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William Bell M.D. L.R.C.S. (c. 1803 – 14 December 1886) was an orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy. Bell was surgeon to the Queen’s County Militia, Medical Officer to the County Tipperary Workhouse and Lunatic Asylum, and later was Medical Officer to the Norwich Homoeopathic Dispensary and Hospital.

William Bell was born in Bellview, Abbeyleix, Queen’s County (Leinster), Ireland, the son of William Bell (1778 – 1860) and Esther Foxall (1784 – 1820).

In 1826 Bell qualified as Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Dublin and began practice, first at Mountrath, then in Clonmel, where he was Medical Officer at the County Tipperary Workhouse and Lunatic Asylum. Around this time Bell was also surgeon to the Queen’s County Militia.

In May, 1831, Bell married Margaret Grubb (1811 – 1890). They had a son, William Abraham Bell M.A. M.B. F.R.G.S. (1841 – 1921), who became a real estate and railroad developer in the United States, and two daughters, Susan Grubb Bell (1833 – 1912) and Esther Elizabeth Bell (1845 – 1910).

William Bell moved to Bixley, Norfolk, where he met homeopath Dr. Robert Douglas Hale who demonstrated to him the efficacy of homeopathy in treating a patient with croup and another patient with acute inflammation of the lungs.

As a result of this introduction to homeopathy Bell left his Norfolk practice and traveled to Germany to study there. On his return Bell and his family relocated to Norwich where he commenced practicing homeopathically.

William Bell became physician to the Norwich Homoeopathic Dispensary at 8 York Place, established in 1847.

In 1851, Bell was the subject of an exchange in The Lancet between three allopaths, Edward William Murphy M.D. (1802 – 1877), Professor of Midwifery at University College, London, who Bell had consulted with; William Cooper, a Norwich physician whose pregnant patient Bell had taken charge of; and W. H. Ranking, an allopath who, after reading the correspondence between Murphy and Cooper in The Lancet, wrote to Murphy demanding to know whether he was aware that Dr. Bell was a homeopath? Murphy was something of an atypical orthodox physician in that, while having no truck with “irregular practitioners,” he did not presume to judge Bell based on hearsay and prejudicial articles in The Lancet. As he explained:

With regard to Dr. Bell, I know nothing of him more than that he was qualified to practise. In my intercourse with him I found him in every respect a gentleman. When I met him I did not know he was a homeopath; and, in our subsequent conversation, all that I could learn of his homeopathic tendencies was that he sometimes adopted it. Dr. Bell seemed to me to be just in the same position as some of our most respectable men here, nibbling at homeopathy but afraid to bite. I had no way of judging of his merits or demerits except through the press or Mr. Cooper, and the spirit of animosity was such that I did not feel authorised to adopt the opinions of either without a more certain knowledge of him.

A year later, in June, 1852, Bell was at the centre of another Lancet-driven commotion over his practicing homeopathy in Norwich. In February that year, a labourer named Swann from the village of North Walsham suffered a kidney stone that had passed into his bladder. The local woman of influence and owner of Knapton New Hall, Selina Shirley (1787 – 1870), a proponent of homeopathy and, according to The Lancet, a supporter of Bell, sent the sick man to him for treatment. Swann subsequently died of an abscess in May that the inquest determined was the result of improper treatment, implicitly caused by Bell. To the editor of The Lancet, Bell was fortunate to avoid criminal charges. That he did so, The Lancet suggested, was due to the fact that most of the jury were in the employ of Mrs Shirley, and the Coroner himself was supposedly sympathetic to homeopathy.

Undeterred, and no doubt emboldened by the support of his patrons and patients, Bell took up the gauntlet for homeoapthy in Norwich. Together with Bell his partner, Dr. Francis Alexander Hartmann, physician to  the Norfolk and Norwich Homoeopathic Dispensary, instituted on Surrey Street in 1852, Bell published the Norwich Homoeopathic Journal (amalgamated in 1853-4 with the Northampton Homoeopathic Record as the Provincial Homoeopathic Gazette).

In May 1859 William Bell’s Medical Doctorate from Friedrich Alexander Universität, Erlangen, was approved for registration by the new General Medical Council.

By 1860 Bell had moved to London where he conducted a flourishing private practice at 18 Hertford Street, Mayfair. In the early 1870s he split his time between London and Merlin, Eastbourne.

Bell later sold his Mayfair practice to Dr. George Edgelow (c. 1845 – 1920) and moved to Eastbourne, where he continued visiting patients until shortly before his death on 14 December 1886, aged 82.

Of interest:

John Crawford Bell L.S.A. (1799 – 10 July 1877) LSA London 1825, [no evident relation] was a British orthodox surgeon and apothecary who converted to homeopathy and practiced at Princes Street, Norwich, and at 93 High Street Lowestoft. A memorial verse was written in his honour by Robert Abbott, of Malton, for the Swedenborgian Intellectual Repository of the New Church.

(Thomas) Vernon Bell M.D. (1824 – 1905) was a Scottish-born homeopathic physician, a member of the British Homeopathic Society, and a member of the Medical Council of the London Homeopathic Hospital, who practiced in London.

In August 1858 a letter to the Medical Times and Gazette suggested that Thomas Vernon Bell, recently graduated M.D. from the University of Edinburgh, was none other than William Bell, formerly of Norwich. The letter writer deduced that William Bell M.D. (Erlangen), as holder of a foreign qualification, had changed his name and identity in order to secure a British qualification and thus ensure his entry on the new medical register.

This accusation was baseless. William and Vernon Bell, both homeopaths, were two entirely separate individuals.

John Bell (4 December 1774 – 14 January 1849) [no evident relation] was a pharmacist and the founder of orthodox pharmaceutical firm John Bell and Co., 338 Oxford Street, London in 1798.