Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell was PM for only 16 days, but he held several distinctions – he was our second-oldest PM (74), the first born in New Zealand, and the last to come from the Legislative Council.
The Bells were political. Francis’s father, Francis Dillon Bell, was a minister and speaker of the House. Educated at Cambridge, the younger Francis founded the legal firm that became Bell Gully, was mayor of Wellington, served a term as an MP, then returned to the law, where he excelled.
Bell had turned his back on politics and only his close friendship with William Massey pulled him back. In 1912 Massey made him leader of the Legislative Council and a minister. Although tough when needed, Bell preferred the genteel Council to the rough-and-tumble of the House.
Sir Francis (from 1915) was, with Sir James Allen, Massey’s great resource during the First World War. He was acting prime minister several times while Massey was overseas and de facto PM during his friend’s decline. He took the leadership as a final service to his old chief and to allow Reform time to choose a new leader.
By Gavin McLean