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Sarah Bell visits Comptroller General of Convicts, Josiah Spode, 1855

Office of the Comptroller General of Convicts, Josiah Spode, in 1855.

Sarah Bell, née Danby (1803–85), was born in London, England. After migrating to New South Wales, she married George Bell at Bullhill, near Liverpool, New South Wales, in 1834. The couple had three children—Sarah Jane (1836), Walter Stephen (1837) and Ann Danby (1839)—before relocating to Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land, in 1839 in order to operate a school. Ann Danby Bell died in Launceston in January 1840, but the couple had their youngest child, George Renison Bell, at Bothwell later that year. Sarah’s husband, George Bell, died in Hobart Town in 1852. In January 1855 her elder son, seventeen-year-old Walter, was sent to live at Port Arthur in hope of improving his health. Two months later Sarah decided to visit Comptroller General of Convicts, Josiah Spode, in his office in Macquarie Street, Hobart Town, to thank him for this kind action. Along her journey from West Hobart through the centre of town she was intimidated by campaigners for the simultaneous City of Hobart and Buckingham (Legislative Council) elections, won by Arthur Perry and William Crooke respectively. 

Headstone of Sarah Bell, Quaker Burial Ground, Hobart.

On the 7th I was enabled to go to town, the wind in the early part of the day being cool, but towards noon, it increased very much, & the dust began to fly about in every direction. I had to call on Mary Weeks our washer woman, who lives in Macquarie St, then upon my old friend Antonia Murdoch who to my sorrow was out; & lastly upon the Comptroller, to thank him for his kindness to my dear Walter. But long before I reached his office, I had to contend against a driving wind, & dust enough to blind any one: passing Arthur Perry’s office (who is one of the candidates for the city election) I had to encounter a mob of men, some of whom were holding flags & their speechifying, the German band playing, some apparently intoxicated, &c, &c. Oh dear thought I! What shall I do! It was folly to return, & confusion to go on, but still on, I went, & at last, reaching the Comptroller’s office, I rushed up the steps, thankful to get inside any dwelling wherein I might be permitted to shelter myself from the storm of the elements & of mankind. On enquiring of Murphy the office keeper if I could see the Comptroller?, he said, that the Private Secretary was with him just then; so of course there was no alternative, but that I must wait his departure, a privilege of which I was thankful to avail myself, as it would enable me to recover in some measure, from the flurry & disorder, into which I had been thrown by the aforesaid contending elements. So I sat down in the waiting room & commenced wiping my face & smoothing my ruffled plumage, so that I might appear somewhat decently before the Comptroller; during which time my ears were assailed with the discordant sounds of music, soft & gentle, & loud vociferating Hurrah’s [sic] for Perry, &c, &c accompanied with the punishing bass, of the triumphant gale, that was then blowing most furiously. Between 12 & one, midday, I was ushered into the presence of the Comptroller, he spoke very highly & kindly of my dear W assuring that his health had much improved & that he was carefully guarded by Mr & Mrs Boyd, he had appointed him a situation for two months (which was then vacant) desiring to help us all, but when that ended he hoped I should see my way clearly, respecting my son, as he cannot recommend his remaining in Govt employment; but still if we did see our way clear that he should so remain, he would appoint him a situation, with a house & a man servant, wood & water, rent free in which we could join him for all of which of course I felt truly thankful & expressed the same. Since then I have been very unwell. Arthur Perry & Dr Bedford contested for the city election & Dr Crooke & John Curwen Walker for the county of Buckingham. Perry has been chosen for the city, & Crooke for Buckingham. As a family we regret that Dr Bedford was not appointed for the city, & rejoice greatly for the success of Crooke …