Queensland State Archives image of Arthur Bell, employee of the Department of Agriculture and Stock.

Queensland State Archives image of Arthur Bell, employee of the Department of Agriculture and Stock.

Arthur Frank Bell is included on the Department of Agriculture First World War Roll of Honour Board in the former National Trust House in William Street.

Arthur Bell was born on 9 November 1899 in South Brisbane. He was educated at Ipswich Grammar School and in 1916 joined the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock as a junior assistant in the Agricultural Chemical Laboratory. Having completed four years of senior cadets and 6 months in the Citizens Force, he enlisted in the Australian Infantry Force on 19 December 1917. Although his father, Frank Bell, lived in Laidley, Arthur Bell gave his address as c/- Agricultural Chemist, Brisbane.

Arthur Bell was assigned to No.1 Depot Enoggera and then to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade based at the Rifle Range Camp. He was granted three days leave to visit his parents in Laidley, before leaving for Sydney and the army camp at Liverpool. Whilst at the Liverpool camp, Bell was diagnosed with Tachycardia, a faster than normal heart rate when at rest. After consideration, the Medical Review Board returned him to his unit, the 34th Reinforcement Field Artillery. He held the position of gunner.

With his brigade, Bell embarked at Sydney on HMAT Port Darwin on 30 April 1918, proceeding via Suez and Alexandria to the United Kingdom. Bell fell ill with influenza and was hospitalised at St Germain, France. He eventually arrived in England on 9 July 1918. He was sent to the Reserve Brigade Australian Artillery (RBAA) camp at Heytsbury in Wiltshire, which had been set up to train reinforcements arriving from Australia and re-train those evacuated from the front due to sickness or wounds. Arthur Bell would have been there when George V went through the camp on 16 September 1918.

Finally, on 17 October, Bell embarked for France where he joined the 12th Field Artillery Brigade at Rouelles. Ten days before peace was declared he was transferred to the 46th Field Artillery Battery. It is unlikely he saw any action since the last major Australian involvement was on 5 October, when the taking of Montbrehain village finally broke the Hindenberg Line.

Arthur Bell remained in France, being promoted to Trench Bombardier on 30 March 1919. He finally left France for England on 20 May. Having been granted leave with pay to study at the Manchester College of Technology between late June and early September 1919, Arthur Bell departed England on HT Port Darwin on 25 September. He was discharged in Brisbane on 11 December 1919 nearly two years to the day after he enlisted.

Bell returned to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock and studied part-time through the University of Queensland, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in 1925. The previous year he had won a sugar research travelling scholarship. He went on to obtain his Master of Science from the University of California in 1926 and a diploma of membership of Imperial College, University of London, in 1927.

In 1928, Bell was appointed plant pathologist to the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations where he remained until 1947, becoming acting-director in 1943 and director in 1945. His time at the Bureau is associated with the now notorious cane toad.

Whilst attending the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists conference at Puerto Rico in 1932, Bell learned of the beneficial effects of the cane toad on cane beetles in Central and South America. At the same conference was Dr Cyril Pemberton of Hawaii, who was so impressed with the toads he arranged for their shipment back to Hawaii. It was from Hawaii in 1935 that R. W. Mungomery, assistant entomologist of the Bureau, obtained the first 100 toads to be imported into Queensland. They were taken to the experimental sugar station at Meringa to be bred, before being released into the surrounding area. Even in 1935 concerns were raised that the toads might become a worst pest than the rabbit, but Queensland cane growers fully supported their use.

Any controversy over the cane toads did not seem to have affected Arthur Bell’s career. Following a review he had helped to carry out in 1944, the Department of Agriculture and Stock was radically reorganised and Arthur became under-secretary in 1947, the first qualified scientist to hold the post. He was active in the agricultural scientific community, belonging to several professional bodies, and in 1948 became president of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (AIAS) and a fellow in 1958. He was awarded the A.I.A.S medal in 1954 and the Farrar medal in 1956. In 1958 Arthur Bell died at his desk in the Department of Agriculture.

The A. F. Bell Memorial Medal for agricultural science has been awarded annually at the University of Queensland since 1959 by the Queensland branch of the A.I.A.S.

Additional Reading

  1. National Archives of Australia (Service Record of Arthur Bell)