Small Collections Box 17
Given by Mrs Margot Maxwell-Gumbleton.
In her typescript memoir ‘R.D. and Jay’ Mrs Maxwell-Gumbleton provides an account of the career of her father, Robert Duncan Bell, using extracts from his diaries, written to send home, to which she has added a commentary. The diaries cover the period from his journey out to India in November 1902 to March 1906. In 1905 R.D.B. was joined in India by his wife Janet (Jay). Thereafter she took over the responsibility of keeping the family ‘at home’ informed and R.D.B. ceased to keep his diary. The final quarter of the memoir is an account, by Mrs M.-G., of the life of the family in India, England and Scotland, until R.D.B. retired from the I.C.S. in 1937.
After attending university at Edinburgh and Cambridge, Robert Duncan Bell passed out third in the Civil Service examination and joined the I.C.S. He was twenty-four when he sailed for India alone although he was already married to Jay and had a small daughter Jessie (J.B.). In 1905 Jay joined him in India leaving J.B. with R.D.B.’s mother in Edinburgh. R.D.B. kept a diary, first daily then weekly, which he sent back to his mother and sisters. The diary was in addition to, not instead of, letters home – to Jay for instance.
R.D.B. was posted to Nasik in the Deccan (Bombay Presidency) as an Assistant Collector. The diary describes his life as he learned his job, went out on tour (in camp) and got to know his District. Social life and visits to interesting places – the source of the Godavary river, the caves at Lena – are described. There were also periods of ‘swotting’ for the various examinations which had to be passed to qualify for promotion and increases in pay. There were trips to Poona with its busy social life, much of it centred around horse racing and polo. Lord Northcote, the Governor, left for Australia. Sir James Monteath I.C.S. became Acting Governor. R.D.B. attended a six week course on Indian agriculture in Poona.
In 1903 R.D.B. was put in charge of the District at Malegaon, twenty-four miles from the nearest railway station. Much time was spent travelling and in camp. Hunting and shooting became important leisure activities.
April 1904 saw R.D.B. back in Poona from where he was posted to the hill station of Mahabaleshwar to help with the impending locust invasion. He travelled round lecturing villagers on how to cope with the plague of insects. He visited Surat. He went on a panther hunt, without success.
There is a gap of some months in the diary which starts again in 1905 as R.D.B. was about to be posted to Bhusaval, Khandesh District. He describes Bhusaval as a ‘disappointment’; his bungalow as a ‘scandal’. However there were compensations. In May he shot a panther. In August he mentions the celebrations for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales. He and Jay visit the ruined city of Pal which had been abandoned in the early eighteenth century. In November the new Viceroy, Lord Minto, stopped his train in Bhusaval long enough to have dinner. R.D.B. makes comparisons with Curzon.
The diaries end in March 1906 and the story is taken up by the youngest Bell child, Margaret Mary (M.M. or Margot) born in India in 1916. In August 1914 Jay had installed the older Bell children, then aged 12, 7 and 5, in a small ‘home’ school in Bexhill-on-Sea called St. Catherine’s. This was run by the Misses O’Sullivan. The war intervened and R.D.B. did not see these children until 1920 when he had a year’s leave. In 1923 M.M. was left at St. Catherine’s and J.B. joined her parents in India, having completed her time at a finishing school in Switzerland. M.M. describes her life at the Bexhill school and later at Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset.
From 1924 until he retired in 1937, R.D.B. and Jay moved between homes in the beautiful Malabar Hill area of Bombay (during the cold weather) and Poona. He was appointed Secretary, Development Department, Government of Bombay and represented the Bombay Government on the Imperial Legislative Assembly in New Delhi.
In 1926 J.B. married Henry Foley Knight who was also a member of the I.C.S. By 1932 Jay had become ill and so when she decided to return to India M.M. left school to travel with her mother. M.M. vividly describes the hectic social life of Bombay and Poona; the clubs, parties and sports, which included tennis, golf and hunting with the Poona and Kirkee hounds.
When in Poona the Bells lived at a house called Barons Court, a mile outside the city, in an area called Yeravda. Also at Yeravda was the jail where Gandhi was imprisoned from time to time. From 1932, until he retired, Gandhi and his followers, what they stood for, and the effect they had on the Indian masses, were RD.B.’s concern to the exclusion of almost everything else in his work. As Home Member of the Bombay Government, law and order, the police, security and prisons in the Presidency were all part of his responsibility. He had many meetings with Gandhi as he went in and out of jail and hospital during his fasts.
The Bombay Government moved into the city of Bombay for the cold weather which involved moving offices, staff, servants and families into the even grander setting of the city.
In 1934 Jay died just as R.D.B. reached the top of his career. He was knighted by the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, in 1935. In the following year he took over as Acting Governor of Bombay while Lord and Lady Brabourne were on leave in Britain. M.M. describes the splendour of life with her father at this time; the three official residences, including one in Mahabaleshwar, where they lived like royalty. Shortly after this, R.D.B. retired from the I.C.S. He was sixty. They returned to England where he lived, first near Reading and after the war in Hampshire. He died in 1953. The Times of India tribute to his career of over thirty years in the Bombay Presidency is quoted in the first chapter of the memoir. 139pp.; 4pp. of photographs; l0pp. of appendices.