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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

The Hon. Richard John Seddon

The Hon. Richard John Seddon, Premier of New Zealand, Minister of Public Works, etc., was born at Eccleston, near St. Helens, Lancashire, on the 22nd of June, 1845. His father was headmaster of the Eccleston Hill Grammar Scool for a quarter of a century. The Seddon is one of the oldest families in Lancashire, the members being mostly farmers. His mother's maiden name was Lindsay, and she came from the beautiful little town of Annan, in Dumfrieshire. Her family were also farmers, and this probably accounts for the sympathy that the Premier has ever evinced towards the agriculturists of New Zealand. After receiving a fair education, young Seddon was apprenticed to the engineering firm of Daglish and Co., St. Helens, serving his time, and, before reaching his eighteenth year, he was employed as engineer in the Vauxhall Foundry, Liverpool. At this time glowing accounts of the goldfields of Victoria reached the Old Country, and in 1863, having obtained a Board of Trade certificate, Mr. Seddon bade good-bye to home and kindred and left for Victoria, arriving there a stranger in a strange land with neither friend nor relative to bid him welcome, and he had little else besides a good head, square shoulders, and a determination to make his way in the world. A few days after arrival he received an engagement at his profession in Melbourne, but did not stay there long, as the goldfields at Bendigo proved too tempting. The engagement was thrown up in order to try his luck at the diggings. Like many another new chum, however, he found to his cost that nuggets were not to be picked up in the streets, as he had been led to believe, and he returned to Melbourne, with more experience if lighter in pocket, though nothing daunted. Immediately after, he found employment at the Victorian Locomotive Works at Williamstown. Here he remained until the West Coast goldfields of New Zealand began to excite attention, and then the gold fever once page 41 again induced him to try his luck at the diggings. Obtaining leave of absence, he landed in Hokitika in 1866, thence making his way up to the old Waimea diggings, where fortune favoured him. Mr. Seddon and his mates were amongst the first to introduce hydraulic sluicing on a large scale, and for that purpose constructed reservoirs and water-races to wor the auriferous terraces at the Right-hand Branch. Subsequently he went into business as astore-keeper. In 1869 he returned to Victoria and married Miss Louisa Jane, daughter ofCaptain John Stuart Spotswood. He first essayed to enter public life in 1869, contesting seats for the Arahura Road Board and the Westland County Council, the election for both taking place the same day. Mr. Seddon was returned at the head of the poll for the road board, but the diggers were of opinion that he was rather young for the county council. The year following his election saw him chairman of the board, and he held his seat until the board was merged. When the county was abolished and Westland The Hon. Richard John Seddon became a province, Mr. Seddon was returned to represent the Arahura district in the Provincial Council, and was made Chairman of Committees, which position he retained until the abolition of the provinces in 1876. It was whilst occupying this position that he made himself acquainted with parliamentary procedure, assiduously studying May, Todd, and other standard authorities. This training has proved of great assistance since his entry into New Zealand parliamentary life. Westland again becoming a county in 1877, Mr. Seddon was elected a member of the council, and then chairman, and continued a member until he joined the Ballance Administration in 1891. In 1878 the Borough of Kumara was formed, and Mr. Seddon had the honour of being elected its first mayor, holding that office for the first two years of its existence. The selection and laying-off of the township was entrusted to his direction, and in this capacity his sound practical common sense was made evident, for Kumara is acknowledged to be one of the best formed towns in New Zealand. Education and all questions pertaining thereto have always evoked the warm interest and sympathy of Mr. Seddon, and it is, therefore, only natural to find him a member of the Westland Education Board, to which he was elected in 1874. He was also chairman of the board, and continued to hold a seat in it until he became a Minister of the Crown. His first attempt to enter the New Zealand Parliament was made in 1876, when he stood in the Liberal interest as one of the members for Hokitika, the other candidates being Messrs. R. Reid, Dungan, Barff, and Button. Messrs. Barff and Button were elected, but in 1878 the difference of opinion between Mr. Button and his constituents became so great that he tendered his resignation. Sir George Grey was consulted, and he favoured the candidature of his nephew, Mr. Seymour Thorne George, in securing whose return Mr. Seddon took an active part. On this occasion Mr. G. G. Fitzgerald was the candidate in the Conservative interest. When the dissolution took place in the year 1879, it was decided to ask Sir George Grey to recommend someone to contest the Hokitika seat in the Liberal interest. Mr. Seddon communicated accordingly with Sir George and received a characteristic reply which was to the effect that “you are worthy, stand yourself.” Mr. Seddon did so, and with Mr. Reid, was elected as one of the two members for Hekitika, defeating Mr. Barff (the sitting member), and Messrs. Dungan and Cumming. In 1882 when the electorate was divided, Mr. Seddon successfully contested the Kumara seat, his opponent being Mr. Edward Blake, the late member for Avon. In 1884 he contested the seat, and was again returned, defeating the same opponent. At the next general election he was returned unopposed. The Kumara electorate was then merged into Westland, which seat Mr Seddon contested, and was returned at the head of the poll by a majority of nearly 400 votes against Mr. Joseph Grimmond, who was then the sitting member for Hokitika. At the last general election he was again returned unopposed. The present is the twentieth continuous session in which Mr. Seddon has sat in the New Zealand Parliament, having occupied a seat without interruption from September, 1879, to the present day, and in this respect he holds a unique record, being the only member of the present Parliament who has sat continuously since the general election of 1879. There are only five members now in the House who sat prior to that date, viz., the Hons. Sir Maurice O'Rorke, Sir Robert Stout and Major Steward, Mr. Larnach, and Mr. William Kelly. It may therefore be said that he is the father, as well as the leader of the House, for the older members referred to have been for intervals out of Parliament. During the troublesome times of 1881 Mr. Seddon was well to the front, and was a hard-working, plodding, persevering member. On making his first speech in the House in 1879, he brought down Mr. Saunders, the Nestor of the House upon his devoted head, who twitted him with being a slavish supporter of Sir George Grey, and termed him a young “greyhound,” saying he had speed of foot, and plenty of assurance, but lacked usefulness. The late Frederick Whitaker, son of the Hon. Sir Frederick Whitaker, followed the member for Hokitika in the debate, and commenced his speech by saying it was unusual to fire a cannon at a minnow. In 1881 Mr. Seddon was one of the seven famous stonewallers at the time when the House sat continuously for seventy-three hours, an unfortunate episode which ended in the Hon. Mr. Gisborne being fined £20. It was Mr. Seddon who was intended as the victim, but his Scotch caution and training as chairman of Committees in the Westland Provincial Council came to the rescue, and, when told that a motion to report progress would not be received, and was ordered to resume his seat, contrary to expectation, he did so. The Hon. Mr. Gisborne, who was then member for page 42 Totara, on the West Coast, rose to protest against the ruling of the Chair, and moved to report progress so that the opinion of the Speaker might be taken. The Chairman reported Mr. Gisborne as disorderly, and, amidst the greatest excitement ever witnessed in the New Zealand House of Representatives, on the motion of Sir John Hall, Mr. Gisborne was fined £20. That the protest against the Representation Act of 1881 was well-founded, is proved by the fact that at the present time Mr. Seddon represents the same area which at that date comprised three seats, viz, Totara, and two for Hokitika. In adversity and prosperity Mr. Seddon has consistently stuck to Liberal principles and to the Liberal Party, and has supported as his leaders the Right Hon. Sir George Grey, the late Mr. Macandrew, Mr. Montgomery, the Hon. Sir Robert Stout, and the late Hon. Mr. Ballance. In January, 1891, after the defeat of the Atkinson Government in the elections of the preceding year, the Hon. Mr. Ballance
Mr. Seddon's Birthplace at Eccleston, near St. Helens.From a Photo recently taken and forwarded to the Premier, in commemoration of his fiftieth Birthday.

Mr. Seddon's Birthplace at Eccleston, near St. Helens.
From a Photo recently taken and forwarded to the Premier, in commemoration of his fiftieth Birthday.

selected Mr. Seddon as one of his colleagues. He was appointed Minister for Mines and Public Works, and has since held, in addition, the portfolios of Defence, Native Affairs, and Marine. In 1893, owing to the illness of his chief, he was chosen as Acting-Premier, and first led the House during the session of 1892. On the death of Mr. Ballance he became Premier, and this selection was almost unanimously ratified by the Liberal Party at the commencement of the session of 1893. Mr. Seddon has occupied the first position in New Zealand from then until the present day, and the session of 1895 is, therefore, the fourth session he has been the leader of the House of Representatives. At one period of his history, besides carrying on a large private business at Big Dam, Duffer's Gully, and Kumara, the subject of this sketch, whose capacity for work is phenomenal, held the positions of Mayor of Kumara, member of the Westland County Council, member of the Westland Education Board, the Charitable Aid Board, one of the Westland Hospital Trustees, and chairman of the Kumara School Committee; in fact, he held the last position continuously for thirteen years. No doubt this multiplication of offices has led the Premier to the conclusion that a number of these bodies can be amalgamated with gain to the district and benefit to the Colony. As a private member Mr. Seddon was indefatigable in promoting mining legislation and the development of the goldfields of the Colony, and he also succeeded in passing the Adulteration Prevention Act, and the Adulteration of Tea Act. Probably it was the promoting and passing of the last measure which helped to make Mr. Seddon a favourite with the ladies, a position which to this day he occupies. Although not an ardent supporter of the extension of the franchise to women, yet it was his Government that succeeded in passing the law giving the franchise to the women of New Zealand. To Mr. Seddon the miners in a great measure owe the abolition of the duty upon gold, as also the Mining Act and Coal Mines Act of 1891–2. On the many other beneficent measures which have been passed by him it is unnecessary to dilate. As a self-made and almost self-educated man, it speaks volumes for the opportunities which the colonies give to energetic, able men to reach the highest position in the gift of his fellow colonists. As a debater, although not a finished speaker, Mr. Seddon holds a very good position. As a platform orator there are very few public men now-a-days who are his superiors, and his earnest, bluff way of putting things makes him at home with his hearers at once. He has a good sound general knowledge of the laws of New Zealand, and, in respect to mining laws, his practical experience as a miner, and his practice for a number of years as a mining advocate, have caused him to be looked upon as one of the first men in the Colony. He is an associate of the American Institute of Mining Engineers. His self-sacrifice and devotion to the people of the Colony is unquestioned, and whilst others have been attending to business and their own private interests, he has thrown away many opportunities of acquiring wealth. To-day Mr. Seddon has no cause to regret this course, for he holds a position in the hearts and minds of the people of New Zealand which no wealth could purchase.