Wolverhampton BTW

Rosina Agnes Bell

Bell, Rosina Agnes née Congalton, 1763—1858

by Benjamin Colbert

Rosina Agnes Bell, née Congalton, was the second of three daughters of Dr Charles Congalton (c.1724-1808) and Agnes Congalton, née Macintosh (d. 1818) of Edinburgh. She appears to have trained in music and exhibited some talent.

In notices of her marriage to Dr John Bell (1763-1820; ODNB), surgeon and anatomist, on 26 December 1805, Rosina Bell appears as ‘the eldest surviving daughter’ of her parents (her elder sister, Margaret, having pre-deceased her). Her husband enjoyed a thriving medical practice in Edinburgh, and the Bells frequently entertained guests with musical parties.

After John Bell fell from a horse in 1816, his health deteriorated, and the following year the Bells travelled to the continent for his convalescence. After a visit to Paris (where he suffered a further haemorrhage), they departed for Italy in June 1817, touring Lyon, Milan, Bologna, before settling first in Florence and, by 1819, Rome. On 29 March 1819, we glimpse Rosina Bell accompanying her husband when calling on Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Feldman 255). The Shelleys became patients of Dr Bell and the Bells both appear in the Shelley circle at this time, sharing acquaintances and bonding through their mutual interest in music.

The Bells planned to remove to Florence for the summer, but John Bell’s health worsened and they remained in Rome until he died on 15 April 1820. After her husband’s death Rosina Bell remained in Italy where she edited his posthumous Observations and may have commissioned the Italian translation published in Siena in 1828. She certainly oversaw a second English edition, published in Naples, 1834, which she augmented with additional manuscript material. At some point her youngest sister, Mary Ramsay, came to reside with or near her at Naples (her sister was by then the widow of Alexander Ramsay, an East India Company civil servant). In 1845, the Scottish high courts settled a contested legacy from their maternal aunt, Mary Macintosh (d. 1821), perhaps allowing them some degree of comfort in their remaining years. Mary Ramsay died at Naples on 29 December 1849 and Rosina Bell on 10 September 1858, also at Naples.


Baston, K. Grudzien. ‘Bell, John (1763-1820), surgeon and anatomist’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Web. 14 July 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2013

Chambers, Robert. ‘Bell, John’. A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. Vol. 1. Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 1835. 197-200. Print.

‘Deaths [Agnes Congalton]’. Scots Magazine Thurs., 1 Oct. 1818: 95. British Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 June 2022.

‘Deaths [Mary Gongalton or Ramsay]’. Caledonian Mercury Thurs., 20 Dec. 1849. British Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 June 2022.

‘Deaths [Rosina Agnes Congalton]’. Caledonian Mercury Wed., 29 Sept. 1858. British Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 June 2022.

Dunbar, W. H., James Campbell, and F. L. Maitland Heriot. Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Courts of Scotland, and in the House of Lords on Appeal from Scotland. Vol. 17. Edinburgh, 1845. 342-53. Print.

Feldman, Paula R., and Diana Scott-Kilvert, eds. The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. 254n3. Print.


Title Published
Observations on Italy 1825 Editor

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