Bell, John (1747-1798) (DNB00)

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BELL, JOHN (1747–1798), artillerist, was the eldest son of a hatter at Carlisle, where he was born on 1 March 1747. His father ruined himself in attempts to discover the longitude. In 1765 Bell joined the artillery. He served at Gilbraltar and afterwards in England. He was at Southsea in 1782, and was an eye-witness of the foundering of the Royal George. He invented a plan for destroying the wreck, which was the same as one carried out by Colonel Pasley in 1839. He also invented the 'sunproof' for testing the soundness of guns, long in use in the royal arsenal; a 'gyn,' called by his name, and a petard, of which there is a model in the Woolwich laboratory; a crane for descending mines; and a harpoon for taking whales (for the last two of which he received premiums from the Society of Arts); and an apparatus for rescuing shipwrecked mariners, said to be identical with that afterwards devised by Captain Manby. For this he received a premium from the Society of Arts of fifty guineas, and in 1815 the House of Commons voted 500l. to his daughter (Mrs. Whitfield) in recognition of the same invention. In 1793 the Duke of Richmond gave him a commission as second-lieutenant in the artillery, and in 1794 he was promoted to a first-lieutenancy. He was employed in a secret expedition for the destruction of the Dutch fleet in the Texel, which was abandoned.

He died of apoplexy at Queensborough on 1 June 1798, whilst engaged in fitting out fire-ships.

[United Services Journal, April 1849; Society of Arts' Transactions (1897), vol. xxv., where there is an engraving of his apparatus for wrecks.]