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Detailed Record


John Bell Fonds

John Bell Fonds

Physical Description

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



Biographical Sketch / Administrative History

Dr. John Bell (1845-78) 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 Queens 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 a few days later on March 29th, 1878. Bell is known to have been a great inspiration to his friend and colleague, William Osler

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, details of his estate, one of his medical kits, merchant letterheads and receipts from various subscriptions, societies and clubs. The fonds also contains two original copies of Bell’s 1878 article, “Case of Diphtheria, Acute Lryngeal Symptoms”, as well as the City of Montreal’s “Mortality of Montreal” – a list of all deaths in Montreal in January 1878. A complete inventory of John Bell documents sold by Warren Baker in 2006 is also included as part of the fonds.

Finding Aids

Inventory list is available.

Custodial History

Series 1 was 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. Series 2-6 were purchased from Joe Foster in 2015 (who purchased the materials from Warren Baker). The letters of Series 2 and 3 have been grouped in chronological order for ease of access. John Bell’s signed textbook, Medical Jurisprudence (1861), was donated by Osler librarian Christopher Lyons in 2016 (purchased from Robert Campbell, Montreal antiquarian book dealer).


The documents are in English.

Source of Supplied Title Proper

Based on the documents in the fonds.

Retrieval Number



1. Estate Papers, McGill Notebooks & Medical Thesis, Publications, Warren Baker Inventory

2. Letters

3. Letters from Women

4. Receipts for Subscriptions, Societies, Clubs etc.

5. Merchant Letterheads & Invoices

6. Medical kit

7. Medical textbook


Bell, John, 1845-1878
McGill University Medical Students and Student Notes