Francis Bell (New Zealand politician)

This article is about the Prime Minister of New Zealand. For his father, see Dillon Bell.
The Right Honourable
Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell
20th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
10 May 1925 (1925-05-10)  30 May 1925 (1925-05-30)
Monarch George V
Governor-General Charles Fergusson
Preceded by William Massey
Succeeded by Gordon Coates
Constituency Wellington City
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
(First New Zealand born Prime Minister)
Died 13 March 1936(1936-03-13) (aged 84)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Reform
Spouse(s) Caroline Robinson
Relations Dillon Bell (father)
Arthur Bell (brother)
Brenda Bell (niece)
Frank Bell (nephew)
William Robinson (father-in-law)
Children Cheviot Bell
William Bell
Religion Anglican

Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell GCMG KC (31 March 1851 – 13 March 1936) was the first New Zealand-born Prime Minister of New Zealand.[1] Bell is one three New Zealand Prime Ministers of Jewish extraction, the others being Julius Vogel and current Prime Minister John Key.

Early life

He 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.[2] After finishing high school, he travelled to England where he attended St John's College, Cambridge, receiving a BA in 1873.[3] On returning to New Zealand, he began practising law in Wellington, being involved in Bell, Gully, MacKenzie and Evans.[2]

He played two first-class cricket matches for Wellington in the 1870s before giving up cricket for politics.[4]

He 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.[2]

He married Caroline Robinson on 24 April 1878 at St John's Church in Christchurch. She was the third daughter of William Robinson.[5] 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.[6][7] 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.[8] The two children of his brother Alfred, Brenda and Frank Bell, became notable radio pioneers.[9]

Political career

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
18931896 12th Wellington Independent

His political career began with being elected Mayor of Wellington in 1891, 1892 and 1896.[2] In his first general election in 1890, he was defeated running as an independent for the City of Wellington electorate.[10] He was narrowly defeated by William McLean in an 1892 by-election by 3388 votes to 3245.[11] He finally entered Parliament in the 1893 election, serving for one term.[12]

In 1912, the Reform Party came to power, and on 10 July 1912 Bell was appointed to the Legislative Council.[8] He became Minister of Internal Affairs (1912–1915),[13] and Minister of Immigration (1912–1920).[14] He was Attorney-General (1918–1926).[15] He was the first Commissioner of State Forests, and from 1923 he would also serve as the Minister of External Affairs.[16]

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

In 1923 he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George and was appointed to the Privy Council.

Prime minister

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 control of the government. He officially became Prime Minister on 14 May 1925 after the death of Massey on 10 May. He would serve 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.[17] He died in Wellington on 13 March 1936.


  1. "Francis Bell". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  2. 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.
  3. "Bell, Francis Henry Dillon (BL869FH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. "Cricket tragics". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  5. "Local and General". The Star (3135). 25 April 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  6. Wilson 1985, p. 201.
  7. "Cenotaph Search Results". Auckland Museum. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  8. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 149.
  9. Dougherty, Ian. "Bell, Margaret Brenda - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  10. "The General Election, 1890". National Library. 1891. p. 2. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  11. "The Wellington Election". The Press. XLIX (8076). 20 January 1892. p. 5. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  12. Wilson 1985, p. 183.
  13. Wilson 1985, p. 76.
  14. Wilson 1985, pp. 76–77.
  15. Wilson 1985, pp. 77–79.
  16. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol.202-208 (1923-1925).
  17. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.


External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sir Francis Bell.
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
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