A SON of Mr. John Bell, at one time Collector to the Trades' House, Sir James was born in Glasgow, 16th January, 1850, and received his education at Glasgow High School and Glasgow Academy. He is a partner in the firm of Bell Brothers & McLelland, steamship owners. In 1888, when acute public interest was aroused in the affairs of the Clyde Trust, he stood as one of the ratepayers' candidates for that body, and was returned at the top of the poll. Two years later he entered the Town Council unopposed, as member for the old eighth ward, and in 1892 was unanimously chosen to succeed Sir John Muir, Bart., as Lord Provost. He held office for the unusual period of four years, and had the unique experience of being twice unanimously chosen Lord Provost. The second occasion was in 1895, when, in consequence of the extension of the city boundaries, and the rearrangement of Glasgow into twenty-five wards, a new election of the entire Council was appointed to take place in 1896. In the circumstances Sir James was induced to retain office for the intervening year.
During his tenure of office Glasgow was erected into a county, and Sir James accordingly, as Lord Provost, became Lord Lieutenant. He was one of the first to advocate the introduction of electricity as an illuminant for the city, and in 1893 he switched on the first street current. In the same year he laid the foundation stone of the Eastern Sewage Works, which were the first step towards the purifying of the Clyde. By his personal efforts, Bellahouston Park was acquired for £50,000 for the citizens, and during his reign the Corporation took over the Tramways, which have since proved so successful. He also carried out in 1895 the amalgamation of the Corporation and the various separate Trusts - Police, Gas, Water, Parks, etc., by whom the affairs of the city were previously conducted. Among other undertakings of his term of office was the inauguration of relief works for the unemployed; and among social events were the entertainment of ten thousand of the poorer citizens to dinner in honour of the marriage of the Duke of York, and the banquet in St. Andrew's Halls to the host of distinguished savants who came to the city on the occasion of Lord Kelvin's professional jubilee. He was Lord Dean of Guild for the years 1898-99 and 1899-1900.
While Lord Provost, Sir James instituted the compilation of an annual resumé of each year's new work undertaken by the Council, and in 1896 in collaboration with Mr. James Paton, Superintendent of the Corporation art Galleries, he published "The Municipal Organization and Administration of Glasgow," a work of great value to students of local history.
A skilful yachtsman, Rear-Commodore and Vice-Commodore of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club, he was chairman in 1887 of the syndicate which built the famous Thistle, now the German Emperor's Meteor, which competed unsuccessfully with General Pain's Volunteer for the America Cup. He also in the successive offices of Honorary Secretary, Chairman, Vice-President and President of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine arts, from 1887 to 1898, did great service not only to the Institute itself, but to the cause of art in Glasgow. in 1S96, when the unfortunate strike of the Belfast and Clyde engineers had lasted for fifteen and twelve weeks respectively, it was brought to an end by the mediation of Sir James Bell and Lord James of Hereford.
He is D.L. and J.P. for Lanarkshire and the City, an Income Tax Commissioner for Glasgow, Chairman of Glasgow Life Insurance Company, Deputy-Chairman of Glasgow and South-Western Railway, and Deputy Chairman of the Clydesdale Bank. In 1895 Queen Victoria conferred upon him the dignity of a baronetcy, and he has since purchased the estate of Montgreenan in Ayrshire.
In 1901 Sir James's second son, a volunteer in the Scottish Horse Imperial Yeomanry, was killed in an engagement of the Boer War at Bakenlaaghte. Lady Bell, who was eldest daughter of the late W. Findlay, of Hallhill. Lanarkshire, died 12th January, 1909.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)