SR01i Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell (March 12th, 1861 - April 15th, 1912) was the Chief Engineer of the RMS Titanic. He died a heroic death in the sinking, as his engineers and electricians kept the lights of the sinking liner burning until the very final moments.

Early life

The Bell family from Farlam, Cumbria, were yeoman who had been farming for many decades in Farlam. The family home (Farlam House) had been extended many times from the 17th century onwards. The future engineer’s great grandfather (also called Joseph) and his great grandmother Mary have their initials J M B (Bell) 1818 carved over the current front door.

Joseph Bell was born on March 12th, 1861 to John and Margaret Bell of Farlam, Cumbria. As the first child he was named after his grandfather and great grandfather. He was baptised on the May 4th, 1861 at Farlam Church.

The young Joseph Bell’s mother Margaret (Watson) came from a similar farming family in the next village.

A second child Jane was born in 1864 and named after Margaret’s sister. The third child Richard Watson 1865-1882 was named after Margaret’s father. The fourth and last child John was born in 1868. Margaret died shortly after John’s birth.

Joseph’s father John had inherited the family farm from his father in 1849 at the age of 17. He had been brought up by his grandmother as his mother had also died after the birth of his younger brother. John married Margaret Watson and continued farming in Farlam. It is thought that the children were educated in a private school in the village.

In the 1870’s, following his wife’s death, John moved with his children to Eden Town, Stanwix, Carlisle. The children continued their education at William Harrison’s academy at Earl Street, Carlisle. John’s younger brother Joseph immigrated to Australia on the SS Great Britain. Joseph and is daughter died out there but the rest of the family returned and lived latterly in Carlisle.

The young Joseph left Carlisle and went to Newcastle as an apprentice engine fitter at Robert Stephensons and Co. George Stephenson was a regular visitor to James Thompson of Farlam Hall and son Robert even made a donation to the new church appeal. Thompson’s collieries were along the fell side and serviced by railways which had been developed in conjunction with the Stephensons. Thompson and Sons bought locomotives including the Rocket from Newcastle as well building their own at Kirkhouse. Living only a mile from all this Victorian innovation it presented an attractive alternative to farming.

White Star Line

Bell joined the White Star Line in 1885 and served on many vessels trading on the company`s New Zealand and New York services.

Joseph married Maud Bates in 1893 in Ripley and had 4 children. Frances John (Frank) 1896, Marjorie Clare 1899, Eileen Maud 1901 and Ralph Douglas 1908. Jane Bell (sister) married William Hugh Lowthian in 1886 and they spent a number of years living in Ripley where he was a bank manager. It was probably during this time that Joseph met Maud. The two families were close and in 1901 Jane was looking after Frank when the third child was born. At the time of the Titanic disaster William was a bank manager in Carlisle.

At the age of 30 Joseph was promoted to Chief Engineer on the Coptic.

In 1911 Joseph was in lodgings in Belfast with his wife and the youngest child. On the census return each lodger has filled in their own details. Josephs occupation: Chief Engineer SS Olympic, White Star Line. Birth place; Farlam Village, near Carlisle, England. The lodging house was run by Emma Johnston, referred to in Josephs letter to Frank written from the Titanic. The two daughters were being cared for at the family home whilst young Frank was boarding at Grovenor College, Warwick Square, Carlisle. A private school for boys run by William Graham.

A member of the Institute of Marine Engineers and of the Royal Naval Reserve Joseph Bell lived at 1 Belvidere Road, Great Crosby, Liverpool but had a temporary address in Southampton.

Joseph served aboard the Olympic before being transferred to the Titanic. He "stood-by" the ship during her construction in Belfast.


Joseph's staff consisted of:

Bell died in the sinking with his whole staff leaving behind Maud and their four children. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

After the sinking of the Titanic and the death of her husband, probate was granted in London to Maud and her brother William Ralph Bates £6,457 2s 10d). Maud inherited the family farm at Farlam which had only been part of the estate since 1904 after his father died. Although she never lived here, family relatives ran the farm until the farm was sold.