Robert Bell

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Robert Hunter Bell of Lunna (b. 10 August 1856, at Middlebie House near Lerwick, d. 1 March 1907, Symbister, Whalsay) was a County Councillor, representing Nesting between 1890 and 1892. His father was Robert Bell, Advocate, Sheriff Substitute of Shetland.


In some early photographs, one of which dates from 1863, he looks far from robust, and indeed there is evidence to suppose that he suffered from ill health for the whole of his life. Doubtless he would have been taught how to fish for trout in Spiggie, Brow and other lochs, and would have ridden "Jack", the Shetland pony provided by Clickim'In Robie, and taken walks with his father's dog, "Brush". He would have seen, during these few early years in Shetland, the phenomenon of the skies described by his father some twelve years before his birth, the "Aurora Borealis", called in Shetland, "The Mirrie Dancers" [in the Diary, Robert Bell writes, "In the evening there was the most extraordinary display of the Aurora Borealis that I have ever seen, 'The Merry Dancers', as the country people call them..." 29th September, 1844 - 'Mirrie' is old Scots for 'Merry', generally in use between the 15th and 17th centuries, and lingering on in Shetland to this day.]. But his mother died when he was seven years old, leaving a family of very young children. Agnes McCrae Bruce of Symbister came to the rescue, and married Sheriff Bell a few years later. The family then removed to Falkirk, Robert Bell having been appointed one of the Sheriff Substitutes for the Counties of Stirling, Clackmanan, and Dumbarton.

At this time, Robert was sent to the Academy in Edinburgh, and thereafter he began a career in banking, beginning as a clerk. This occupation appears to have given him very little pleasure, and there is no evidence to show that he pursued it after his marriage. On the 29th of July, 1885, he married Kate Jane Morton, the daughter of Thomas Morton, a Marine Engineer (then retired), the ceremony taking place at the West Coates Established Church in Edinburgh (now demolished). The Service was conducted by the Reverend R.G.Forrest, D.D., the Minister of the West Coates Church.

On the death of his father on the 9th September, 1887, Robert entered as heir to the estate of Lunna, and found that it was weighed down by legal or real burdens, extending to several thousands of pounds. He is listed in a contemporary publication as a Magistrate for Orkney and Shetland, and it is known that he did Committee work in local government. Nevertheless, he was forced to face the reduced circumstances of his estate. Down in Edinburgh, his father's sister, Grace Hamilton Bell, a spinster, (died 13th July, 1889), had taken a dislike to Robert and to his wife, Kate Jane Morton, and while leaving all her money to Robert's younger full and half brothers and sisters, she placed them under an obligation to have nothing to do with their eldest brother and his wife, nor with any of their descendants. This was imposed on them on pain of disinheritance, and if they refused to obey her terms, the money was to go to the Barclay Free Church in Edinburgh. In this way, Robert was unable to turn to his siblings to help him out of his predicament.

Quite properly, the Crofters Commission was to reduce the rents of tenants by perhaps some 25%, and there was a slump in the fishing industry. Robert drew up a Trust Deed, designed to honour the debts owed by the estate, and was almost immediately evicted from the house of Lunna by the Trustee. At exactly this time, his wife left him, and divorce proceedings were completed in January, 1896. In her evidence to the Court, Kate Jane Morton stated that it was she who had been deserted by Robert, and that the desertion was wilful and malicious. Some details in the evidence submitted to the Court by Kate Jane Morton do not appear to be supported by facts, and are in conflict with each other. Robert did not compear before Lord Stormonth Darling, nor his deputy, Lord Low, to defend the case. Kate Jane Morton claimed that she was ready to return to her husband, and wanted to do so, but that he was opposed to any reunion. His voice was never heard. In 1907, broken in health, Robert died at Symbister House, on the island of Whalsay.

Political Career

External Links

Zetland County Council
Constituency created Member for

Succeeded by
William Levie
Nesting County Councillors
Councillors Robert Bell (1890-1892) • William Levie (1892-1895) • John Small (1895-1910) • James Loggie (1910-1914) • John Pearson (1914-1919) • James Hunter (1919-1920) • Robert Hunter (1920-1922) • Robert D. Ganson (1922-1928) • Magnus Gray (1928-1932) • Thomas Anderson (1932-1935) • William Sutherland (1935-1938) • James Anderson (1938-1945) • Adam Thomson (1945-1948) • John Pearson (1948-1952) • Prophet Smith (1952-1955) • William Hamilton (1955-1973) • Andrew Riddell (1973-1975)