Joseph Bell, Titanic hero from Cumbria

Joseph Bell, Chief Engineer of RMS Titanic is remembered on his family grave memorial at St. Thomas a Becket church, Farlam, Cumbria.

St. Thomas a Becket's church Farlam, Cumbria

St. Thomas a Becket's church Farlam, Cumbria

Born to John and Margaret Bell of Farlam, Cumberland in May 1861, Joseph was educated at Mr. Harrison’s school in Carlisle before starting his apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson & Co., Newcastle upon Tyne.

In 1885 Joseph Bell joined the White Star line and was promoted to Chief Engineer on the Coptic in 1891 at the age of 30.  Before being transferred to the newly built RMS Titanic in 1912, he served on board her sister ship, RMS Olympic.

Joseph Bell became a member of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Institute of Marine Engineers.  His eldest son followed in his footsteps and started his apprenticeship at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, accompanying his father on board the RMS Titanic when she sailed from her shipyard in Belfast to Southampton, where she would set sail on her first and fateful journey.

Following a collision with an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on 15th April 1912, the seemingly infallible RMS  Titanic began to sink.

Joseph and his engineering staff stayed at their posts in order to sustain electrical power to keep the lighting, pumps and wireless going.  They achieved this for two hours and forty minutes until only 2 minutes before the ship finally sank, some one hour and 40 minutes longer than the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews had estimated.

The sinking of RMS Titanic claimed 1,517 lives, among them Joseph Bell and his engineers.  His body would never be recovered from the wreckage and he left behind him a widow, Maud and four children.

The family memorial is situated in an older part of St.Thomas a Becket Church yard in Farlam.

A much neglected and overgrown part of the graveyard, the red sandstone memorial can be found about 4 meters from the old small gate on the roadside.

Joseph Bell Family memorial

Joseph Bell Family memorial

Part of the left hand side of the stone is missing but the inscription reads;

“In memory of
Joseph Bell of Farlam
who departed this life Dec 18th
1856 aged 60 years
Margaret wife of John Bell of Farlam
died Aug 11th 1868 age 29 years.
Richard Watson Bell their son
died November 22nd 1882 aged 17 years.
Also of Joseph Bell aged 51 years
son of the above Margaret Bell
Chief engineer of the SS Titanic
who was lost with all his
engineering staff in the foundering
of that vessel in the Atlantic Ocean
after collision with an iceberg April 15th 1912.
Grater love hath no man than this
That a man may lay down his life for his friends”.

The SS (Steam Ship) Titanic in this inscription is generally referred to as RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic because at the time of her sinking, she and her sister ship RMS Olympic were under Royal contract to carry the mail.

Talkin Tarn links to RMS Titanic

Documentation indicates that the Bird Observatory at Talkin Tarn which was previously Farlam Boathouse, belonged to the family.
A letter now residing at Durham University, hand written by Jospeh Bell’s father, John Bell of Farlam agrees to “the continued use of the boat house and platform and water of the Tarn for a rent and not using it if Lord Carlisle or agents wished to and to remove the building if requested to do so”.

A reference in the letter states that the boathouse was built by Joseph Bell of Farlam in 1843 and ownership passed through his son John to his grandson Joseph bell, the chief engineer of RMS Titanic.

Further information

The Wreck of the Titanic – 2012 is the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic and there will be worldwide performances in April 2012 of David Bedford’s The Wreck of the Titanic.  An exciting musical interpretation of the Titanic disaster, drawing on contemporary newspaper reports, survivor accounts and the music of the day.

Titanic Heritage Trust – 2012 RMS Titanic anniversary

BBC History article – Titanic, Sinking the myths

Encyclopedia Titanica
– Joseph Bell article

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