GELL, JOHN PHILIP (1816-1898), Anglican clergyman, was born on 10 March 1816 at Matlock, Derbyshire, England, the eldest son of Rev. Philip Gell. His upbringing in the strictest Evangelical traditions of the Church of England was counteracted by his education under Thomas Arnold at Rugby, where he was a contemporary of Arthur Hugh Clough and A. P. Stanley, who described him as 'the noblest and most beloved' of Arnold's pupils. After graduating at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1839; M.A., 1840) he sailed for Van Diemen's Land, recommended by Arnold to be head of the first institution of higher education under Sir John Franklin's government. Gell's original mind, natural spirits and equable temperament made him at once a friend of the Franklins, with whom he stayed on his arrival in March 1840. He shared their interest in art and science, in 1842, becoming secretary to the Franklin-inspired Tasmanian Society.
His aim for the college was that it should draw the existing schools up to the standard of English public schools while itself growing into the 'full stature of an English college'. ....................... With subscriptions raised in England, Christ's College was finally refounded in 1846, wholly Anglican, built with church money and on church land at Bishopsbourne. Gell was appointed warden, and by February 1847 had 3 fellows, also in orders, 3 students of divinity, 6 scholars and 54 students. Satisfied in having established the college, endowed its library and seen the foundation of two feeder public schools on Arnold's principles, the Launceston Church Grammar School and the Hutchins School in Hobart, Gell left the colony in 1848. His perseverance and enthusiasm in the cause of colonial education during his eight years service in Van Diemen's Land were acknowledged in a farewell address, by generous endowment to a Gell scholarship at Christ's College from settlers of all denominations, and by the college staff, who presented a service of communion plate.
In England in 1849 he married Eleanor Isabella, Sir John Franklin's only child by his first marriage to Eleanor Anne Porden; Gell had met her in Tasmania. He obtained a curacy at St John's, Notting Hill. In 1852 he joined the Canterbury Association and was appointed bishop-designate of its settlement in New Zealand, but the appointment lapsed when the proposed see was not created. At this time the friendship he had previously enjoyed with Lady Franklin deteriorated as his wife's claims to her rightful inheritance from her mother's Porden estate were waived when Lady Franklin undertook the expensive quest for Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition. On his wife's death, however, harmony was restored, Lady Franklin sharing his interest in J. W. Colenso's teachings.
Like others of his Rugby contemporaries, Gell tended to latitudinarianism in the 1860s. Near the end of his life he held a living at Buxted, Sussex, and earned minor repute as a Hebrew scholar. He died on 12 March 1898 in London, having had three sons and four daughters.
Frances J. Woodward, Gell, John Philip (1816-1898), Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, 2006,
The above extract has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online