Papers of Professor George Joseph Bell (1770-1843)

Scope and Content

The collection consists of what are believed to be notes of lectures on Scots Law delivered by Professor David Hume, 1788, and taken down by George Joseph Bell, at Dc.5.37-38. There are also notes of lectures on Scots Law delivered by Bell, 1836-1837, at Dk.2.4.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Joseph Bell was born in the Fountainbridge district of Edinburgh on 26 March 1770. He was the elder brother of Professor Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842). Like his brother, he was educated at home though he also attended some lectures at Edinburgh University, certainly in 1788. He was admitted as an advocate in 1791, and having devoted himself to the systematic study of Scottish mercantile law he published the two volumes of A treatise on the laws of bankruptcy in Scotland (1804). This was followed by an enlarged and improved version with the title Commentaries on the laws of Scotland and on the principles of mercantile jurisprudence considered in relation to bankruptcy, compositions of creditors, and imprisonment for debt (1810). In 1822, Bell was appointed as Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, and in 1823 he was commissioned to report on the forms of process in the Scottish courts of law and the course of appeals from the Scottish Court of Session to the House of Lords. This led to the Scottish Judicature Act of 1825. In 1833 he was appointed Chairman of the Commission looking at draft proposals for the amendment of Scottish law relating to bankruptcy proceedings. The report led to the Scottish Bankruptcy Act, 1839. Bell's other publications included Principles of the law of Scotland, for the use of students in the University of Edinburgh (1829), and the three volumes of Illustrations from adjudged cases of the principles of the law of Scotland (1836). George Joseph Bell died in 1843.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 2. Beal-Browell. pp.158-159. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Bell related material (check the Indexes for more details): a letter to Bell from Lord Pitmilly thanking him for the gift of Commentaries on the laws of Scotland, at Gen. 1995/54; letter, at Gen. 1995/26; and letters to unnamed correspondents in the Laing Collection, at La.II.179.


Corporate Names