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Hesketh Bell’s Ugandan descendants

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th December 2007 03:00 AM

“BEFORE I die, I want our story told. I want people to know that we are descendants of Hesketh Bell. I want people to stop laughing at us as if we came from nowhere,” says 72-year old, Ketty Karuyonga Bell, a great granddaughter of Sir Hesketh Bell.

By Lydia Namubiru

“BEFORE I die, I want our story told. I want people to know that we are descendants of Hesketh Bell. I want people to stop laughing at us as if we came from nowhere,” says 72-year old, Ketty Karuyonga Bell, a great granddaughter of Sir Hesketh Bell.

“We are not making any demands. We just want to be recognised,” Ruth Kanyunyuzi, her daughter, adds.
Hesketh Bell was the first British Governor of the Uganda Protectorate. He is heralded for determinedly fighting against sleeping sickness.

But Bell left another legacy that was not highlighted. He left behind a Ugandan son, John Dick Bell. His Ugandan bloodline runs todate and his descendants are still trying to piece up the story of their ancestry.
Sadly, these descendants know so little about their ancestor for whom many history books sing praises.

“My mother always told me that he had deep set eyes. I also read from the archives at Westminster that he was an adventurous man and a great author,” Kanyunyuzi says. Yet, even Kanyunyuzi’s mother, Ketty Bell, never set eyes on her grandfather who was knighted for his service to the British monarchy in 1908.

“I don’t know if my father, his very own son, ever saw him. I only remember that father came home one night in 1952 and told us that he had just heard on the news that his father, Hesketh Bell had died,” Ketty says with a shrug, although the darkening of her eyes reveals deeper emotion.

Bell had a son with a Mutooro woman, Maria Nyamuhaibona. John Dick Bell was born on December 18, 1905. Shortly afterwards, Hesketh Bell left western Uganda. John Dick’s mother is said to have carried him on her back for most of the first six years of his life. She also moved out of Fort Portal to Ankole to live with a cousin. “People used to say that she gave birth to ‘ihano’ (an abomination). She used to cover him from head to toe to stop people from seeing him,” Ketty Bell tells of her grandmother’s troubles.

Bell and Nyamuhaibona were never formally married and whether or not Bell lived with his new born son for any length of time is unknown to his descendants.

However, he is said to have continued sending support for the boy through the then Omukama of Toro, Kyebambe.
“When John Dick was about 10, he fell off a tree and suffered a grievous injury. Bell was told that he would not live so he stopped sending support. There was never any communication from him from that time on,” Kanyunyuzi explains.

John Dick survived the injury, although he lived with a hunch back for his 48 years.
Omukama Kyebambe took over his welfare and education after Bell stopped sending help. “Omukama Kyebambe took him to Mengo High School together with his son Rukidi, King Oyo’s grandfather,” Ketty explains.

Before his death, John Dick had worked as a laboratory technician in Kabarole, Mubende and Kamwenge hospitals.
He got a heart attack in 1953, a year after he had heard the news of his father’s death.

He was survived by 12 children who have gone on to further the celebrated governor’s Ugandan line to date. “Counting grand children, great grand children and even great great grand children, we are probably as many as 350,” Kanyunyuzi says.

It might seem rosy to descend from a knighted and well-remembered former governor of the Ugandan protectorate but Bell’s descendants have more than a few complaints.

Although her daughter and nephew try to restrain her from getting emotional, the pain that Ketty Bell has lived with all these years is brimming at the surface. Tears well in her eyes as she says, “You are born into the world and you are neither black nor white. It hurts,” says Ketty Bell. “We have always lacked a sense of belonging,” her nephew, Father Christopher Paul adds.

Far from basking in the knowledge that she is Bell’s grand daughter, Ketty feels that what her grandfather did was wrong, especially since he went off and his descendants survived ‘only by God’s mercy.’

“My son was once denied a visa to the UK. I felt like cutting myself and pouring away the British blood in me,” Ketty said.
Are they trying to squeeze a few pounds out of the British monarchy? “The damage is already done and they cannot compensate me,” Bell says.

For her daughter, Kanyunyuzi, an apology from the monarchy to the descendants of children abandoned by the colonial Britons is in order since they were representing the interests of the monarchy.
She suggests that a fund or trust be established to care for such descendants.

“We are not the only ones. Even Grant fathered a child here. Who knows? Maybe even some British diplomats today are having flings and will leave children behind,” Kanyunyuzi says.
While the British High Commission in Kampala has got a number of claims to British ancestry by Ugandans, it has never been approached by anyone claiming to be a descendant of Hesketh Bell.

“We have received many people especially from Fort Portal but not these ones,” said a source at the High Commission. “The onus is on the person with such a claim to provide documented proof of that claim,” says Chris Majugo, the consular officer at the High Commission in Kamwokya.
According to the British Nationality Act, only first generation descendants of British citizens automatically qualify for British citizenship when born abroad.

However, a second generation descendant can only be able to get a UK ancestry visa if they are 17 years or over and are citizens of the commonwealth, among other requirements as stated on www.ukvisas.gov.uk, the official website giving guidelines on obtaining a UK visa.
Third generation descendants or lower are not entitled to any special treatment or recognition by the British government.
So in this case, only Ketty Bell would get any recognition by the British government by being entitled to a UK ancestry visa.

Sir Hesketh Bell, Uganda’s first colonial Governor

Hesketh Bell was a politician, civil servant, author, artist, photographer and businessman. Born at Chambery in the Savoie district of south-east France on December 17th 1864, Bell was privately educated in the Channel Islands, Paris and Brussels. At 18, a family friend, Sir William Robinson, offered him the post of third clerk in the office of the Governor of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, which he took up in May 1882.

In the following year, he moved to the Grenada Inland Revenue Department and worked there until 1889. Between 1890 and 1894, Bell was Supervisor of Customs in the Gold Coast and was Receiver General and Treasurer of the Bahamas from 1890-94. In 1899, he was offered administratorship of St. Kitts-Nevis, but later agreed to serve in Dominica where he was administrator from 1899-1905. During this period, he did some experimental farming, evolved a system of hurricane insurance and researched extensively into witchcraft in the West Indies.

Bell left the West Indies in 1905 to take up the post of Commissioner of the Uganda Protectorate and was named first Governor in 1906. In Uganda, he developed the cotton industry and nearly eradicated sleeping sickness around Lake Victoria

In 1909, he was named Governor of Northern Nigeria. Three years later, he was demoted to Governor of the Leeward Islands, a governorship of lesser rank, salary and responsibility. This followed Bell’s failure to follow instructions from London. He kept a letter sent with the instructions without reading it and forgot about it for months. He was in the Leeward Islands until 1916, when he was made Governor of Mauritius, a post he held until retirement in 1924.

Bell was a prolific author and his works include: Obeah: witchcraft in the West Indies (1893), A witch’s legacy (1893), The history, trade, resources and present condition of the Gold Coast settlement (1893), Outlines of the geography of the Gold Coast Colony and Protectorate (1894), Love in black (1911), Glimpses of a Governor’s life (1946), Witches and fishes (1948).

He was also an ardent photographer and artist. Cambridge University Library and the Royal Commonwealth Society Library still hold a number on photos and paintings by him depicting the different places he lived.

After his retirement Bell lived in Cannes but travelled widely and in 1925-26 made an extensive semi-official tour of the Far East to study French and Dutch systems of colonial government. The resulting book, Foreign colonial administration in the Far East (1928), was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Empire Society.

During the Second World War, Bell returned to live in the Bahamas, but was a frequent visitor to London and died there on 1st August 1952.

Hesketh Bell’s Ugandan descendants

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