Fonds P078 - John Bell Fonds

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John Bell Fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Based on the documents in the fonds.

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Physical description

47 cm of textual records. – 1 medical kit. – 1 medical textbook.

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Biographical history

Dr. John Bell (1845-1878) was born in Toronto, Ontario, son of Rev. Andrew Bell (an early pioneer in Canadian geology) and younger brother of Canadian geologist Robert Bell. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and his first medical degree from Queen's University in the early 1860s. Around the time of his graduation, he spent five months apprenticing with the United States Army in two American Army General Hospitals close to the front lines of the American Civil War – Brown General Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky, and the US General Floating Hospital, Ohio, at New Albany, Indiana.

Bell furthered his medical education at McGill University, graduating in 1866 with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery (MD,CM). Upon graduation, he took the appointment of Senior Apothecary at the Montreal General Hospital – a post which he held for nearly three years. Bell then embarked on ten years of private practice on Beaver Hall Hill in Montreal. There are few details about his practice, although in the late 1870s he was Physician to the Protestant Infants’ Home and the Montreal Dispensary.

He published “The Case of Progressive Pernicious Anemia” in 1877 in Transactions of Canada Medical Association containing remarks from William Osler, and in 1878 he published “Case of Diphtheria, Acute Laryngeal Symptoms – Tracheotomy – Recovery” in Canada Medical and Surgical Journal.

At the time of his death, he had applied to, and was being considered for, the position of Attending Physician/House Surgeon at Montreal General Hospital – the position that William Osler subsequently filled. While visiting relations in Ontario, Bell fell seriously ill with Pneumonia and succumbed to the illness just a few days later on March 29th, 1878. Bell is known to have been a great inspiration to his friend and colleague, William Osler

Custodial history

Files 4-8 and 37 purchased at Montreal Book Auctions Ltd.: sale 112, lot 170, 12 October 1978 and at sale no. 116, lots 63, 64, 65 and 115, 2 February 1979. Old accession numbers 734 and 735. Files 9, 11-23, and 43-60 were purchased from Joe Foster in 2015 (who previously purchased the materials from Warren Baker). John Bell’s signed textbook, Medical Jurisprudence (1861), was donated by Christopher Lyons, 2016 (purchased from Robert Campbell, Montreal antiquarian book dealer). Files 1-3, 10, 24-36, 38-42, and one item from file 4 were donated by Robert Douglas, great-grandson of Dr. Robert Bell, brother of Dr. John Bell, June 2018.

Scope and content

The fonds documents John Bell's activities related to his medical studies at McGill in Surgery, Materia Medica and the Institutes of Medicine, as well as his work as a private physician in Montreal. The fonds consists of notebooks, a photocopy of his MS McGill medical thesis, letters from his personal and professional life, one of his medical kits, receipts from merchants, various subscriptions, societies and clubs. The fonds also contains various reprints of Bell's articles, including the 1878 article, "Case of Diphtheria, Acute Laryngeal Symptoms", as well as the City of Montreal's "Mortality of Montreal" – a list of all deaths in Montreal in January 1878.

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Immediate source of acquisition


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  • English

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The documents are in English.

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Items can be requested for consultation online via the Library Catalogue or by email at Advance notice is recommended.

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General note

Also contains file of acquisition information and biographical information on John Bell, including a biographical note on Bell prepared by Ian Brookes, biographer of Robert Bell, bookseller and donor inventories, a 1964 letter with biographical information written by one John Bell’s nieces or nephews (copy), copy of Bell's obituary from the Montreal Gazette, a copy of Nathan Fishman," John Bell, MD – teacher to William Osler," Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1981, and a list of surgical instruments for sale from the estate of Dr. John Bell.

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Please note this online record is still being updated for recent accruals.

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Updated for accruals and reorganized (files renumbered) in 2019.

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