Dillon Bell

Dillon Bell
For his son see Rt. Hon. Francis Bell (New Zealand Prime Minister)
Sir Dillon Bell
portrait photo
Sir Dillon Bell ca 1881
3rd Colonial Treasurer
In office
7 May 1856 – 20 May 1856
Prime Minister Henry Sewell
In office
6 August 1862 – 21 August 1862
Prime Minister Alfred Domett
4th Minister of Native Affairs
In office
6 August 1862 – 30 October 1863
Prime Minister Alfred Domett
3rd Speaker of the House of Representatives
In office
Prime Minister Fox, Stafford, Waterhouse and Vogel
Personal details
Born 8 October 1822(1822-10-08)
Died 8 July 1898(1898-07-08) (aged 75)
Shag Valley (homestead), Otago
 New Zealand
Spouse(s) Margaret Hort
Children Francis Bell

Sir Francis Dillon Bell KCMG CB MLC (8 October 1822 – 15 July 1898) was a New Zealand politician of the late 19th century. He served as New Zealand's third Minister of Finance (the first parliamentary finance minister), 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.


Early life

Bell is believed to have been born in Bordeaux, France, where his father, Edward Bell, was the British consul. He grew up speaking both English and French fluently. When his family ran into financial problems, his father's cousin, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, managed to secure Bell a position as a clerk in the New Zealand Company's head office in London. As a result of office politics, however, it eventually became expedient for Bell to go to New Zealand in person, acting as an agent for the Company.[1]

New Zealand Company

Bell arrived in New Zealand in 1843. He moved around New Zealand considerably, visiting Auckland, Nelson, and the Wairarapa before finally becoming the New Zealand Company's resident agent in New Plymouth. While there, he successfully negotiated land deals with local Māori.

Later, following the resignation of William Fox as the company's agent in Nelson, Bell was appointed to this position. Passing through Wellington on his way to take up the post, however, Bell found the company's director in New Zealand, William Wakefield, to be in ill health. Bell postponed his journey to Nelson in order to help manage the company's affairs, and Wakefield consequently recommended Bell as his successor before he died. In the end, however, Bell was outmanoeuvred by William Fox, who Bell was replacing as the Company's agent in Nelson.

Bell was very bitter at Fox's victory, and it was possibly as a result of this bitterness that Bell became a strong supporter of Fox's enemy, Governor George Grey. Grey appointed Bell to the Legislative Council of the New Munster Province. Bell's reputation suffered considerably from his association with the Governor, however, and many thought of him as a time-server and a sycophant. Bell eventually returned to his company post in Nelson, although the New Zealand Company did not survive long after Wakefield's death.

Political career

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1855–1858 2nd Hutt Independent
1859–1860 2nd Wallace Independent
1861–1866 3rd Wallace Independent
1866–1870 4th Mataura Independent
1871–1875 5th Mataura Independent

In 1851, Grey appointed Bell to the Legislative Council. When the Legislative Council was reformed, becoming merely the upper house of the new General Assembly (now called Parliament), Bell's appointment was reconfirmed. In 1854, the Legislative Council demanded that one of its members should be appointed to the Executive Council (roughly corresponding to Cabinet). Bell was selected to join the four members of the lower house who had already been appointed, and took his place on 30 June. On 11 July, however, he was forced to resign due to the ill health of his wife.

In the 1855 elections, Bell stood for the lower house in the Hutt electorate, and was successful.[2] When Henry Sewell became New Zealand's first Premier and formed the Sewell Ministry, Bell was appointed Colonial Treasurer (the office from which the modern post of Minister of Finance is descended). Sewell's premiership lasted only two weeks, however, and Bell lost his position.[3] He resigned from Parliament on 10 October 1856 and moved to Otago.[2]

Bell contested a 17 May 1858 by-election against Charles Brown in the Grey and Bell electorate. Brown and Bell received 75 and 61 votes, respectively. Brown was thus declared elected.[4]

In 1859, he contested a by-election for the seat of Wallace, and was elected on 30 November. He was re-elected in the 1860 elections, and elected as MP for Mataura in the following two elections. As an MP, he was highly active in campaigning for Southland to become an independent province, a goal which came to fruition on 1 April 1861.

When Alfred Domett became Premier in 1862, Bell became Colonial Treasurer once again, and also Minister of Native Affairs. Bell was relatively experienced in negotiating with Māori, and spoke the Māori language fluently. Bell was not particularly active in his Native Affairs role, however, as he believed that the Governor – not Parliament – should have primary responsibility for Māori relations. When Domett was ousted as Premier by William Fox, Bell lost both roles. From 1869 to 1871, Bell was a minister without portfolio.

After the 1871 elections, Bell was appointed Speaker of the House. He is generally regarded to have been a competent speaker, having few strong views that might have biased him. He was knighted in 1873.

Later life

Although Bell initially intended to contest the 1875 elections, he later decided to withdraw, expecting an appointment to the Legislative Council. A new government policy meant that this did not eventuate until 1877, however.

In late 1879 Bell, a pastoralist who by then had amassed a holding of 226,000 acres (910 km2), joined Fox as the other member of the West Coast Commission to inquire into Māori grievances with confiscated lands in Taranaki. The commission's hearings, which had been prompted by friction between the Government and Te Whiti over plans to survey and sell previously confiscated land in central and south Taranaki, were closely connected with events at Parihaka, a settlement that became the centre of a passive resistance campaign against European encroachment on Māori land.[5]

In 1880, Bell was offered a position as Agent-General in London. He served there until 1891. In London, Bell was involved in a large number of activities to promote New Zealand's interests, including discussions with the French regarding their territories in the Pacific – his fluency in French was a considerable asset in this regard.

As Agent-General in London he was New Zealand's senior representative at the World's Fair and exhibition at Paris in 1889 which showcased our argricultural and natural resources. For his role at the exhibition, Sir Francis Dillon Bell was decorated with the Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in November 1889.[6][7] He had previously been was awarded the KCMG in 1881 and a CB in 1886.

Apart from one brief visit in 1891, Bell did not return to New Zealand until 1896, when he retired to a farm in Otago. He died on his Shag Valley homestead in 1898.


He married Margaret Hort in 1849. Her father Abraham Hort was a leading member of the Wellington Jewish community, but she became an ardent Christian. Their son, Francis Henry Dillon Bell became the first New Zealand born Prime Minister of New Zealand. Their second son Alfred managed their pastoral holdings; by 1874 he had over 226,000 acres (910 km2) and nearly 80,000 sheep.

List of honours


  1. ^ Dalziel, Raewyn (updated 22 June 2007). "Bell, Francis Dillon 1822 – 1898". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=1B16. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Scholefield 1950, p. 95.
  3. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 31.
  4. ^ "ELECTION FOR THE GREY AND BELL DISTRICT.". Taranaki Herald: p. 2. Volume VI, Issue 303, 22 May 1858. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=TH18580522.2.11. Retrieved 26 June 2010. 
  5. ^ Dick Scott, Ask That Mountain: The Story of Parihaka, Heinemann, 1975.
  6. ^ M. Brewer, 'New Zealand and the Legion d'honneur: Officiers, Commandeurs and Dignites', The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society, 35(3),March 2010, p.132.
  7. ^ 'Cablegrams British and Foreign', Otago Witness, 7 November 1889, p.13.


  • Scholefield, Guy Hardy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand parliamentary record, 1840–1949. Wellington: Govt. Printer. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Shepherd
Colonial Treasurer
Succeeded by
Charles Brown
Preceded by
Reader Wood
Succeeded by
Reader Wood
Preceded by
David Monro
Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives
Succeeded by
William Fitzherbert
Parliament of New Zealand
Preceded by
Edward Gibbon Wakefield
Member of Parliament for Hutt
Served alongside: Alfred Ludlam, Samuel Revans
Succeeded by
William Fitzherbert
Alfred Renall
New constituency Member of Parliament for Mataura
Succeeded by
William Wood

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