The Malaita Massacre

5. William Robert Bell
William Robert B ell was Born on 7 August 1876 in the Gippsland district of what was then the colony of Victoria. His father, George Bell, migrated as a child with his mother, sister, stepfather and stepbrothers from Cambridgeshire to Tasmania around the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1871 the family crossed Bass Strait to Gippsland; George Bell married in the same year and five of his fifteen children (including W.R. Bell, the third son) were born in the Sale-Maffra district where they initially settled. The Bells' roots in England were deep - yeomen, sub-tenants of the earls of Hardwicke's 'Rectory Farm', their residence in the area around the Cambridgeshire village of Whaddon dated back many centuries. The farmhouse in which George Bell was born, and of which recollection is preserved in the Bell family, was built in 1833 and still stands, 'well regarded by the National Trust'.
When George Bell's father died (evidently at an early age, since his children wee young, the connection of this branch of the Bells with 'Rectory Farm' was broken. The migrant family apparently brought no substantial capital to Australia; George Bell began his colonial career as an employee on the farms of others, and when he took up land of his own - on the Tanjil river near the town of Moe - it was as a 'selector'. Selectors were the struggling group, the 'battlers' in the nineteenth century. Taking up land made available under the 'Homesteading' Acts of 1860, 1862 and 1865, they usually had little to bring to the task of winning a livelihood from the Australian bush other than their experience and hard work. Gippsland is one of the more favoured areas of the continent, well-watered, traversed by substantial rivers and with relatively few harsh gradients and areas of poor soil, it has become a prosperous mixed farming district. the future of the area had been assured by the time George Bell established himself at 'Visiondale' in 1880: a transport system had developed, and the city of Melbourne was already a large market for rural produce. Nevertheless George Bell must have been hard pressed to provide for his very large family. the Bells spent their early years in a roughly constructed slab-timber house (the Australian equivalent of the American log cabin); and there was evidently no money to spare for the luxury of extra education, at least for the older children.
William Bell, known as 'Will' to his family, was raised not at 'Visiondale' but at the nearby farm of his father's sister. His schooling was elementary, at Moe State School, and then at Tanjil South. He left school at the age of fourteen. Although growing up with his aunt, Will Bell joined in the work of his parents' farm and remained close to his brothers and sisters. The hard outdoor life developed Bell's sturdy framek, tall for the time at 5 feet 10 inches, into a powerful physique. there was time for sport as well as work. Will Bell was an excellent athlete, a good horseman and talented cricketer, well up on the list as a batsman on his local team.
Along with his older brother and 16,000 young Australians, William Bell enlisted in 1899 to fight in the Boer War in south Africa. He joined the 2nd Victorian Mounted rifles, and participat4ed in heavy fighting, notably at the Black Reef mine in the Witwatersrand. shortly before the end of the war, he was commissioned lieutenant in the 6th commonwealth Horse. his older brother, George John Bell, rose from the rank of trooper to captain, and was awarded the D.S.O. This tradition of dedicated military service, and of rising through the ranks to assume responsibility, was a strong theme in the Bell family. George Bell went back to war when the First World War broke out, served at Gallipoli, and later in Palestine with the Light Horse, eventually rising to he rank of lieutenant-colonel. Another of Bell's brothers also served with the Light Horse in Palestine: and rose to the postwar rank of captain; another brother died at Gallipoli; and the youngest, Alexander, still alive in his eighties, was twice wounded at Gallipoli. William Bell was proud of his Boer War record, but seems to have reminisced about it with sardonic irony and perhaps with embroidery. A 1916 scientific visitor to the Solomons was told
... about his experience in the South African war, where he had once been tried for cowardice, and later on given a medal for valor. In the first episode, he said he had retreated with a small group of soldiers after trying with one pompom gun to take a hill which had been secretly occupied by two companies of Boers. (There is no mention of either incident in official unit records.)  
An interesting tidbit of evidence on Bell's character, one that suggests a tendency toward self-dramatization, derives from an incident shortly after his return from the Boer War. According to Bell's brother:

Shortly after that War he was helping his uncles at harvest time and met with an accident, the tine of a pitchfork entering the palm of his right hand. the Melbourne surgeon, Charles Ryan, found it necessary to remove a portion of that palm and certain fingers. Ever since the hand was gloved. 

With his partly disabled hand, Bell was unable - apparently with regret - to enlist in the First World War. by that time the damaged hand had acquired a considerable mystique in the Solomons, which Bell may not have created but did nothing to discourage. In official reports, the injury is referred to as resulting from a dynamite explosion. He apparently told the visiting scientist it was a war wound. The bravado regarding the maimed hand that Bell showed in the rough men's world of the colonial frontier contrasts sharply with the diffidence and self-consciousness he showed at home in Australia, even years later - and that, too, may reveal something of his inner depths. Bell's family remember that he kept his gloved right hand in his pocket, and shook hands with his left. For a young man in his mid-twenties who had tasted the adventure of war and foreign travel, settling back into the life of a Gippsland farm may have been a dull prospect - and one rendered less attractive by the hand injury. For in the first war or two of the century, he left Gippsland, following a lead suggested by a Boer War comrade, and went to Fiji. His first job was on mango Island in the Fiji group. He then spent some time working for the trading company Brown and Joske.
He had evidently set about some educational self-government, since he was employed as an accountant. In 1904 or 1905 Bell, who had made several voyages to the islands as Brown and Joske's recruiting agent, secured an appointment as government Agent aboard the schooner Clansman. These were the closing hours of labour migration from the British Solomon Islands to Fiji, and Bell made several voyages in the Clansman, which was chartered b the government to bring Solomons recruits to Fiji. In this work, which required determination of character and physical endurance, Bell was highly successful. Two of his journals of recruiting voyages which have survived are models of their kind - they chart precisely the vessel's movements and accurately record all details of each individual recruit. Above all, as the following extract demonstrates, they reveal an unswerving resolution on Bell's part to observe the letter and spirit of the recruiting regulations, no easy task given problems such as the personalities of recruiting masters and island 'middle men' and he ever present difficulty of reliable communication:

3 January. A man and a woman were offered as recruits, the woman was not married to the man and I was informed by the few natives (all men) present that her husband was dead. I enquired where her father was, and they said he lived some distance inland. I informed them that I wished to see him before accepting the woman; they then said that he was dead. It was quite apparent that they were not telling the truth, and I would not take the woman. 

The Clansman journals indicate that by the end of 1908 Bell had visited the passages of the East Kwaio coast, picking up recruits at 'Oloburi and Uru, and sailing past - and perhaps into - the great harbour at Sinalagu, where he was to die almost twenty years later. Bell had come to like and respect the tough and straightforward plantation recruits from the Solomons, mainly Malaitans, and he seems to have been attracted by the frontier conditions that still prevailed. When recruiting for Fiji ceased in 1911, Bell applied for an advertised position as head of the Solomons Administration's Department of labour. His reputation for honesty and diligence as Government Agent, in a job that had traditionally been filled by scoundrels, ne'er-do-wells and slaggards, served him sell; he was well known to many of the Europeans in the Solomons. In 1911 he was appointed to the Department of Labour. At this time the Solomons were experiencing a surge of development, with land being taken up by Levers Pacific Plantations Ltd. the Solomon islands Development company and the Malayta Company, as well as smaller enterprises. Central to the operations of all plantations was a guaranteed, reliable labor supply, a matter about which the European residents in the Solomons felt more strongly than any other. As one whose job it was to inspect labourers' working and living conditions, investigate complaints b employers and employees which arose from the work situation, and advise the administration on all matters pertaining to labour, Bell was clearly in a 'hot seat'. 
At this time the recruitment, employment and repatriation of local labourers was governed by a Regulation of 1910 which had revoked earlier similar measures. The 1910 Regulation required an accurate record of the personal details of all recruits (who had to be aged fourteen years or more) and restricted recruiting to licensed recruiters, who had to report to Tulagi at the conclusion of each voyage. Recruits were medically examined, and repatriates wee paid off. Islanders could not be engaged for more than two years, during which they were required to work a fifty-hour week for a wage of not less than 6 pounds per annum. ration scales were laid down, the necessary standard of living-quarters was roughly defined provision was made for hospital facilities on estates which employed large numbers of islanders. Employers could only be transferred from one plantation to another with their own consent. employers found guilty of major violations of these rules were liable to a fine of 20 pounds or six months' imprisonment, minor violations carried a 5 pounds or one month penalty. employers found guilty of assault or threatened assault could be fined 2 pounds or sentenced to two months' penal servitude.
Resident Commissioner C. M. Woodford, who had worked in the Solomons as a naturalist for years before he assumed his government post, was the dominant figure in Tulagi. His support had been instrumental in Bell's getting the job. but Bell, a strong-willed stickler for the letter of the law, encountered what he took to be both lack of interest on Woodford's part and complicity with plantation interests. to clash with Woodford, with his aura of expertise as 'Old Solomons Hand' and his virtually arbitrary power, was hardly a diplomatic beginning. but when he did not receive satisfaction in his direct approaches to Woodford, Bell complained directly to the colonial Office that he had been given no copy of the Labour Regulations and that Woodford was 'hostile' towards efforts to enforce the Labour laws. He also asserted that penalties for certain transgressions by indentured labourers wee too harsh whilst others were too slight. Woodford replied with counter charges that Bell was too 'rigid' in his attitudes and too much inclined to follow Fiji precedents. Singling out Bell's request for stiffer penalties in one area - for absconding labourers - Woodford launched into a succinct account of the labour history of the Solomnons, which was intended to demonstrate his superior knowledge of local conditions. 
This had the desired effect. The High commissioner's office concluded that Bell's complaints we unjustified - except in the matter of supplying him with a cop of the current regulations. Woodford, for his part, acted with a good deal of forbearance, when he could have had Bell sacked for daring to challenge his authority. He must have been impressed that Bell knew enough and cared enough about his work to risk his job on a matter of principle, and if necessary to go out of channels - something Bell was to do again when he was frustrated by his immediate superior. Bell and Woodford seem o have emerged from this confrontation with measured respect for one another. Bell was forced to perform his duties as inspector under extreme difficulties h had no independent transport and had to rely on official and commercial vessels to take him to the areas he wished to inspect. Nevertheless he seems to have been energetic in the job and to have made a great many inspections throughout the group. Reflecting, perhaps, his experience as an accountant, the statistics he kept on the activities of his department were exemplary. Apart from problems of transport, Bell was hampered b his lack of magisterial powers. he seemed to feel that not being a magistrate reduced his authority in the eyes of the planters and overseers with whom he had to deal. Perhaps, too, Bell felt that as head of a department of government he should have facilities and authority at least equal to those of District Offices. Certainly he encountered situations where on the spot action was required and he was in need of all the authority he could muster. In 1913, for example, he uncovered evidence that recruits being transported to plantations wee being forced to work aboard the ship on the way without recompense: as a magistrate he would have been able to intervene directly to prevent his abuse of the regulations. Woodford supported Bell's request, and the High commissioner agreed to the extension of his powers.
Evidence in official documents presents a complex picture of Bell's personality and performance at this time. He was clearly a stormy petrel amongst government officer, severely critical of what he deemed misconduct in others and very sure of his own rectitude. His physical presence and power were commanding, but he avoided violence. He paid no special deference to British airs of superiority, but he fitted no stereotypes of 'colonial' Australian bluster. he seems to have had a special gift, whether consciously employed or not, of making others feel that their own weakness was exposed. In islands that for years had accumulated small, inept men and allowed them to live in small local fantasies of their omnipotence. Bell's contempt for weakness and hypocrisy and ineptitude cut like an icy knife. Bell did not drink alcohol, and that compounded the effect: weak and lonely men acquired magical strength and cameraderie from shared alcoholic communion. Bell's abstention from drink and the social life that centred around the bottle gave him an aura of missionary superiority that made him all the more threatening.
Bell keenly championed the rights' and interests - and humanity - of the Solomon Islanders, in the face of the crude and exploitative racism of the planter community. As the pressure of work in the Labour Department mounted, the need arose for a second labour inspector. To Woodford's mind the key factor is making the appointment was the personality of Bell:
No special qualifications are required for the post of Labour Inspector, but it is most essential that he should be quiet and sympathetic with natives and a person of agreeable temper or he would inevitably fall out with Mr. Bell, who although extremely zealous in his word as Inspector of Labourers, is a man who for many reasons it would be very difficult to work amicably with.
Regarded with caution by the Resident Commissioner, Bell added to his reputation for 'difficulty' in 1914 by incurring the displeasure of the commercial giant of the group. Representatives of levers alleged that Bell discouraged islanders from working for the firm and urged them not to work for a wage of less than 1 pound per month. Bell replied bluntly that levers' difficulty in securing labourers was due to the sharp rise (to 10 per cent) in the death rate on their plantation. Despite his uncompromising attitude to his duties and the frankness of his official reports, Bell was capable of tact in dealing with a potentially explosive situation. He had a direct confrontation with a levers' plantation manager named Ross in 1915, when the latter obstructed Bell's inspection and beat up and swore at an islander who attempted to voice the grievances of the labourers. Bell displayed great coolness on this occasion in the face of considerable provocation. The Resident accepted his version of events and his claim that he had averted 'a more serious disturbance', and Ross was fined 20 pounds on a charge of obstructing Bell in his duties. It i clear that Bell was an unpredictable man, and one who would not treat the rules as they were, by gentlemen's agreement, to be treated; as idealistic fictions to be bent or ignored in the pursuit of livelihood and profit. the Administration would have preferred to see the office filled by a more bland, more manipulable, more colonialist, or perhaps more worldly or cynical man. Bell's reports are suggestive of a certain idealistic naivete, a sportsman's exaggerated respect for the rules, out of place in this outpost of Empire.    
When the First World War broke out, Bell could not answer the call to arms. With his brothers going off to war, his Boer War commission and his obvious temperamental affinity for the hard discipline of war, Bell must have burned with frustration at the injured hand that kept him in civilian life in the distant Solomons. With so many administrators leaving, he was certainly needed there. In October 1915 he was asked to assume the post of Acting District Officer of Malaita. Bell assumed the position with considerable reluctance. He did so only with written assurance that if, after a trial year he had found the tasks of administration impossible, with the resources at hand and the support from above, he could return to the post he had relinquished. 'I am prompted by the exceptional character of the work and the experience of offices previously stationed on Mala(ita), most of whom have now left the service." By this time, Bell was something of an Old Malaita Hand, even though he had never been stationed on the island. for a period of eight-years he had watched over recruiting activities, had inspected the Malaita plantations periodically, and above all had spent many hours talking and dealing with Malaita plantation workers. He must have had a fairly clear view of the enormity of the task of pacifying Malaita and establishing an administrative structure. he had also crossed swords with Barnett, the two had apparently disliked one another, and developed a mutual contempt, well before Barnett had succeeded to the effective command of the Protectorate, as Acting Resident commissioner in Woodford's stead. The Department of Labour and the planter community must have been happy to see Bell go. Bell's successor began his first report by commenting that:

Mr. Bell was no doubt well acquainted with the work to be done hut unfortunately his manner and bearing had a great deal to do with the general policy of aggression shown by employers towards and department.

Such 'aggression' noticeably decreased in the following years, as did activity by the Labour Department. The spirit of the gentlemen's agreement prevailed. Bell assumed his duties in Auki by noting that Edge-Partington and his successors had done virtually nothing to end the blood feuding endemic on Malaita and bring peace to the island. It did not take him long to run afoul of Barnett's drawing room fantasies about civilizing the natives by example, and preserving fair play and justice at all costs - which had long since become a mandate for inaction. Bell's efforts to begin to halt blood feuding, particularly a bloody 1916 police raid on the north Malaita bush settlement of Aitoli, were met by stern warnings from Barnett not to punish the possibly innocent, not to undertake punitive expeditions without orders from Tulagi, not to intervene in native affairs, especially since the victims of blood feuding wee themselves murderers. Less than a year after assuming the post, Bell responded to Barnett with bitter sarcasm that, in the hierarchical little dictatorship that prevailed, bordered on insubordination:

I fail to understand on what grounds you say that the arrest of native murderers is not to be the object arrived at by the district Officer . . . I should think that it should not only be their object but also their particular duty . . . I wish to take a decided objection to the remark in your letter that every able-bodied native of Malaita is more or less implicated in slaying and killing. Whoever is your informant, he has made a statement without any foundation in fact . . . About ninety percent of the victims of murder on Malaita are as innocent of crime as any Government official or other European in the Protectorate. I agree that the natives should be taught that there are other and better means of settling their differences than by their own hands, and the other and better means are by appealing to the police and the Court, but as the Government are denying them that relief they must be expected to resort to their old methods . . . the remarks in your letter about killing natives whether innocent or guilty are irrelevant in this case and I take exception to it. In the case referred to conclusive and direct evidence is on record . . . that each of the natives killed (in the Aitoli raid) struck blows at the murder . . . ., which is outside the fact they deliberately attempted the lives of the police in the execution of their duty. I note that you express regret that those murderers . . . have met their death. I have also noted that in reply to reports which I have made regarding natives who have lost their lives at the hands of murderers who murder for money only . . . there has been no expression of regret. Why cold-blooded murderers receive so much sympathy, and their innocent victims apparently none, is past my comprehension.

The last sentence, before Bell signs off his expression of frustration as 'your most obedient servant', includes assurance that he will visit the To'abaita area of North Malaita frequently, 'provided I have a reasonable means of travelling at my disposal'.  In this confrontation between a strong man of principled action and a weak man of principled inaction, the latter had almost complete and arbitrary power. In this situation, Bell requested at the end of his twelve months that he be permitted - as Barnett had promised in writing - to return to his post in the Department of Labour. even here Barnet's arbitrary power thwarted Bell: Barnett wrote him that if he returned to the Labour Department, he would be subordinate to his successor. In complete frustration, Bell played a desperate trump card. he bypassed Barnett in the chain of command, and wrote a twelve-page letter of protest directly tot he High commissioner in Fiji. In this letter, enclosing the relevant correspondence to and from Barnett, Bell characterizes the system of blood feuding; and he sets out the consequences of administrative inaction as directed by Barnett. Barnett's preoccupation with the evils of diffusely directed punitive expeditions, Bell argues, misses the point:

I think punitive expeditions for the purpose of punishing natives as a communi8ty (are) as repulsive to the ordinary British mind as is sitting inactive on a Government Station to an ordinary British Officer while innocent men, women and children, are being murdered around him by sell known murderers . . . for the sake of a reward . . . To suppress crime there must be something which criminals fear, and they have nothing to fear until someone tries to arrest them . . . I was very keen on peaceful patrols until I had travelled through districts in which murderers resided and then I realized that my actions were speaking louder than any words. . . Parleying with murderers is not a sign of weakness and inability to protect those whoa re entitled to protection.

Bell's observations on Malaita blood feuding are worth quoting further, since his perception of his adversaries is a crucial element in the conflict that culminated at Gwee'abe. 

The majority of . . . killingly are) not done by someone impelled by a native superstition or custom. In most cases he man who kills does it for the reward, and the committing of crime for money ... is no more a native than a European custom. these are the worst murderers and there are no extenuating circumstances.

He went on to observe that it was not a lack of contact with things European that sustained blood feuding: 
Since assuming duty here I have committed for trial four natives on charges of murder; two of the four had worked in Queensland and one in fiji . . . One native who escaped from Tulagi gaol after being sentenced for murder . . . had (also) worked in Queensland (anbd) one other (who was deported) had worked both in Queensland and Fiji . .. . I think it is certain that natives who have been closly in touch with civilization are not less addicted to committing murder when they return home. Murders impelled by superstition belief will take place on Mala(ita0 under any circumstances for some time to come, but murders for reward will cease as soon as the murderer has little hope of escaping punishment.
Bell's perception of blood feuding and the power of the ramo was far more accurate than that of other Europeans of the time (only the missionary linguist W.G. Ivens was to rival Bell in his understanding of Malaita customs and motives). But he did see the system from an Anglo-Saxon point of view that led to some distortion. From Bell's point of view, if someone killed your brother, it was a legitimate (if deplorable) homicide if you killed that person in revenge. (Bell had told a delegation of Christians that 'if anyone threatened to kill them and they were sure that the threat was an earnest one, they were entitled to get in first. If a man killed the murderer of his relative I would take no action, but they must only retaliate on the actual offender . . .") but from the Malaitans' standpoint, it was equally legitimate to kill the murderer's uncle or brother. Another legitimate way of securing vengeance was for the aggrieved group to put up a large bounty of blood money and pigs. Someone who killed the original murderer or a suitable equivalent victim would claim the bounty. Bell saw the person who killed to collect the blood money not as moral executioner securing vengeance for those who could not take it themselves, but as motiveless gangster killing for profit. these ramo or professional killers were the ones who had to be hanged or intimidated into retirement. Bell's inability to understand the ramo as culturally sanctioned instruments of vengeance, and hence of justice, shaped his approach to the pacification of Malaita. but Bell was right, probably, in seeing the ramo system, as it had been transformed during the decades of the labour trade, as having become perverted in its concern with profit at the expense of justice; a few feared ramo commanded enormous wealth, and often despatched victims quite unconnected with the original killing so as to claim the bounties.
In the flurry of correspondence that followed Bell's letter, the High Commissioner in Fiji was forced to recognize Barnett's obstructive ineptitude and downright dishonesty but forced to uphold the hierarchical structure and authority of the Resident commissioner's office. Barnett had sacked Bell and tried to have him forced from government service. Bell eventually was reinstated, having to make contrite apology on paper and beg forgiveness for his errors of insubordination. 'Barnett was apparently directed to reinstate Bell and probably heavily censured in private for his pettiness and obstructive policies.
Barnett left shortly afterwards. In the end, Bell had won the day. the appointment of Charles Workman as Acting Resident commissioner, then Resident Commissioner, signalled the beginning of a new official attitude, one almost of awe, towards Bell. Bell's reports began to display a deep involvement in the complex political affairs of Malaita and a degree of local knowledge which few District Officers attained. Bell, moreover, basked in some reflected glory as a result of having four brothers serving in a war in which, clearly, he would himself have been fighting had it not been for the injury to his hand. Workman, in recommending Bell's confirmation in the post of District Officer, referred to his distinguished Boer War record and service in Fiji and went on to remark that,
The record for uncompromising honesty which he bore then he bears now, and his unpopularity with the more dubious planters here when he was Inspector of Labour was the measure of the thoroughness with which he carried out the duties of that post . . . He had, I may  say, the complete confidence of the natives and no official on the Protectorate staff has their interests more thoroughly at heart.
This was the genesis of what might be called 'the legend of Bell'. Loving in austere isolation in a large house atop a hill which overlooked Auki harbour, Bell's life-style lent itself to fanciful treatment. Travellers noted that he had cut down the high croton hedges which surrounded his house and which had provided cover for bushmen who had sniped at his servants. One of the two accounts of Bell that give a glimpse of him as he was in about 1917 was written by Osa Johnson, more than twenty years later. She had come to the Solomons as the young bride of an American adventurer, martin Johnson, who had first come tot he Solomons with Jack London on the Snark, Johnson was given to lurid exaggeration and pure fabrication, and his posing wife unfortunately fell into the same pattern - so her account must be treated with caution. but if we read selectively, a good picture of Bell emerges, all the more valuable because it is augmented by Martin Johnson's photographs of Bell.
Osa Johnson describes Bell as

a large athletic man, bronzed from his dark hair to the sturdy legs that showed bare beneath his white shorts, he seemed physically equal to his tough assignment here. Certainly he had plenty of stamina and nerves.

Bell, living a bachelor regimen, and just past forty, was stern and rather frosty to the teenage, impulsive Osa Johnson, who had been thrust into his charge and was given to wandering into the forest with a butterfly net. Although many of the quotes Johnson attributes to Bell, such as those about the Malaitans' propensity for murder and cannibalism, are pure fabrication, others sound genuine and give some glimpse of Bell as a person. 

As he talked (Bell) became more and more agreeable, although whenever completely dropped his severe manner . . . 'If you had to live here year after year, everything, even food, would get jolly boring,' said Mr. Bell. 'This is a sorrowful land . . . but if you have an ideal, to do a job well and to make the world a little better for those who come after us, you can hear it. Otherwise you would surely go mad. It's a joke that we ever come out here in the first place, but once here we never get away . . . 'I could see that he was not running away from life but facing it, and was a man of pride, discipline, and vision. Everything about the house was spotless . . . the servants were perfectly trained, quick, and efficient. Here was  a man who, in contrast with the escapists, was giving his life to a kind of Spartan ideal and was getting the most comfort and happiness he could out of the circumstances.

Osa Johnso goes on to describe Bell's appreciation of John McCormack arias and Gilbert and Sullivan, as played on a portable gramaphone. His devotion to music in his lonely outpost, remarked upon elsewhere by early visitors, and his propensity for quoting Shakespeare, suggest side to Bell which otherwise gets obscured by the myths that surrounded him. Bell was obviously pleased by the attention of the visitors, however they diverted him from his spartan routine; and he was particularly pleased by the photographs Martin Johnson took. 'The best of Johnson's photos of Bell, later reproduced in Bride in the Solomons, shows Bell holding court, with a handcuffed prisoner flanked by two police. Johnson made an extra copy for Bell, who sent it to his brother George with a penned note that adds another glimpse of Bell's human  side:

Don't you think the prisoner is the best natured looking of the five (including himself). As a matter of fact he only killed one of the people who killed his brother. I had him at the station for several months under no restraint and sent him home about one month ago he was the best pigeon shot on the station and used to go out regularly with my gun and kept me supplied with pigeons. It was his own wish that his photo be taken as a prisoner before the court. It is considered quite an honour in this part of the world.

A more accurate depiction of Bell by a 1917 visitor interested in collecting biological specimens, not selling lurid adventure books, is given by the entomologist, W.E. Mann. Mann's description of Bell and the police officer, Campbell, and the Auki station are revealing. 'I don't known the dialects of these people', Campbell warned him as he set off with insect net into the nearby bush, 'neither does Bell. If someone swings on you with a tomahawk, who the hell could write notes to them.' Campbell cautioned him not to go more than a hundred feet beyond the station perimeter without an escort of a dozen soldiers.

Campbell . . . told me that the salt-water people wee all right, for a distance of about two miles to the east and five miles to the west; but the danger was in meeting passing natives from the bush. there was little open fighting, mostly attacks from ambush . . .  Bell had been on vacation in Australia for several months and it was necessary for him to make frequent trips of inspection . . . Usually before any government business could be undertaken the chief was presented with his quid of betel nut. Not many orders wee given, but Bell did try to get them to keep the villages reasonably clean, and be frowned heavily on their feuds with each other.

Bell's increasing sophistication in intervening in blood feuding, once he had been given the support from above he had sought, is revealed by Mann's description of judicial proceedings he witnessed. 
I was crosslegged near Bell and listened to evidence from Filia, who had shot Ramafuna, and to about fifty natives representing both factions . . . I wondered how Bell could decide it. thee had definitely been murder, but it had been occasioned by another, and that by still another, and it all went back to witchcraft (i.e., sorcery) case. It seemed hardly fair to hang the latest in a series of murderers when the others had gone unharmed. Shaking his fist at the accused, Bell demanded that he and his village give four pigs and six fathoms of shell money to the other group, then, still shaking his fist, and raising his voice, he promised both sides that the next time there was a killing he would bring his soldiers in and shoot the murderer. Both parties seemed satisfied with Bell's judgment. . . We heard later that the pigs were duly turned over, and that both groups had a big feast together, . . . terminating . . . a long feud. 
But, by 1918, had begun to command a respect no European had ever won from the Malaitans. In the north around Malu'u and Bita'ama, in Kwara'ae and Langalanga along the west coast, and even along the south-western coast among the feared 'Are'are, Bell had begun to be a presence to be reckoned with. To the Malaitans, he was 'Misa Bello', tough, respected, increasingly feared by the strong as he was turned to by the weak and aggrieved. But most of the mountainous interior, and most of the eastern coast, almost out of reach of Bell's twenty-foot whaleboat, remained sovereign and defiant.
Steps to Pacification

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