Chief officer, W.L. Dangerfield Chapman [Lieut R.N.R.] : second, R.W.James; third, E.Crosby Roberts; Joseph Bell, R.N.R., chief engineer; G.R. McMahon, second engineer; W.Reid, third engineer; Walter S Inm, purser.  Since her last voyage to New Zealand the Ionic has undergone extensive alterations at  the  hands of her builders, Messrs Harland and Wolff.  She has been fitted with new quadruple expansion engines of the largest type.  Her passenger accommodation has been entirely re-arranged on the lines of the new twin-screw steamship Gothic belonging to the White Star line, and she has been provided with new refrigerating apparatus – Hall’s system – capable of dealing with 36,000 carcasses and 217 tons dairy produce.  the Ionic leaves Wellington probably to-morrow evening.

1895/6  The photograph of Joseph Bell in Naval uniform taken in Wellington, New Zealand, it was a pre paid entry in The Cyclopedia of New Zealand dated 1897.  It may have been taken for the White Star Line to promote their  services to New Zealand.  Frances John Bell, Joseph Bell’s eldest son was born 1895.

1907     The idea to build the Titanic as well as Olympic is conceived.  The intent was to construct a class of ships that could compete with the Cunard line for the luxury passenger trade for crossing the Atlantic.

1908     Joseph Bell is living in Waterloo, Liverpool with his wife Maud. As the representative of White Star Company in Belfast, he supervised the installation of the engines for both SS Lawrentic and SS Megantic. He sailed on the first two or three voyages of each, as the Chief Engineer. Both SS Lawrentic & SS Megantic sailed the route Liverpool – Quebec-Montreal. SS Lawrentic was launched in 1908 and made her maiden voyage on 29.04.09. The ship was on 25.01.17 struck by two mines and sank. SS Megantic was launched on 10.12.08 and made her maiden voyage on the 17.06.10. The ship was attacked by the German U-boat U-3 during WW1,

1909  23rd June 1909. THE WHITE STAR LINE – Last year’s profit.  The White Star Company’s working profits for 1908 was £229,940, compared with £848,486 in 1907.  The company has 29 steamers, whose total tonnage is 386,000.  it was founded in 1869 by the late Mr T H Ismay.  Steamers flying the White Star traded between England and America first; now they run to Mediterranean, South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian ports.  The vessels in the New Zealand trade include the Athenic, Corinthic, and Ionic.

 1910     Joseph Bell appointed Chief engineer to R M S Olympic, launched on the  20th October 1910 and was a sister ship to the Titanic.  He was on board for the maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on the 24th June 1911.  R.M.S. Olympic was built by Harland & Wolff and launched on the 20th October 1910 and completed on the 31st May 1911, a special day for White Star Line as it was also her sister ship Titanics’s launch day.  After a two-day gala visit to Liverpool, her official port of registry, Olympic sailed to Southampton to prepare for her maiden voyage on the 14th of June.  On the 21st June 1911, at the completion of the outward leg of Olympic’s maiden voyage, when she was temporarily  under the command of the New York  harbour pilot to be eased into berth by no less than 12 tugs, one of them was caught in the turbulence caused by her enormous propellers and dragged beneath the overhanging stern.  About $10,000 worth of damage was done to the tug, while Olympic suffered only a few scratches and a dented plate.  At the beginning of the homeward-bound half of the voyage  at midday on the 28th June, soon after leaving New York’s Pier 59, it was discovered that a passenger had forgotten his glasses.  Another pair were quickly manufactured and the well-known aviator Tommy Sopwith attempted to fly them out to the ship while she was still in the narrows, and in full view of the press. Clearly the whole event was a  carefully planned publicity stunt, but it all came to naught when the attempt to drop the glasses onto the ship failed, and the spectacles bounced overboard into the sea.  Olympic completed the crossing at an average speed of almost 22 1/2kt.

1911     Titanic was launched on the 31st May 1911.  Joseph was sent to Belfast to oversee the installation of the boilers and engines prior to the maiden voyage of the Titanic.  Francis [Frank] John Bell eldest son of Joseph, was on the day of the 1911 census [2nd April] a boarder at Grosvenor College, Carlisle, the school was run by William Sharpe Graham and his wife Clara Alma Graham.

1912     Titanic Fitting Out completed on 31st March.  The gross tonnage of the Titanic was 46,328 tons.  It measured 882 feet long and 92 feet wide.  Its  eight decks reached the height of eleven storeys.  The top of the captain’s quarters was 105 feet above the bottom of the keel.  Three million rivets held the hull together.  The ship’s three propellers were each the size of windmills.  Its steel rudder, weighing 101 tons, was 783 ¾ feet high.  Its three anchors weighed a total of 31 tons.  Its four funnels [one of them a dummy, added for aesthetic balance] were 22 feet in diameter and rose 81 feet above the boat deck. Joseph Bell accompanied by his eldest son Francis Bell who was recently apprenticed in marine engineering with Harland & Wolff, arrive from Belfast with the Titanic in Southampton on the 3rd of April. Francis [Frank] Bell son of Joseph Bell, disembarked the Titanic.  Titanic left Southampton on April the 10th at midday, it left Queenstown in Ireland for New York at 13.30 pm, on 11th.  April Titanic hit the iceberg on the night of the 14th of April at 23.40 pm an sank within two hours.

1912    Joseph Bell, aged 51 Chief engineer of the Titanic, dies at his post in the engine room with his fellow engineers.  Like up top, the hierarchy in the boiler room amongst the 244  who lost their lives existed as well. The Engineers, Firemen, Trimmers and Greasers had well defined roles. Engineers apart, 1st were the Leading Firemen who were overseeing the Firemen and Trimmers and controlling the pressure required from the boilers.  2nd were The Firemen, they fed the furnaces with the coal.  3rd were the Trimmers who were bringing coal from the bunker to the furnaces and cleaning out the ash.

The wreck of R.M.S. Titanic rests on the Atlantic ocean floor at a depth of 3800m [12,467 ft] off the coast of Newfoundland.  Titanic had completed 1,451 miles of the 1,901 miles of her total intended journey before she sank.

New Zealand newspaper article of 24th April 1912.


The chief engineer of the Titanic who appears to have perished in the  great disaster, was Mr Bell.  he was well known in New Zealand ports, and was formerly chief engineer on the Athenic, in which steamer he made a number of voyages from London to New Zealand.  For several years past he had been chief engineer of steamers in the trans-Atlantic service of the White Star Line.  The Lyttelton Marine Band will give a sacred concert on the band rotunda at Lyttelton on Sunday next, at 3 p.m., in aid of those who have been left destitute by the Titanic disaster.  At the meeting of Woodend householders on Monday night a vote of sympathy with the friends and relations of the Titanic victims was passed.

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