An intriguing new collection

Recently, the John Oxley Library acquired an important collection of material relating to the Bell Family, owners of Coochin Coochin Station, near Boonah. The property was taken up by pastoralist James Marsh Bell in 1883, and after his death his wife Gertrude Norton Bell and her children, continued its operation, becoming both patrons of their community and popular and fashionable figures who entertained royalty, film stars, authors and artists. Son Ernest served for many years as Member for Fassifern, while brother Francis farmed “Kooroomba”. The three Bell daughters, Una, Enid and Aileen lived and worked at Coochin and travelled the world recording their impressions in richly descriptive letters.

Much of this correspondence has come to the library, along with the sisters’ personal papers and memorabilia. There also is a large collection of photographs depicting the Bell family, and their friends and acquaintances.

The photograph reproduced here was kept by the Bells as a remembrance of their close friendship with Lord Henry Forster, 7th Governor-General of Australia (1920-1925), and offers an intriguing insight into the complex and glamorous world in which the Bells moved beyond the boundaries of Boonah. The Forsters' two sons had been killed in the First World War and the couple spent much time with the children of their daughter Emily and her husband Captain George Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers. The two little boys in the photograph are the Pitt-Rivers children, Michael and Julian.

Both boys grew up in the West Country of England and were educated at Eton and Oxford. Julian Pitt-Rivers (1919-2001) went on to serve in the Second World War and to become an instructor to the future King Faisal of Iraq. He gained a doctorate in social anthropology, wrote a study of the people of the Spanish Sierra Nevada and became a Professor at the London School of Economics.

Michael Pitt-Rivers (1917-1999) followed a different path. He became a landowner settling on the Rushmore Estate in Wiltshire, the ancestral home of his great-grandfather, Augustus Pitt-Rivers, the pioneering British archaeologist. In 1954, he became the subject of scandal when he was brought before the British courts, charged with “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons”.

Michael Pitt-Rivers was sentenced to 18 months jail. However, the outcry over the case eventually led to the Wolfenden Report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom.

In 1958, Michael Pitt-Rivers married Sonia Brownell the widow of George Orwell, and following their divorce in 1965, spent much of his life travelling and overseeing the restoration of his estate’s historic Victorian Larmer Tree Pleasure Gardens.

Dianne Byrne - Curator of Original Materials, State Library of Queensland

 

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