Francis Bell (New Zealand politician)

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Sir Francis Bell

Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell, ca 1924.jpg
20th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
14 May 1925 30 May 1925
Monarch George V
Governor-General Charles Fergusson
Preceded by William Massey
Succeeded by Gordon Coates
Constituencynone (Legislative Councillor)
11th Mayor of Wellington
In office
Preceded by Arthur Winton Brown
Succeeded by Alfred Brandon
In office
Preceded by George Fisher
Succeeded by John Rutherford Blair
Personal details
Born(1851-03-31)31 March 1851
Nelson, New Zealand
Died13 March 1936(1936-03-13) (aged 84)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Reform
Caroline Robinson
(m. 1878;died 1935)
Children8, including:
Cheviot Bell
William Bell
Parents Dillon Bell
Margaret Hort
Relatives Arthur Bell (brother)
Brenda Bell (niece)

Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell GCMG PC KC (31 March 1851 – 13 March 1936) was a New Zealand lawyer and politician who served as the 20th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 10 to 30 May 1925. He was the first New Zealand-born prime minister, holding office in a caretaker capacity following the death of William Massey.

Prime Minister of New Zealand head of the New Zealand government

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is the head of government of New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, took office on 26 October 2017.

William Massey Prime Minister of New Zealand

William Ferguson Massey, commonly known as Bill Massey, was a politician who served as the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand from May 1912 to May 1925. He was the founding leader of the Reform Party, New Zealand's second organised political party, from 1909 until his death.


Bell was born in Nelson. His father, Sir Dillon Bell, was also a politician. Bell attended Auckland Grammar School and Otago Boys' High School before going on to St John's College, Cambridge. He returned to New Zealand to practise law, settling in Wellington and eventually becoming president of the New Zealand Law Society. Bell served as Mayor of Wellington from 1891 to 1893 and from 1896 to 1897. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1893, after two previous defeats, but served only a single term before retiring in 1896 to return to the legal profession.

Nelson, New Zealand City in Nelson City, New Zealand

Nelson is a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and the second-oldest settled city in New Zealand – it was established in 1841 and was proclaimed a city by royal charter in 1858.

Dillon Bell New Zealand politician

Sir Francis Dillon Bell was a New Zealand politician of the late 19th century. He served as New Zealand's third Minister of Finance, and later as its third Speaker of the House. The town of Bell Block near New Plymouth – on land Bell bought from the Puketapu iwi in 1849 – is named after him, as is Bell Street, Whanganui. Bell's son, Francis Henry Dillon Bell, became the first New Zealand born Prime Minister in 1925.

Auckland Grammar School Public secondary school in New Zealand

Auckland Grammar School (AGS) is a state secondary school for years 9 to 13 boys in Auckland, New Zealand. It has a roll of 2577 as of March 2019, including a number of boarders who live in nearby Tibbs' House, making it New Zealand's largest single-sex school and placing it among the six largest schools in the country.

In 1912, Bell was appointed to the Legislative Council as a representative of the Reform Party. In the Reform Government under William Massey, he served as Minister of Internal Affairs (1912–1915), Minister of Immigration (1912–1920), Attorney-General (1918–1926), Minister of Health (1919–1920), and Minister of External Affairs (1923–1926). When Massey died in office in 1925, Bell – aged 74 – was commissioned as his replacement for 16 days while the party elected a new leader (Gordon Coates). Bell retired from politics the following year. Only Henry Sewell served a shorter term as prime minister, and only Walter Nash served as prime minister at a greater age.

New Zealand Legislative Council Upper House of the Parliament of New Zealand (1841 - 1951)

The Legislative Council of New Zealand existed from 1841 until 1951. When New Zealand became a colony in 1841 the Legislative Council was established as the country's first legislature; it was reconstituted as the upper house of a bicameral legislature when New Zealand became self-governing in 1852.

The Reform Government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 1912 to 1928. It is perhaps best remembered for its anti-trade union stance in the Waihi miners' strike of 1912 and a dockworkers' strike the following year. It also governed during World War I, during which a temporary coalition was formed with the Liberal Party.

Gordon Coates New Zealand politician

Joseph Gordon Coates served as the 21st Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1925 to 1928. He was the third successive Reform prime minister since 1912.

Early life

Bell was born in Nelson, the eldest son of Sir Dillon Bell. His mother was Margaret Hort (who was Jewish, but became a Christian). Arthur Bell was a younger brother. He attended Auckland Grammar School and Otago Boys' High School. At Otago Boys he was the Dux. [1] After finishing high school, he travelled to England where he attended St John's College, Cambridge, receiving a BA in 1873. [2] On returning to New Zealand, he began practising law in Wellington, being involved in Bell, Gully, MacKenzie and Evans. [1] As a youth in the 1870s, he also played two first-class cricket matches for Wellington. [3]

Arthur Wilbraham Dillon Bell was an engineer active in New Zealand and Western Australia. Bell was a son of Francis Dillon Bell; his father was at the time of his birth a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives. His elder brother, Francis Bell, would later be Prime Minister of New Zealand. Bell received his secondary schooling in New Zealand and after a time in journalism and as a public servant, he went to England to train as an engineer. After a short period of engineering work in England, he returned to New Zealand in 1879, and in 1891 he went to Western Australia. He retired young in 1907 and returned to live in New Zealand. In 1917, the Bells moved to Melbourne to be with their daughter's family.

Otago Boys High School

Otago Boys' High School (OBHS) is one of New Zealand's oldest boys' secondary schools, located in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. Originally known as Dunedin High School, it was founded on 3 August 1863 and moved to its present site in 1885. The main building was designed by Robert Lawson and is regarded as one of the finest Gothic revival structures in the country. Situated on high ground above central Dunedin it commands excellent views of the city and is a prominent landmark.

<i>Dux</i> dux could refer to anyone who commanded troops

Dux is Latin for "leader" and later for duke and its variant forms.

Bell served as Crown Solicitor in Wellington from 1878 to 1890, and from 1902 to 1910. He was a prominent member of both the local and national law societies. He served as the latter's president from 1901 to 1918. [1]

A law society is an association of lawyers with a regulatory role that includes the right to supervise the training, qualifications, and conduct of lawyers. Where there is a distinction between barristers and solicitors, solicitors are regulated by the law societies and barristers by a separate bar council.

The New Zealand Law Society is the parent body for barristers and solicitors in New Zealand. It was established in 1869, and regulates all lawyers practising in New Zealand. Membership of the Society is voluntary, although any person wishing to practice law in New Zealand must obtain a practising certificate from the Society. The Society has 13 branch offices throughout the country. Each branch has a president and a council, which represent their members’ interests on a regional and national level.

He married Caroline Robinson on 24 April 1878 at St John's Church in Christchurch. She was the third daughter of William Robinson. [4] They had four daughters and four sons. His son William Henry Dillon Bell (1884–1917) was a Member of Parliament, but resigned and volunteered for service in World War I. He was killed in 1917. [5] [6] Another son Cheviot Wellington Dillon Bell was appointed to the Legislative Council as a member of the suicide squad by the First National Government on 27 July 1950 to vote for the abolition of the Council, so served to 31 December 1950. [7] The two children of his brother Alfred, Brenda and Frank Bell, became notable radio pioneers. [8]

St John the Baptist Church, Christchurch Church in Christchurch, New Zealand

St John the Baptist Church is a former Anglican church in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was located on Latimer Square.

Christchurch City in South Island, New Zealand

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the seat of the Canterbury Region. The Christchurch urban area lies on the South Island's east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula. It is home to 404,500 residents, making it New Zealand's third-most populous city behind Auckland and Wellington. The Avon River flows through the centre of the city, with an urban park located along its banks.

William Robinson (runholder) New Zealand runholder and member of the New Zealand Legislative Council

William Robinson, also known as Ready Money Robinson, was a New Zealand runholder and member of the New Zealand Legislative Council.

Political career

New Zealand Parliament
1893 1896 12th Wellington Independent

His political career began with being elected Mayor of Wellington in 1891, 1892 and 1896. [1] In his first general election in 1890, he was defeated running as an independent for the City of Wellington electorate. [9] He was narrowly defeated by William McLean in an 1892 by-election by 3388 votes to 3245. [10] He finally entered Parliament in the 1893 election, serving for one term. [11]

In 1912, the Reform Party came to power, and on 10 July 1912 Bell was appointed to the Legislative Council. [7] He became Minister of Internal Affairs (1912–1915), [12] and Minister of Immigration (1912–1920). [13] He was Attorney-General (1918–1926). [14] He was the first Commissioner of State Forests, and from 1923 he would also serve as the Minister of External Affairs. [15]

He represented New Zealand at the League of Nations in 1922. He would also attend the allied conferences at Genoa and the Hague.

Having been appointed Knight Commander on 3 June 1915, [16] on 1 January 1923 he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George [17] and was appointed to the Privy Council on 1 February 1926. [18]

Prime Minister

Portrait of Bell, wearing his insignia of knighthood, 1935 Francis Bell 1935.jpg
Portrait of Bell, wearing his insignia of knighthood, 1935

On returning to New Zealand, Bell became Acting Prime Minister while William Massey was in London. Massey's health began to fail, and Bell took over most of his roles. He officially became prime minister on 14 May 1925 after Massey's death on 10 May. He served as prime minister for the next 16 days. Bell declined the party's offer to become Prime Minister and was replaced by Gordon Coates.

After giving up his portfolios in 1926, he returned to the League of Nations with Coates.

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal. [19] His wife, Caroline (born 1853), died in Wellington on 8 September 1935. Bell died in Wellington on 13 March 1936.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Gardner, William James. "Bell, Francis Henry Dillon - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  2. "Bell, Francis Henry Dillon (BL869FH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. "Cricket tragics". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  4. "Local and General". The Star (3135). 25 April 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  5. Wilson 1985, p. 201.
  6. "Cenotaph Search Results". Auckland Museum. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  7. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 149.
  8. Dougherty, Ian. "Bell, Margaret Brenda - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  9. "The General Election, 1890". National Library. 1891. p. 2. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  10. "The Wellington Election". The Press . XLIX (8076). 20 January 1892. p. 5. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  11. Wilson 1985, p. 183.
  12. Wilson 1985, p. 76.
  13. Wilson 1985, pp. 76–77.
  14. Wilson 1985, pp. 77–79.
  15. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol.202-208 (1923-1925).
  16. "No. 12813". The Edinburgh Gazette . 4 June 1915. p. 772.
  17. "No. 13881". The Edinburgh Gazette . 5 January 1923. p. 20.
  18. "No. 33129". The London Gazette . 2 February 1926. p. 763.
  19. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post . 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.

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Government offices
Preceded by
William Massey
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Gordon Coates
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Winton Brown
Mayor of Wellington
Succeeded by
Alfred Brandon
Preceded by
George Fisher
Succeeded by
John Blair
Preceded by
Alexander Herdman
Succeeded by
William Downie Stewart
Preceded by
Josiah Hanan
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
James Parr
Preceded by
George Warren Russell
Minister of Public Health
Preceded by
Ernest Lee
Minister of Justice
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
George Fisher, William McLean, John Duthie
Member of Parliament for Wellington
Served alongside: Robert Stout, John Duthie
Succeeded by
George Fisher, Robert Stout, John Hutcheson