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ph0ebus

Transatlantic Spies?

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ph0ebus

Hi all,

Not sure if this is the right spot to park this, but here goes:

On April 16, 1916, a 44 year-old Englishman from Sheffield by the name of Albert Edwards Bell arrived at Ellis Island on a British-owned DAMS en route to the British Embassy in Washington DC. He apparently departed Liverpool on March 25th and made the transatlantic journey, according to his own statement, 'in disguise'. My question is: who was this man, and how might I determine his relationship to the British Embassy? Though on the Manifest he gives his occupation as a 'skilled laborer', given his destination and his efforts to hide his identity, might that indicate he was a spy? Or some other type of agent for the British Government? Is this a total shot in the dark?

Thanks,

-Daniel

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Kath

Daniel,

Have you access to the original ship's Manifest?

There's an entry for next of kin: "Wife, no? City Road, Sheffield."

I can't make out the no. on City Road.

Which column does it say "in disguise"?

Can you copy it to the Forum?

Kath.

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ph0ebus

Hi Kath,

I will add additional info tonight, as I am only able to get sporadic access to the forum whilst in transit, or at home. The notation about being in disguise is not on the manifest but rather a postcard once owned by the aforementioned gentleman; it was curious notation on the postcard that led me to the manifest. He was married, but I do not have a hard copy on hand at present to extract the pertinent info from. If you do not want to wait you can look him up via the Ellis Island web site, using last name only, year of arrival (1916) and ship name (California).

-Daniel

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truthergw

All the major powers spied on each other as well as the enemy. Almost certainly still do.

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phil@basildon

I have found an Albert E. Bell on the census returns for 1881 and 1891 that fits with the details you have given. The details are as follows:-

Year of birth approx. 1871.

Fathers name. John

Mothers name. Sarah A.

Address 26 Ash Street, Nether Hallam, Sheffield. Yorks.

Occupation, Manufacturers clerk.

These details are from the 1891 census. The 1881 census is the same but he is described as a scholar.

I have just found the 1901 census returns. He is still living in Nether Hallam but with wife Lilian and five children and a housemaid. The address is 321 Springvale road and his occupation is as a Commercial Traveller.

It appears he may have been a civilian contractor doing his bit for the war effort, the sailing details may give more details.

I noted from the census details that his father was employed as a steel roll maker, he made quite a deal of progress in 20 years.

The most likely scenario is that he was engaged in the purchase of war materials on behalf of the British Government from the USA which at that time was neutral and American seaports were thought to abound with German spies.

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Kath

Phil,

There's more than one Albert E. Bell.

1901

!0, Andrew St. (Wicker) age 31 Iron Turner/Fitter born Sheffield.

but I can only find one Birth entry which I think is for your Albert:

Surname First name(s) District Vol Page

Births Jun 1871

BELL Albert Edward Ecclesall Bierlaw 9c 255

Phoebus,

I found him on the Ellis site, but haven't a subscription.

Kath.

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Jim Clay

The 1911 Census has a handful of Albert Bells (with a Lilian Bell in the household) in the West Riding:

post-2135-1238681716.jpg

The 40 year old in Ecclesall Bierlow may be your man - but it'll cost a few credits to check. :(

Jim

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Kath

Sheffield Trade Directory Index

title forename surname occupation abode directory

Albert E. BELL Silver Finisher Bailey Lane; h. 106 Nicholson Road, Heeley White's 1911

Albert Edward BELL Comcl. Trav. 271 Western Road White's 1911

Albert Edward BELL Tontine Hotel, 2 Dixon Lane & Haymarket White's 1911

Albert BELL Asylum attendant 95 Wynyard Road, Hillsborough White's 1919

Albert E BELL Silver finisher 33 Holly Lane White's 1919

Ernest Albert BELL Edge tool manufacturer 56 St Mary's Road White's 1919

Albert BELL Mental hospital attendant 95 Wynyard Road, Hillsborough Kelly's 1925

Albert Edward BELL Traveller 123 Shiregreen Lane, Shire Green Kelly's 1925

Albert Ernest BELL Silver finisher 33 Holly Lane & 54 Holly Street Kelly's 1925

Ernest Albert BELL Edge tool manufacturer (Bell & Son) 56 St Mary's Road Kelly's 1925

Kath.

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phil@basildon
Phil,

There's more than one Albert E. Bell.

1901

!0, Andrew St. (Wicker) age 31 Iron Turner/Fitter born Sheffield.

but I can only find one Birth entry which I think is for your Albert:

Surname First name(s) District Vol Page

Births Jun 1871

BELL Albert Edward Ecclesall Bierlaw 9c 255

Phoebus,

I found him on the Ellis site, but haven't a subscription.

Kath.

Kath,Jim. I found two Albert E. Bell's on the census but the one I quoted was the only one that fitted with date of birth and coming from Sheffield. This is the one second on your list from the White's trade directory and could be the second entry in Kelly's directory.

On the 1901 census his children are:- Albert E., John R. 7 years (twins?), George E. 5 years, William A, 2 years and Reginald 4 months.

The older boys will have been of military age by 1914 and I will be looking into that aspect.

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ph0ebus

Hi all,

Back at home, and just freshly transcribed the Ellis Island Manfest Entry, shown below:

Albert Edwards Bell Entry in Ship’s Manifest (T.S.S. California)

Departed Liverpool March 25, 1916 – Arrived New York April 6, 1916

Family Name: Bell

Given Name: Albert Edwards

Age (Years): 44

Age (months): -------

Sex: M

Married or Single: M

Calling or Occupation: Skilled Labourer

Able to Read: Yes

Able to Write: Yes

Nationality: Great Britain

Race or People: English

Last Permanent Residence (Country): England

Last Permanent Residence (City/Town): Sheffield

The name and complete address of

Nearest relative or friend in country

Whence alien came: wife Lillian Bell, 220 City Road, Sheffield

Final Destination (State) DC

Final Destination (City) Washington

Whether having a ticket to such final

Destination: Yes

By Whom Passage was Paid? Self/Comunally (?)

Whether in possession of $50 or if less

How much:? $60

Whether ever in United States before? Yes

Whether going to join a relative or

Friend, and if so, what relative or friend

And his name and complete address? British Embassy, Washington DC

Ever in prison or almshouse… No

Whether a polygamist? No

Whether an anarchist? No

Whether copming by reason of some offer No

Condition of Health, Mental and Physical? Good

Deformed or Crippled, Nature, Length

Of time, and cause: No

Height (feet): 5

Height (inches): 5

Complexion: Med Dark

Color of (Hair): Black

Color of (Eyes): Grey

Marks of Identification: Slight Scar over right eye

Place of Birth (Country): England

Place of Birth (City or Town): Sheffield

Given he was 44 at the time of his sailing (1916), that would put his DOB around 1872-ish. The 1871 DOBs are still in the ballpark. So, what do we think of him? Once I read the bit about the dark complexion and scar above the eye, I just had to smile. FYI, there were a few others on board the same trip also destined for the British Consulate. Phil W, your comment about his being on a purchasing mission for the British Governement caught my attention...can you say a bit more about how that worked? How did the Consulate tie in?

-Daniel

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phil@basildon

Daniel. I was only suggesting that this could be the purpose of his journey. The British Government set out to acquire all types of strategic materials if for no other reason but to deny it to Germany. He sounds a bit to old to be a "James Bond" and hails from Sheffield which is the major steel production City of England.

I am 99% certain I have identified the correct person from the census returns as he was the only one who "ticked all the boxes" and his occupation (commercial traveller) fits in with such a scenario. This is made even more certain by the wife's name tying in with the information you have just given. The next port of call would be to check the electorial register for Sheffield for the years 1911 to 1916 but I am unable to do this as they are not on line. I have also checked the telephone directories unfortunately they only show someone who could possibly be his son.

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phil@basildon

I have looked up my candidate on the 1911 census. He is now the father of no less than 9 children! The other details are the same as the 1901 census so I must have the right person.

As his elder sons were of military age does anyone know the best sources to find out if they done any military service?

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Kath

Now that we have all the details, Bell, commercial traveller wife Lillian, fits, but why describe himself as 'Skilled Labourer'?

Can we see the postcard, Phoebus?

202, City Road:

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&sour...512428298279136

Phil, he seems to be back in Sheffield in 1925 (Kelly's).

Kath.

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centurion

I note from the Ellis island document that this was not his first visit to America - unusual for a skilled labourer at the time! I wonder if someone had 'officially' borrowed Bell's identity so as to travel incognito.

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phil@basildon
I note from the Ellis island document that this was not his first visit to America - unusual for a skilled labourer at the time! I wonder if someone had 'officially' borrowed Bell's identity so as to travel incognito.

I think it is unlikely that someone would use the identity of a family man in such circumstances. He would have held a passport, they were introduced in 1915. If he had made a previouse visit can he be found in the U.S. immigration records? Over to you ph0ebus.

Despite his prosperity his background is working class which means he could easily slip into the "skilled labourer" role. It might even be his actual job, it would not be unusual for workers to be dispatched to perform work at an embassy were there was a security risk in employing local labour. Remember that many Americans were of German descent.

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phil@basildon
Now that we have all the details, Bell, commercial traveller wife Lillian, fits, but why describe himself as 'Skilled Labourer'?

Can we see the postcard, Phoebus?

202, City Road:

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&sour...512428298279136

Phil, he seems to be back in Sheffield in 1925 (Kelly's).

Kath.

Kath, thanks for that, I don't know what address he was living at in 1911, it costs a small fortune on the 1911 website. He had 9 children including a new born who had not been named at the time of the census, plus a housemaid, plus an elderly couple who were lodgers! quite a squeeze. Could you possibly ask your local library for the electorial rolls for 1901-1914? Very few of these are online at the moment but as you are 'local' you may be able to find more information. They are in street order so as we have the addresses it should be easy to locate.

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ph0ebus

Hi Phil, all...

I will plumb the depths of the Ellis Island Website and see if I can locate previous trips for Mr. Bell. I do not have a scan of the card but can provide a transcript of what it says. The card was postally unused. It does not offer much:

"The ship that brought me over, but disguised." (signed by) "Bell"

Given the man is long dead, what are the odds a request of the British Embassy in Washington DC to see if they know this fellow will bear fruit? Anyone ever try to get such info via a straightforward request before?

I know I put in a request to the British Embassy in NYC a few years back as a part of my research into the loss of the California and they completely and totally blew me off with a generic 'thanks for your email, visit our web site' email.

-Daniel

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Martin Bennitt
"The ship that brought me over, but disguised." (signed by) "Bell"

-Daniel

Is he not possibly referring to the ship that was disguised in some way, e.g. to fool submarines?

just a thought

cheers Martin B

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phil@basildon

I looked up the T.S.S. California on Google. There is nothing to indicate that the vessel would have been disguised. Interestingly she caught fire when docked at pier 64 in Manhattan on the evening of 13 May 1916, the fire was put out later that evening and it transpired that she was loaded with munitions! another Halifax disaster was only just avoided.

She eventually was sunk on the 7 Feb 1917 by a torpedo fired by U-85 off of Ireland on her way to Glasgow.

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centurion
I looked up the T.S.S. California on Google. There is nothing to indicate that the vessel would have been disguised. Interestingly she caught fire when docked at pier 64 in Manhattan on the evening of 13 May 1916, the fire was put out later that evening and it transpired that she was loaded with munitions! another Halifax disaster was only just avoided.

She eventually was sunk on the 7 Feb 1917 by a torpedo fired by U-85 off of Ireland on her way to Glasgow.

Might she have been dazzle painted at the time the photo was taken?

Disguised at one time meant 'not myself' and was a euphemism for drunk however I suspect that this usage had ceased by 1916.

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phil@basildon

The only cargo/passenger ships painted in dazzle camoflage were those used as troop and supply ships in a battle zone such as the Dardanelles. Wearing their civilian colours was less likely to draw attention until the Germans started attacking all vessels in April 1917.

There is no evidence that the TSS California was painted in any camoflage in the photographs of her. She continued on her peacetime route after the declaration of war until she was torpedoed by U-85.

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phil@basildon
The 1911 Census has a handful of Albert Bells (with a Lilian Bell in the household) in the West Riding:

post-2135-1238681716.jpg

The 40 year old in Ecclesall Bierlow may be your man - but it'll cost a few credits to check. :(

Jim

That is the one, I used up my credits to check, :o all the chidrens names and ages tie up.

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Kath

I think he was referring to the ship that was disguised.

Phil, see post 8 for addresses.

Albert Edward BELL Comcl. Trav. 271 Western Road White's 1911

Albert Edward BELL Traveller 123 Shiregreen Lane, Shire Green Kelly's 1925

Kath.

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centurion
The only cargo/passenger ships painted in dazzle camoflage were those used as troop and supply ships in a battle zone such as the Dardanelles.

Dazzle painting was not intoduced until 1916 so not the Dardanelles. Many cargo ships not just troop carriers were painted in it.

Edit. In 1917 some 4,000 merchant ships were painted in dazzle (and 400 warships) (source The Tate, Art Culture and Camoflage)

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phil@basildon

I've taken a look at some of the other addresses on Google earth. 321 Springvale road is still there but some of the others have gone. 123 Shiregreen road is still there and still looks very salubrious.

If the ship was disguised it might be some sort of structure to make it look like another vessel to confuse any attacker.

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