Francis Jeffrey Bell studied at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, from 1874 and after taking honours in natural science in 1878 was awarded the degree Master of Arts (MA). From 1878 to his retirement in 1919 he was an assistant in the Department of Zoology of the British Museum (Natural History). He was also professor of comparative anatomy at King's College, London, from 1879 to 1896, when he was made professor emeritus and a fellow of the college. He published numerous papers on invertebrate zoology, most of them dealing with the various classes of Echinodermata (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbersl and brittle stars) from all over the world. From 1878 he edited the Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society for many years. His more important book-length publications were: Manuaal of comparative anatomy and physiology (1885), Catalogue of the British echinoderms in the British Museum (Natural History) (1892), A guide to the shell and starfish galleries (Mollusca, Brachiopoda, Tunicata, Echinoderma, and worms), Department of Zoology, British Museum (Natural History) (1901), Guide to the coral gallery (Protozoa, Porifera or sponges, Hydrozoa, and Anthozoa)... (1902, 1907), and Guide to the Crustacea, Arachnida, Onychophora and Myriapoda... (1910).
Around the beginning of the twentieth century John D.F. Gilchrist*, Government Biologist at the Cape, sent Bell the echinoderms recovered during his marine biological survey of Cape waters. Bell described these in a series of papers, "Echinoderma found off the coast of South Africa", in Marine investigations in South Africa (1905, Vol. 3, pp. 167-176; 241-253; 255-260; 1908, Vol. 4, pp. 139-142).