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Bell, Alexander Foulis (1876–1940)

by Alfred Stirling

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alexander Foulis Bell (1876-1940), businessman, was born on 1 March 1876 at Paisley, Scotland, youngest child of John Bell and his second wife Euphemia, née Foulis. Aged 10 when he migrated to Queensland with his parents, he remained unmistakably Scottish throughout his life. His father set up in Brisbane as a warehouseman and manufacturers' agent, establishing the family home at Hazlewood, South Brisbane, in whose grounds he could indulge an inherited taste for ornithology.

After education at Brisbane Grammar School, Bell joined the local office of Robert Harper & Co., wholesale grocers, becoming manager in 1906. On 26 December 1911 he married Grace Stewart of Ipswich. Commissioned a lieutenant in the Queensland Rifles in 1903 and promoted to captain in 1911, Bell was prevented by poor eyesight from active service in World War I; as honorary major with the 8th Infantry (Oxley Battalion) he held a senior administrative post at Enoggera Camp in 1916-17.

In 1917 Bell was transferred to Melbourne to manage the firm's head office in Flinders Lane; two years later he became managing director with (Sir) Robert Gibson as chairman. Bell was a member of the Commonwealth Dried Fruits Control Board from its inception in 1925 until September 1939 and was acting chairman for a time in 1930; his assistance was invaluable in creating orderly overseas market procedures for the industry. Bell was also a member of the honorary committee which organized Australian trade publicity in Great Britain. His close friend and business associate S. M. (Viscount) Bruce sent him to the International Economic Conference at Geneva in 1927; in January that year he had been appointed C.M.G. He was a director and vice-chairman of the Union Trustee Co., a director of the Victorian Board of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and of the National Bank of Australasia from 1932 until February 1934 when he resigned to join the board of the Commonwealth Bank.

Though a member of the Melbourne and Australian clubs and of the Union Club (Sydney), Bell was an essentially private man, completely unostentatious and shunning publicity: he often remarked that 'the only newspaper columns one's name should appear in are the financial columns'. Kindly, with a pawky Glaswegian wit, he was always helpful to those genuinely seeking advice, especially younger people, but did not suffer fools gladly. He loved skilled horsemanship and good paintings, notably those of Frederick McCubbin. His many friends rightly regarded him as an apostle of financial soundness. He believed in paying cash for everything, thus getting the best prices, and in return he expected cash. There was never a penny owing on his balance sheets.

On 5 September 1939 Bell was appointed chairman of the Central Wool Committee, which carried out the wartime disposal of the Australian woolclip under the terms of contract between the Commonwealth government and Great Britain. His 'unremitting personal attention' to the committee's many problems led to severe overstrain; he died on 14 August 1940 of cerebro-vascular disease and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and his only daughter, whose career as a medical practitioner had given him great satisfaction. His estate was sworn for probate at £41,720.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Aug 1940
  • Pastoral Review (Melbourne), Sept 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1927, 2 Feb 1934, 15 Aug 1940
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 2 Feb 1934
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 Aug 1940
  • information from Australian Dried Fruits Control Board (Melbourne).

Citation details

Alfred Stirling, 'Bell, Alexander Foulis (1876–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bell-alexander-foulis-5188/text8723, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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