BELL -FRANCIS -HENRY - DILLION - OTAGO - NZ - 1851 -- 1896
edmondsallan -- Hello - Lawyer, mayor, politician, prime minister
Francis Henry Dillon Bell, known to his friends and family as Harry, was born at Nelson, New Zealand, on 31 March 1851, the eldest son of the former New Zealand Company agent Francis Dillon Bell and his wife, Margaret Hort. Bell was educated at the Church of England Grammar School in Auckland and the High School of Otago (later Otago Boys' High School), Dunedin, where he was head boy and dux. He entered St John's College, Cambridge, England, in 1869 graduating BA in mathematics in 1873, and was called to the English Bar in 1874. He worked in the chambers of Sir John Gorst, a family friend, and it was presumably as a result of this connection that he came to campaign for the Conservative party in the 1874 election. Bell rejected an offer to remain in England, and returned to Wellington in 1875 to take up a legal practice as junior partner to C. B. Izard.
Bell quickly made his mark in his profession, particularly as an advocate in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. He was Crown solicitor in Wellington from 1878 to 1890, and twice refused to accept appointment as a judge in the 1880s. In 1875 he and four other barristers began the Colonial Law Journal, which saw the beginning of law reporting in New Zealand. Bell was also partly responsible for collecting arguments and decisions of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal into The New Zealand law reports, the chief reference work for reports of that period. Bell made a special study of the law relating to Maori, and was often engaged in important cases dealing with land and with access to fisheries and lake beds. He married Caroline Robinson at Christchurch on 24 April 1878; they were to have four daughters and four sons. In 1886 Bell became senior partner in the firm which went through various combinations in his lifetime, the last being Bell, Gully, MacKenzie and Evans.
Between 1889 and 1893 Bell was heavily involved as leading trustee in the disposal of the great Cheviot Hills estate of his late father-in-law, William Robinson. In order to resolve family disputes, Bell sold the estate to the Ballance government under the Land and Income Assessment Act 1891, thus unexpectedly paving the way for a new era in state land settlement.
As a rising lawyer and son of a former minister, Bell was soon under pressure to enter politics. He was elected mayor of Wellington in 1891, 1892 and 1896. In response to two typhoid epidemics in the early 1890s he took a determined initiative in giving Wellington its first modern drainage system. He also left the city a free public library and other amenities.
Bell had declined to stand for Parliament in 1881, but came forward unsuccessfully as an independent with a liberal land policy in 1890. In 1892 he contested a crucial Wellington by-election, which was widely regarded as the first major test of the new Liberal government's popularity. Bell as local notable was pitted against an array of ministers. His connection with large landholders was used against him and the government gained a narrow victory.
In 1893 Bell stood successfully as an oppositionist. He had disposed of Cheviot Hills, and had substantial support from prohibitionists and from women voters organised by his wife. He was an improbable politician, being dogmatic and prosaic in style and impatient with questioners; he is said to have been inclined to lose his temper under the raillery of opponents. He proclaimed himself a radical and socialist, agreeing with most Liberal legislation while resenting Premier Richard Seddon's methods of administration. Following the election, the journal Fair Play accused him of having been 'exhilarated by something other than his victory' during a celebration party. Bell sued for £501 damages; he proved to be a poor witness in his own defence and was awarded only £1.
Although Bell showed skill as a constructive critic of bills, his inability to make the transition from courtroom to debating chamber was soon painfully obvious. He could not refrain from addressing the House as he would a not-very-intelligent jury indeed, he had treated juries in the same way. The House soon had enough of him, and he of the House. The main benefit of this brief essay into politics was Bell's friendship with his benchmate, William Massey. Till we meet again - Regards - edmondsallan