Safari Press has compiled a timeline of the life of W. D. M. Bell during the production of his autobiography.  This information was taken from nearly 1,800 pages of typed and handwritten notes that have been hidden for over six long decades and of his previously published books.   Read his complete autobiography in his new book out this Fall, Reminiscences of an Elephant Hunter.  

1880 (8 September)
Born at Clifton Hall in Uphall, Linlithgowshire (West Lothian, near Edinburgh), Scotland, the second youngest of ten children. Bell’s father, Robert Bell, was a pioneer in the coal and shale oil industries; he discovered sulfate of ammonia, a by-product of shale, and made a fortune in this industry.

1883 (23 April)
Bell’s mother, Agnes Bell, dies of peritonitis and complications from childbirth. She was thirty-nine.

Inspired by the heroics of “Dead Shot Dick,” a dime novel superman, Bell walks away from home with pair of barrels from a dueling pistol, a pocket watch, and some pennies to travel to America to hunt bison. Trip screeches to a halt at train station. He is seven years old. Bell expands his reading, now devouring the classics works on elephant hunting by Sir William Gordon-Cumming and others.  Bell states: “Had my guardians realized what Gordon-Cummings writings would do to me, they would have bought and destroyed every available copy of his works in a hundred-mile radius.”  Bell begins his lifelong love of hunting the African elephant.

Sent to boarding school.  Leaves school in 1889.  Family in despair.

Bell’s family resort to the time-honored expedient of sending Bell to sea. Bell, now twelve years old, boards the sailing ship Jupiter bound for Tasmania, a 128-day journey. Bell learns basics of sailing from ruffian crew. Arrives in Hobart, Tasmania, where he “breaks his articles,” thus forfeiting the premium his family had paid, and leaves the ship. 

Works his passage to New Zealand, becomes enamored of an Irish widow, and finds work at a starch factory. Travels to Port Chalmers to find passage to Africa; instead, he lands a job on a fishing boat with a “blue-nose bastard” of a skipper.  Bell’s love of the sea and sailing is born.

Now thirteen years old, Bell hears he can get a ship to Africa from Invercargill. Bell has absolutely no money, and a fellow hobo teaches him how to snatch eggs from hen houses and how to jump trains.  Jumps a train to Invercargill and gets caught; meets “Bill” who takes him in and clothes and feeds him.  On failing to find a boat to East Africa, Bell takes the Destiny, a refrigerator steamer, to London; from there he travels on to Scotland.

Robert Bell dies on 30 Mayof pleurisy and Bell’s eldest siblings become guardians, with his eldest brother in command. (Date of death erroneously indicated as 1887 or 1888 in Bell’s diaries.)  Robert Bell was born in 1827 in Wishaw, Lanarkshire.

Fourteen-year-old Bell returns to Scotland from his trip to Tasmania and New Zealand. No records to indicate if this is before or after his father dies.  Once more Bell entreats his family with the cry: “To Africa!  To Africa!”  Instead, they send him to Oxford Military College, which he escapes from as quickly as he can.  Bell then sends a letter to his father’s factor asking to borrow against the proceeds he expects to inherit from his father will.  Factor shows letter to guardians, and Bell’s plan fails.

Completely fed up with him, his guardians send Bell to boarding school in Germany. The Herr, Bell’s school master, buys Bell a 12-bore hammer gun; Bell spends his time shooting small game; and he also shoots a roe deer for meat for the school.  

Bell reads Nansen’s Farthest North andis inspired by the tale. He builds a kayak to escape from Germany.  Bell embarks with his kayak and gun on a tributary in order to reach the Weser River, which would take him to Bremerhaven, Germany, a port city on the North Sea. (The Weser is 431 kilometers (268 miles) from its source to Bremerhaven.) The kayak sinks in rapids on the tributary; Bell manages to get to shore with his gun. A German family takes him in; Bell exchanges his gun for enough money to buy food and a rail ticket to Bremerhaven; once there, he finds a passage back to Scotland.

Bell’s guardians finally give in and outfit him for a trip to East Africa.  Now nearly seventeen-years-old, Bell’s eldest brother buys him a single-shot .303 and passage on the Somali, a German steamer bound for Mombasa.  He is hired as a “hunter” by the Uganda Railway, also known as the Lunatic Express, and sent to Voi via the train. There he shoots lions and other game along the rail tracks. Exchanges his .303 for a .405 Winchester blackpowder, single-shot rifle. Later he finds the .405 to be inadequate as a lion killer because of the hollow-point bullets; gets acquainted with an 8-bore. Meets a German who hires Bell as an elephant hunter for his camp; German fails to show at rendezvous, and Bell is left stranded in Central Africa. Bell returns to coast, sells rifle, and goes home to Scotland.

1898–1899  (Bell’s map of the Yukon says 1897–1898)
On arriving home, Bell’s guardians refuse to advance funds for another African safari. Bell reads of the gold strike in the Yukon.  Gets a .360 from his friend Daniel Fraser in Edinburgh.  Leaves England on a steamer possibly to Seattle (accounts differ) and from there travels north; meets “Micky” en route.  The pair travel on a scow from Whitehorse to Dawson.  On arrival they meet Micky’s brother who has a claim.  Bell detests the backbreaking work of working claims and decides to use his rifle to shoot meat for miners, but finds game shot out everywhere near mining sites.

Meets “Bill” who tells him that all game shot out for at least 100 miles. He and Bill become partners in a meat-hunting business. They build a cabin 200 miles from Dawson in Ogilvie Mountains. Bell shoots the meat and Bill transports it back to Dawson via dogsled to sell it. In the spring Bill takes the penultimate load to Dawson via dog sled and never returns; Bell abandons the meat he’s shot as well as the cabin and hikes back to Dawson with a rifle and a few dogs.

Bell hears that Canada is recruiting for the Boer War (Oct. 1899–May 1902), so he sells his .360 Fraser and dogs and goes to Calgary to enlist. He travels down the Yukon River then via Nome and the Aleutians to reach Calgary.  He is accepted into the 2nd Battalion Canadian Mounted  Rifles (CMR) because he’s the owner of a horse and has a Stetson!  The troops travel by train to Quebec and then from the East Coast of Canada to Cape Town; he arrives there on 27 February 1900.

Bell partakes in Boer War using a .303 Lee Enfield.  His pony is shot from underneath him; he’s taken prisoner and then escapes. At the end of the war, he takes his discharge from what is now the 1st Battalion CMR, probably in May 1902, and goes back to England. Army money funds his first elephant hunting expedition in BEA.  Buys two sporting-model .303s with 10-shot magazines.

In second half of 1902, Bell arrives in East Africa, travels via rail to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, takes a boat to the Ssese Islands, gathers a crew, and shoots buffaloes.  Arrives in (B)Unyoro, western Uganda, in the midst of the Sudanese Mutiny.  Meets Sydney Ormsby.  Gets faulty advice on using head shots to kill crop-raiding elephants; manages to kill an elephant with a heart shot but finds this upsets the herd.  Obtains a saw from Ormsby’s camp and cuts elephant skull in half, thus learning how to properly position shots to the brain of an elephant. All ivory is turned into the government. Ormsby refers Bell to Partington, whom Bell meets in Mumias. 

Does a total of 4 expeditions into Karamojo during this time period. The last expedition is the subject of Karamojo Safari (Harcourt Brace, NYC, 1949).  Shoots a total of 345 elephants from the Karamojo region in these years:  42 from Mount Elgon, 91 from Mani-Mani, 63 from Dobesi, and 149 from Dabessa.

Partington allows Bell access to Karamojo, whose jurisdiction falls under the “Outlying District Ordinance” and, thus, is restricted to outsiders.  While Partington stays in a hut near Nandi Boma (a government post), Bell embarks on his first expedition into Karamojo; he has twenty .577 Snider rifles for his crew to demonstrate a show of force against the raiders.  Uses unruly steers as pack animals because donkeys are too expensive.  Meets Pyjalé at Bokora village for first time; Pyjalé will become Bell’s most faithful tracker as well as a man Bell much admires. 

After first journey, Bell retreats, sells ivory, and sets up a much larger scale safari. Bell finds that giving cattle as a reward is the key to getting information on elephants from natives. Bell establishes a cattle farm near Partington in Nandi country.

Bells leaves on second, much larger safari, again meets Pyjalé, and together they travel as far north as Sudan. Bell returns to Mumias with 14,000 pounds of ivory.

Third safari into Karamojo, no details known.

Fourth, and last safari, into Karamojo is described in Karamojo Safari.  Starts in Mumias, east of Mount Elgon, crosses the Turkwell River (which was the border between effective and ineffective British control), and hunts beyond Moru Akipi. Bell shoots a record one-day take of ivory:  1,463 pounds (also recorded as 1,493); 15 were single tusks; one bull had two broken stumps totaling 148 pounds. 

At the end of this safari Bell describes shooting the largest tusker on this safari between Nabwa and Dodosi, a bull with tusks of 148 x 145 pounds.  The entire safari yielded 354 tusks—an average of 53 pounds each—or a total of 18,762 pounds of ivory.  He sells the ivory to traders for 7 rupees a pound. After paying expenses, he netted £6,000 sterling, which is £572,400 or $670,000 USD in today’s money.  The entire trip lasted 12 to 14 months (accounts differ) of which 6 were spent actually hunting and the rest consumed by travel.  Bell returns to Mumias.

Goes back to London. For his next African safari, Bell asks Thomas Cook’s Tours to make arrangements to deliver four natives from his previous Karamojo expeditions to Djibouti. Bell arrives in Djibouti with Harry Rayne, and they travel via rail and horse to Addis Abba.  After a horse-racing interlude in the Abyssinian capital, the party travels to Gore and then into western Abyssinia.  Bell and Rayne pay an extortionate rate of tribute to the local ruler, Ras Tsama, in order to continue:  ivory and gold dust as well as firearms, mules, camels, and liquor. They go to the Gambela Swamps where they shoot elephants, and then they take boats and descend the Pibor River till it joins the Sobat River. Their safari ends when they finally reach the White Nile at Tawfikia.

From Tawfikia Bell travels to the Lado Enclave where he hunts for 9 months and shoots 210 elephants; he has a close brush with a rhino.  Rayne travels to the coast of Kenya to start a rubber plantation in partnership with Bell.

Bell returns on foot from the Lado Enclave to Lake Victoria, then travels to Kisumu and the coast. Visits Rayne and plantation; the partners decide to sell the rubber plantation. Bell explores possibilities of whaling between the Kenya coast and the Seychelles Islands. Bell goes back to London and orders a cachalot whaler and, after much trouble, kills a whale in the English Channel. Norwegian company gets whaling rights off the Seychelles Islands; Bell gives up whaling scheme.

Takes steamer to Liberia and hunts in the interior.

Takes steamer to Brazzaville and then goes upriver to Bangui. Orders a small boat with steam engine from his agent in Scotland, which takes a year to arrive. In the meantime he hunts in the Congo Brazzaville and Ubangi-Shari areas and with Pygmies between the Ubangi and Sangha Rivers.  He is brought to court in Bangui for shooting elephants without the permission of the French concession holders, but a sympathetic judge dismisses the case. 

Continues to hunt and encounters man-eating leopards, slave raiders, and cannibals.  Bell’s thirty-five foot steamer arrives in Bangui, and he arranges for two, large native canoes to be placed along its side with a platform on top so that it can accommodate a team of trackers. Holds elephant drives on the large islands of the Ubangi River.  Continues east on the Ubangi River and then north on an unnamed side river; he stops at a French post on the way.  Leaves the steamer and goes into the interior; hunts local crop raiders with the help from villagers. Deals with marauding hyenas and takes part in a “fire hunt” with natives. 

Receives a note sent by native runners from the commandant of the French fort sheltering his steamboat that World War I had broken out between England/France and Germany five months earlier (July 1914–November 1918). Returns to Bangui, sells his ivory, and gets on a steamer bound for Bordeaux; from there Bell travels to England. Takes flying lessons so he can enlist as a pilot in Royal Air Corps.

Earns his wings and is sent to BEA; scouts and flies in the East Africa campaign.   There is no German air opposition, so Bell asks to be transferred. He is sent to the Balkans via Egypt and is stationed in Macedonia. Shoots down an enemy plane and receives the Military Cross for this action. On R&R leave to Egypt when his boat is torpedoed; he is rescued and taken to a Greek island.  On his return to war, he shoots down a French plane by accident.

Bell becomes ill and is invalided back to England to recuperate.

Arrives back in England in late January and is hospitalized. After his release, Bell settles in London.    

Walter Bell marries Miss Kate Rose Mary Soares in London on 15 January1919. Moves to Ross-shire, Scotland, and settles in Corriemoillie, his Highland estate.  

In Bell of Africa, Bell leaves for Ivory Coast and hunts elephants in thick cover before meeting Wynne-Eyton in Nigeria. In the diaries Safari Press edited, he and Wynne-Eyton depart together for West Africa. Wynne-Eyton (last name mistakenly given simply as Eyton in Bell of Africa) has a .450 Rigby, a .318 Mauser, and a 12-gauge shotgun. Bell carries a .318 Mauser and a .22 LR.

The two hunters travel up the Niger River in their Peterborough canoes and then over to the Benue River. They enter the kingdom of Buba Gida (Rei) from whom they get permission to hunt in the land of the Lakkas. From there they arrange for a 100-mile portage of canoes to the Longue River. They descend the Longue toward Lake Chad, go upstream on the Chari River, and from there to the Bahr Aouk.  Once there they trade hippo meat with natives for flour and fish. Shoots rhinos for horns.    

The pair intended to reach Lake Mamoun, but they never get there. They find ivory not as heavy as in other expeditions. Bell’s best day is 10 elephants. Despite plans for an extended multi-year hunt, Bell and Wynne-Eyton return after one season.

Bell returns to Scottish Highlands.

Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter is published by Country Life magazine in London.

1923–1924 (Winter)
Takes a trip from Kano in Nigeria to Khartoum in Sudan with Gerrit and J. Malcolm Forbes; the expedition travels with four combustion-engine vehicles, one a half track.

The Bells commission a steel-hulled sailing boat, which they name the Trenchemer, designed by Olin Stephens.  She is a racing yacht and a sailing boat. In 1934 the Trenchemer comes in second on the Fastnet Race. The Bells sail the Trenchemer till 1939 when she is put up in Inverness. WW II breaks out and the Trenchemer’s diesel engine is requisitioned for the war effort.

Bell serves in the Home Guard.

Post 1945
Spends time shooting and fishing in the Highlands, also writes and paints.

1950 circa
Contacts Townsend Whelen about publishing his autobiography.

1954 (30 June)
Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell dies from a heart attack.  Katie and W. D. M. Bell have no children.

1954 (18 December)
Bell’s will is recorded.  Estate has total value of £3,608 (sterling), which in 2017 reckons at £89,090 ($115,000 USD). This includes Corriemoillie and the surrounding land, shares in English and North American companies, 4 rifles and 3 “guns,” presumably shotguns.  His shareholdings upon his death include Hudson Bay Company, Anglo American Corp. of South Africa, and British American Oil Company.

Pyjalé dies.

1957 (5 August)
Katie Rose Mary Soares Bell dies of uterine cancer.

Bell of Africa is published in London by Neville Spearman.

References :
Bell of Africa, Neville Spearman, London, 1960.
Bell’s last will and Bell’s, his parents, and his wife’s registry of birth, registry of death, and 1901 census on file at ScotlandsPeople Center/ 2 Princes St. / Edinburgh EH2 / United Kingdom.
Correspondence, papers, diaries, photos, and illustrations by Walter Bell from his estate circa 1910–1954.
Incidents from an Elephant Hunter’s Diary, Safari Press, Long Beach, 2017.
Karamojo Safari, Harcourt Brace, New York, 1949.
Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter, Country Life, London, 1923.