BELL, Harry Charles Purvis

BELL, Harry Charles Purvis. India 21.9.1851 — 6.9.1937. British Archaeologist of Ceylon. Son of general H. W. B. Bell, educated at Cheltenham College. From 1873 in Ceylon Civil service, served in various positions. In 1890-1912 Archaeological Commissioner for Ceylon with headquarters in Anuradhapura. Worked long alone, later with a few helpers (D. M. de Z. Wickremasinghe and John Still). Retired in 1912, but stayed in Ceylon the rest of his life, living in Kandy. Married 1876 with Renée Sabine Fyers (d. 1933).

He did pioneer work in Ceylon and in the Maldives (which he visited several times in 1879 and in the 1920s) showing i.al. that the latter had been Buddhist before Muslim conversion. He was lazy with his reports and his excavation methods soon became antiquated, but he showed keen interest in conservation. He also wrote on Ceylon religion (ethnology) in the 1910s.

Publications: papers in JRAS-CB and other journals, e.g. “Fish-curing at the Mâldives”, IA 11, 1882, 196-198; “Sinhalese Customs and Ceremonies connected with Paddy Cultivation in the Low Country”, JRAS-CB 8:26, 1883, 44-93; “Prince Taniyavalla Báhu at Mádampe”, JRAS-CB 28:72, 1919 (1921), 36-53.

– “List of Sinhalese, Pāli, and Sanskrit books in the Oriental Library, Kandy”, JPTS 1882, 38-45.

The Maldive Islands. An account of the physical features, climate, history, inhabitants, productions and trade. 132 p. Colombo 1883; The Máldive Islands. Report on a visit to Málé, January 20 to February 20, 1920. 72 p. Colombo 1921; The Máldive Islands. Monograph on the history, archaeology and epigraphy. 204 p. Colombo 1940.

Reports of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey, 1890-1912; “Interim Report on the operations of the Archaeological Survey at Sigiriya in 1895”, JRAS-CB 14:46, 1895, 44-58, and similar reports till 1912.

edited the Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register 1/1915–.

– “Excerpta Maldiviana”, JRAS-CB 29:75, 1922, 99-104; 29, 76, 1923, 194-214; 29:77, 1924, 283-303; 30:78, 1925, 132-142; 30:80, 1927, 436-447; 31:81, 1928, 180-195; 31:82, 1929, 400-415; 31:83, 1920, 539-578; 32:84, 1931, 76-124; 32:85, 1932, 226-242; 32:86, 1933, 373-387; 33:87, 1934, 47-90; 33:88, 1935, 169-191; all repr. as a book Excerpta Maldiviana. 315 p. N.D. 1998.

Sources: Who Was Who; *D. T. Devendra, JRAS-CB N.S. 8:1, 1962, 163-165; *bibliography in Ceylon Today 1:2-3; briefly in Wikipedia (with photo); ?B. N. Bell & H. M. Bell, H. C. P. Bell: archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives. 318 p. Denbigh 1993 (written by his granddaughters).

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