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Sir Henry Hesketh Bell Collection

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 36

Scope and Contents

Diaries, notebooks, letters, scrapbooks and publications. Titles and captions, including the names of institutions, have been recorded as found and may include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate. They have been retained to reflect the context of the collection's creation.


  • Creation: 1889 - 1948


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Sir Henry Hesketh Joudou Bell was born at Chambery in the Savoie district of south-east France on 17 December 1864. Bell was privately educated in the Channel Islands, and in Paris and Brussels. In 1882 a family friend Sir William Robinson offered him the post of third clerk in the office of the Governor of Barbados and the Leeward Islands and he arrived in Barbados in May of that year. In the following year he transferred to the Grenada Inland Revenue Department and worked there until 1889. After an unsuccessful attempt to find employment under the Egyptian Government, Bell was Supervisor of Customs in the Gold Coast from 1890-94, when he became Receiver General and Treasurer of the Bahamas. After applying for the administratorship of the Seychelles in 1899, he was offered St. Kitts-Nevis, but later agreed to serve in Dominica where he was administrator from 1899-1906. It was during this period that Bell started his experimental plantation Sylvania, evolved a system of hurricane insurance, and continued his researches into witchcraft in the West Indies. Bell left the West Indies in 1906 to take up the post of Commissioner of the Uganda Protectorate (a title changed to Governor in the following year) and his period there was memorable for his development of the cotton industry and near-eradication of sleeping sickness in the country around Lake Victoria.

He was promoted in 1909 to the Governorship of Northern Nigeria and it was during this term of office that his career received a lasting setback. Since Lugard’s time it had been agreed that no missionaries should take up residence in and around Kano, but with the development of the administration and the coming of the railway to the town, the Church Missionary Society again sought permission to extend their activities in the area. Bell discussed the question with the newly-appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies Lewis Harcourt while on leave in London in 1911, and came away with the impression that the question was open. Before leaving England however, a letter was delivered to him explicitly forbidding any change in policy until further investigations had been made. This letter Bell packed unread in his suitcase and forgot about for several months, by which time reports were reaching the Colonial Office of missionary activity in Kano. Harcourt’s anger at what he took to be a deliberate disobedience of his instructions resulted in Bell’s transfer to the Leeward Islands, a governorship of lesser rank, salary and responsibility than Bell might reasonably have expected after his previous posts. Further arguing of his case led nowhere, even a request to petition the King over his grievances being turned down, although Harcourt did agree ‘to lay at the foot of the Throne’ any ‘proper Memorial’ from Bell, ‘with my advice to His Majesty in regard to it’. Bell remained in the Leeward Islands from 1912-16, when he was made Governor of Mauritius, a post he held until his retirement in 1924.

After his retirement Bell lived in Cannes but travelled widely and in 1925-26 made an extensive semi-official tour of the Far East to study French and Dutch systems of colonial government. The resulting book, 'Foreign colonial administration in the Far East' (1928), was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Empire Society. During the Second World War, Bell returned to live in the Bahamas, but was a frequent visitor to London and died there on 1st August 1952.

A prolific author, Bell’s published work includes memoirs, imaginative fiction and colonial history and administration. The most important of these are: 'Obeah: witchcraft in the West Indies' (1893), 'A witch’s legacy' (1893), 'The history, trade, resources and present condition of the Gold Coast settlement' (1893), 'Outlines of the geography of the Gold Coast Colony and Protectorate' (1894), 'Love in black' (1911), 'Glimpses of a Governor’s life' (1946), 'Witches and fishes' (1948). He was in addition a tireless contributor to newspapers, journals and magazines.


.1 cubic metre(s) (10 archive boxes) : paper

Language of Materials



Former / Other Reference

MSS 11c99

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was bequeathed to Mrs A. Llewellin-Taylour, for eventual deposit in the Royal Commonwealth Society. It was handed over by her executors in 1968.

Related Materials

Bell's photograph collection is held at Y3011C-N.

Related Materials

In 1940, Bell presented his diaries to the British Museum, which are now held by the British Library. The diaries acquired by the RCS appear to be copies which Bell kept for his family.


This description was created by MJC.


Bell, Sir, Henry Hesketh Joudou, 1864-1952, Knight, colonial governor

Includes index.
2010-03-24 10:13:10+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom