Philip Bell (1880–1934)

It was likely his early service on the famed White Star liner RMS Baltic that convinced young Bell to get himself a camera. He served as a junior officer under Captain Joseph Barlow Ranson in the rescue of the passengers and crew of another White Star liner, the Republic, following collision with the Florida in late January 1909. Just one grainy picture of the sinking Republic was published, and it is probable that Bell resolved never to let such an opportunity ever slip again.

He had only been with White Star since 1908, having served his apprenticeship with William Thomas & Co. of Liverpool, yet already he held a Master’s Certificate, gained at the early age of 27.

Bell’s very first ship had been a 1,000-ton barque called the County of Merioneth, which he signed aboard as third mate on 15 April 1902. Other small vessels on which he sailed included Cranford, Florence and Rainton, and his apprenticeship took him from the Baltic to the River Plate. Bell’s next White Star vessel was the Oceanic in April 1909. The 29-year-old, whose curious middle name is a form of ‘Augustus’, cited his Baltic experience while signing on as sixth officer. The crew agreement shows that Bell stood 5ft 8½in tall, was of fair complexion and had brown hair and blue eyes. He served on the New Zealand run on the Athenic under Captain Charles Howard Kempson as fourth officer, from 26 February 1910 to 7 April 1911.

Just before the launch of the Titanic, Bell switched to the Australian service, serving on the Medic under Captain Vere Hickson. He went aboard as third officer from 1 May 1 to 9 September 1911. In a different hemisphere, the RMS Olympic was making her maiden voyage that June for the same shipping line, with a former Medic officer aboard in the shape of William McMaster Murdoch, who was fated to lose his life just months later on Titanic.

Bell next stood duty on the Runic as third officer under Captain James Kearney and was aboard when the cataclysm in the North Atlanticreverberated through the company. He married that September 1912 one Elizabeth Ursula Johnson and was back at sea the same month aboard the Majestic, where he was reunited with an old shipmate from the Oceanic. This was Charles Lightoller, the senior surviving officer from the April disaster, who allowed his harrowed countenance to be photographed, providing a starkcontrast with earlier portraits of him by Bell from prior joint service.

Bell resigned from the White Star Line on 1 March 1914, but returned to sea with the Royal Navy Reserve for the duration of the conflict that broke out in August that year. His health had begun to deteriorate and he next took a succession of shore appointments before going on early pension. Philip Agathos Bell died on 11 August 1934 at only 54 years of age