Curiouser and curiouser…

Posted on April 6, 2019

Standing on the original deck planking of Scotland’s oldest preserved ship Frigate Unicorn my research compass started to point north.

Launching my crowdfunding sponsorship campaign to Tell Tales on Ten Tall Ships last weekend I spied a silver long boat in a glass case with an intriguing inscription…

This Viking Ship is dedicated as a souvenir to Bell & Sime Ltd. Dundee

Who sent me forth on my romantic mission to Scandinavia in the Year 1900

This week I spent an afternoon in the wonderful National Library of Scotland’ to find out more…

This personal treasure was a 50th Birthday gift to, Henry Grady Bell CVO.CBE. Consul General whose family fortune went from croft to riches in 19th Century Dundee. Henry was apprenticed to a Jute merchant before being sent to Finland in 1900 at the age of 23 to study the woodworking industries there. In his autobiographical book Land of Lakes – Memories Keep Me Company Henry describes the land he comes to love:

“Finland is a garden hacked out of a forest inhabited by a race of cultured, charming, hospitable people… whose most popular national pastime is bathing in their birthday clothes.”

Regarding himself as the black sheep of the family Henry left the jute business to turn the crank handle of a Pathe Brothers’ moving picture machine, however having narrowly missed electrocution by this new technology he soon embraced the trusted family timber firm. Studying Swedish at night class in Dundee he never dreamt of romance but fate in the guise of a grumpy Russian customs official led to his meeting a beautiful German girl who got him passed a border checkpoint.

Having met his wife to be only once before proposing to her Illa  proved herself a loyal companion moving and supporting her husband tirelessly through war and revolution as Henry became involved in the diplomatic service first as British Consul General to Finland 1918-19 and later as the Hon. Consul General for Finland in London from 1931.

Positioned between Germany and Russia, Bell describes Finland as a midget between two giants so the political situation between the wars was at times “complicated”. In Finland it is a criminal offence to tell a lie and with a German wife and two children Henry’s diplomacy won him the C.V.O and a C.B.E.

Waiting for his CBE King George stopped to chat to Henry for so long that the wife of the next in line hissed “what on earth has that man got to talk to the King about?” Overhearing her Ille replied:

“Perhaps the King is discussing if my husband should actually be getting a Knighthood?”

I love how one story leads to another and researching the history of this silver Viking ship has led me to the mythical Viking ship Skidladnir…but that, as they say, is another story!