The British Empire Library

H.C.P. Bell: Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives

by Bethia N. Bell and Heather M. Bell

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by John O’Regan (Ceylon Civil Service 1935-1949)
An excellent work strongly commended to all those interested in the magnificent relics and voluminous records of Sri Lanka's fascinating past - whether professional or amateur archeologists, present or future visitors, or those, like myself, who still recollect even after 50 years the thrill of climbing the rock fortress of Sigiriya or of seeing the wonderful carvings and temples of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. What is more, it is a fascinating human record, for Bell was a great if wayward character. Born in 1851, a member of the Ceylon Civil Service from 1873 and Archaeological Commissioner from 1890 to 1912, he died in 1937, never having returned to Europe and this is the story of his life and work.

What is so fitting is that Bell can be said to have found the ideal collaborators in his granddaughters who by their professional expertise and literary skill have successfully rounded off in this book the work to which he devoted his life. The notes are full and of particular value to scholars is their complete bibliography of Bell's writings from 1881 to his monograph on the Maldive Islands published in 1940, 3 years after his death. Let his granddaughters have the last word: "It is from Bell's own writings, published and unpublished, that the fullest picture of his personality may be extracted. He jumps from the page - self-centred, irascible, meticulous, opinionative, but with a strong appreciation of good work, a love of beauty in nature and in art. Bell's own legacy is a lasting one. He is remembered not only for having laid the massive foundations of organised archaeology in Ceylon, but as a remarkable personality. Moreover, the love he had for the land, its culture and its people led him never to uproot himself from them."

British Empire Book
Bethia N. Bell and Heather M. Bell
Archetype Publications Ltd


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