The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Bell, Hon. Sir Francis Dillon

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Bell, Hon. Sir Francis Dillon, K.C.M.G., C.B., sometime Agent-General for New Zealand, second and eldest surviving son of Edward Bell, of Hornsey (who died in 1864), by Fanny, daughter of Rev. J. Matthews, of Cirencester (she died in 1870), comes of a family, which, through Robert Barclay, of Urie, the Quaker apologist, claims descent from the blood royal of England. He was born on Oct 8th, 1822, and educated in France. In 1839 he entered the service of the New Zealand Company, and for a time was assistant secretary, and afterwards secretary, in London. He emigrated to New Zealand shortly after the settlement of Wellington and New Plymouth, and was agent of the Company till 1850 at Nelson, Auckland, New Plymouth, and elsewhere. In 1848 he was called to the Legislative Council of New Minister, but resigned in 1850. In 1846 he was made J.P., and in 1851, upon the surrender of the charter of the New Zealand Company, he became Commissioner of Crown Lands. In 1853 he entered the Provincial Council of Wellington, where he remained for three years; and in 1854 he was called to the Legislative Council and held office without portfolio from June 30th to July 11th, under the system of semi-responsible government which then obtained. Mr. Bell was Colonial Treasurer in the first responsible ministry (formed by Mr. Sewell and himself), from May 7th to May 20th, 1856. In the same year he was appointed Commissioner of Land Claims, which office he held till 1862. He was Colonial Treasurer (August 6th to 21st, 1862), Minister for Native Affairs (August 6th, 1862, to Oct. 30th, 1863), and Commissioner of Customs (August 7th to 21st, 1862), in the Domett Ministry. Of the Fox Ministry he was a member without portfolio from July 2nd, 1869, to August 14th, 1871. It was, however, in his capacity of Commissioner of Land Claims, from 1856 to 1862, and as Special Commissioner on the west coast of the North Island from 1879 to 1881, that he rendered the most eminent services to the colony. In 1862 he went with Mr. Gorst to Australia, and succeeded in raising a force of military settlers to plant in the disturbed Waikato district. In 1864 he removed to Otago, and in the following year was elected to the Provincial Council. In 1866 he was elected once more to Parliament for the constituency of Mataura. In 1869 he went to England, in company with Dr. Featherston, on a special commission to raise fresh forces for the colony, and to obtain the imperial guarantee to a loan of £1,000,000 for immigration and public works. In this latter difficult task the commissioners were entirely successful. He returned to Otago in 1871, and re-entering parliament was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, which office he held for five years. In 1873 he was made a Knight Bachelor, and in 1877 was nominated to the Legislative Council. In 1881 Sir Francis succeeded Sir Julius Vogel as Agent-General for New Zealand, and held the position till the autumn of 1891, when he returned to New Zealand. It is only just to say that during the whole ten years of his régime he was not only a most able and single-minded representative of his own colony, but was recognised by the agents-general of the Australian colonies as their leader in all representations to the Colonial Office on the complicated subject of Australasian relations in the Western Pacific, including the annexation of New Guinea, the New Hebrides embroglio, and the Recedivist influx. At the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886 he was Executive Commissioner, and in 1889 was not only Executive Commissioner for New Zealand at the Paris Exhibition, but was also a member of the Mansion House Committee. For his services in this connection the French Government bestowed upon him the Commandership of the Legion of Honour. In 1887 he was delegate to the Colonial Conference. Sir Francis Bell was created K.C.M.G. in 1881, and C.B. in 1886. He married on April 2nd, 1849, Margaret, daughter of A. Hort. In 1891 he received the thanks of the Legislative Council for his services. He returned to New Zealand in Nov. 1891, but left again for England in April 1892, where Lady Bell died on June 12th, 1892.