The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XIX. — The Imperialist
Mr. Seddon's mind had now broadened amazingly. He looked at everything through New Zealand's spectacles. When great colonial problems ranged themselves rapidly in front of him, he seized them one after another, solved them, and waited for more. He had constituted himself a guardian of the colony's interests in the same way as he had been the guardian of Westland's interests in his earlier days; and all who tried to depreciate the colony could rely upon meeting in him an unrelenting opponent. With him it was New Zealand against the whole world. Possibly he took himself and his darling colony too seriously. He had no reason to feel surprised when he found that other people declined to take New Zealand at his valuation. Rightly or wrongly, however, there was no place like New Zealand as far as he was concerned, and no other interests were worth considering. He had accepted Sir George Grey's doctrine of national expansion; but there is nothing to show that in the first years of his Premiership he had any thought of applying it or of taking a part in urging it on the nation. He had no “foreign policy” then, and, apparently, no desire for one. All his hopes and aspirations were contained in “this grand little country of ours, Sir, than which there is not a better place in the whole British Empire.”
While he was in this stage of his development, there came upon him a far-reaching event, which was to lead him further than he had ever dreamed of going. He had been changed from a member of an obscure local body to a member of Parliament, from a parochial politician to the leader of a political party, and from a party leader to a colonial statesman.page 303
He now stepped out into the open and declared that he was an adviser of the Empire and an imperialist.
This happened in 1897, when he accepted Mr. Chamberlain's invitation to attend the ceremonies connected with Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and to be the guest of the Imperial Government. He went as the official bearer of a message from New Zealand to Queen Victoria; he came back as the bearer of an unofficial message from the people of the Old Country to the people of New Zealand. It is a message that was engraven on his mind. He tried to impress it upon the New Zealand public, and he delivered it over and over again.
Business was to be combined with pleasure in the programme the Home Government prepared for the Colonial Premiers, but the business part of the programme was not large. It consisted of the Premiers' Conference, where Mr. Seddon met the representatives of Canada, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Cape Colony, South Australia, Newfoundland, Tasmania, Western Australia, and Natal. The principal question discussed was the political and commercial relations between the colonies and the United Kingdom. Mr. Chamberlain felt that it was desirable to tighten the ties which bound the colonies to the Mother Country. Federation was in the air, and the Secretary for the Colonies believed that practical application could be given to the principle.
The Premiers came to the conclusion that the political relations which then existed were generally satisfactory under the existing condition of things. This decision, however, did not satisfy Mr. Seddon. It was his belief that the time had come already when an effort should be made to render more formal the ties between the colonies and the United Kingdom. The majority of the Premiers were not prepared to adopt that position, but there was a strong feeling amongst some of them that with the rapid growth of population in the colonies the relations that then existed could not continue indefinitely, and that some means would have to be devised for giving the colonies a voice in the control and direction of those questions of imperial interest in which they were concerned equally with the Mother Country. It was recognised at the same time that such a share page 304 in the direction of the imperial policy would involve a proportionate contribution in aid of imperial expenditure, for which the colonies were not generally prepared.
The administration of British New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the New Hebrides were among the other subjects discussed at the Conference, which, although bringing about no definite results, was beneficial to the colonies and the Mother Country, and did a great deal towards bending Mr. Seddon's mind in the direction of the unity of the Empire. The conference brought the colonial Governments into closer touch with the Secretary of State. Mr. Seddon believed at the time that the outcome would be the creation of a Consultative Council of colonial representatives, with a member representing the Imperial Cabinet, for the purpose of considering imperial questions; but he realised that the time was not ripe for the establishment of a body of that nature just then.
In delivering New Zealand's congratulatory message to the Queen, he gave Her Majesty an assurance of the loyalty of the colonists to her, to the throne, and to the constitution. Her Majesty replied that she was greatly touched at the manifestations of loyalty and devotion to the throne expressed on the completion of the sixtieth year of her reign, and was gratified at the warmth shown by the New Zealand Parliament. Shortly after that ceremony had been completed, Mr. Seddon was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council.
One of the most interesting features of his visit was his interview with Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden. He went with Sir Wilfred Laurier and Mr. Reid, the party being taken in charge by Lord and Lady Carrington. The guests were shown over the library, and had afternoon tea under a shady old hawthorn tree in the gardens.
There is no incident in Mr. Seddon's experiences in England that left a deeper impression upon him than this visit to Hawarden. Mr. Gladstone expressed the pleasure felt by him, on his part, at the presence of statesmen who were helping to build up the Greater Britain that had arisen over the seas. Politics were not touched upon during the visit; the Premiers were the guests of the nation as a whole, and in that spirit Mr. Gladstone received them.page break
Mr. Seddon at a Conference of Colonial Premiers with Mr. Chamberlain in 1902.
Front Row—Sir R. Bond (Premier of Newfoundland), Mr. Seddon, Sir W. Laurier (Premier of Canada), the Right Hon. J. Chamberlain (Secretary of State for the Colonies), Sir E. Barton (Premier of the Australian Commonwealth), Sir A. Hime (Premier of Natal), Mr. T. E. Fuller (representing Sir Gordon Sprigg, Cape Colony). Second Row—Mr. T. W. Holderness (Secretary of the Revenue Department, India Office), Sir J. Anderson (Secretary of the Conference), Sir J. Forrest (Minister for Defence in the Australian Commonwealth), Sir W. Mulock (Postmaster-General of Canada), Lord Onslow (Under-Secretary for the Colonies), the Hon. W. Patterson (Minister for Customs, Canada), Rear-Admiral Custance (Director of Naval Intelligence), Lord Selborne (First Lord of the Admirality), the Right Hon. G. W. Balfour (President of the Board of Trade). Third Row—Sir A. E. Baterman (Board of Trade), Sir H. T. Hopwood (Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade), the Hon W. S. Fielding (Minister of Finance, Canada), Sir M. Ommanney (Permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies.
Mr. Seddon was charmed with the range of Mr. Gladstone's conversation, and with his knowledge of New Zealand's affairs. Speaking of the millions over the seas, Mr. Gladstone said:—
“There was a time when some statesmen considered that when the colonies grew in strength, importance, and numbers, they would wish to be severed from the Mother Country. We thought that nothing could be done that would prevent them doing so. But there were those who said: ‘No, the colonies will not wish to sever themselves from the parent stock. They need nothing but the tie of kinship and of one crown, one country, one race; that is sufficient, and there will be no cry from the colonies if you will give them self-government and freedom. The more freedom they have, the greater will be their love for the Mother Country and the closer will be the connection.’ Amongst the men who stood boldly by that position was John Robert Godley, the founder of the province of Canterbury, in your colony. With him there were four others, and their ideals and aspirations have been fully verified.”
Amongst other things, Mr. Gladstone stated that it was 62 years since he had been appointed Under-Secretary for the Colonies. Drawing upon his own recollection of events in which he played an important part, he spoke of the characteristics of the old colonial system, and of the great reforms introduced into it. Sir George Grey's name was frequently referred to by him, and he showed the admiration he possessed for the old Liberal Leader of New Zealand's politics.
Mr. Seddon, like Sir Wilfred Laurier and Mr. Reid, was greatly interested in the peaceful and happy domestic circumstances of Mr. Gladstone's life in retirement, and by his great physical vigour and his unfailing mental alertness. Mr. Gladstone's kindness prompted him to accompany them to the station when the visit terminated, a mark of courtesy that they highly appreciated.
Shortly after he had taken possession of the suite of rooms allotted to him at the Hotel Cecil, in London, Mr. Seddon had a very agreeable surprise. Before leaving New Zealand he had received disquieting accounts of Sir George Grey's health. He looked forward to meeting him, and he felt much anxiety, as Sir George Grey was then very old, and the exposures he had undergone on his exploring expeditions had made inroads upon the splendid constitution with which he was endowed. A few hours after their arrival at the hotel, a lady called upon him and announced that she was Sir George Grey's private page 306 secretary. Mr. Seddon looked upon this as a call made on behalf of his old friend and chief, and he was pleased to know that Sir George was even well enough to send a deputy to greet him. His surprise and pleasure were increased a hundredfold when his visitor stated that she had merely come to announce that Sir George would arrive in person, and was, in fact, at that moment, waiting in the hotel to see Mr. Seddon as soon as he was disengaged.
The full extent of the veteran's courteous action was made clear to Mr. Seddon when Sir George Grey entered the room. He was very feeble. Old age and time had placed their mark upon him. He had to be helped into the room by his secretary and Mr. W. P. Reeves, and, with a beaming face, he held out a withered hand, which was taken gently and tenderly in the hand of the strong man who was now leading the party his friend had created.
Sir George sat in a big arm chair, and Mr. Seddon sat on another chair by his side, and they talked long and earnestly of the battles they had fought together, of the reforms they had advocated, and of the good that was still to be done.
When Sir George said that he would take his leave, and rose slowly to his feet, Mr. Seddon asked if he might be allowed to carry him down the stairs, saying that it might be easier than attempting to walk. Sir George willingly consented, and Mr. Seddon, gathering him in his arms, carried him gently to the hall, where they said “Good-bye” for the last time. Just before leaving England to return to New Zealand, the following telegram was placed in Mr. Seddon's hands:—
“God take you in his keeping.—George Grey.”
The visit was a whirl of pleasure and gaiety. Even Mr. Seddon's taste for banquets must have been satiated. New Zealanders in London signalled his appearance in the city by giving a dinner in his honour. He gave a great address which took him nearly an hour and a half to deliver, and as New Zealand was the theme all through, he left no doubt as to which country was uppermost in his mind.page 307
The round of amusements provided for the Premiers became the talk of society. It attracted the attention of the newspapers, and one of them gave the following supposed extract from the diary of one of the Premiers, to show that they were being treated with British hospitality:—
“The Countess of——'s lecture on the secret of making pancakes at 10.30 a.m. See Mr. Chamberlain at 11. That allows only half-an-hour for the pancakes. Sit for photograph for the ‘Daily Flatterer’ at 11.45—three-quarters of an hour in which to discuss imperial matters of moment. Back to the Cecil at 12.30 to receive a deputation of the Mile End National League. Lunch at 1.30 with Lord—— at Hatfield. Back to town at 3.45 to inspect the troops at Chelsea Barracks. Three garden parties at 4.30—Lady ——'s, the Duchess of——'s, and Baroness ——'s. Finally decide on the Duchess's, as it is the nearest to the Cecil. Dine with H.R.H. at 8 p.m. Six receptions for that evening—all at ten o'clock. Can't do it. Look in at Mrs. Goodworth's for ten minutes, and then, best of all, repose at midnight, flavoured with anxiety at the thought of the same ceaseless whirl to-morrow.”
The University of Cambridge conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. The ceremony took place in the Senate House at Cambridge, in the presence of a large assemblage. The undergraduates were present in force, and for once they abstained from their customary humorous interjecting and allowed Dr. Sandys, the Public Orator, to pour forth unchecked his periods of classical Latin. The honour was not perhaps the best fitted to mark the career of Mr. Seddon, which had been one long political fight, and which was not in any way assisted by academic advantages, but, as a London journal pointed out at the time, the Universities are restricted by precedent in their methods of recognising merit, and they are so much a part of English life that their recognition of the Premiers was essential to the thoroughness of an English welcome.
Mr. Seddon was accompanied by several other Premiers, and speaking of them collectively, Dr. Sandys said:—
“On the eve of the completion of the sixtieth year of the happiest of reigns, we rejoice that, in honour of so auspicious an event, so many men of eminence have come from far across the seas in answer to our country's call. We rejoice that all the Premiers of the eleven self-governing colonies have come as envoys of a ‘Greater Britain’ to the Motherland of so many distinguished daughters, the central hearth and home of so many flourishing colonies. Each of these self-governing colonies may proudly say, ‘Daughter I am in my mother's page 308 house, but mistress in my own,' filia matris in domo, domina sum tamen domi. Six of these eminent representatives are now present, men who have successfully administered the affairs of their respective colonies, men by whose labours we trust that all those vast provinces, however distant they are, may at some future day be united to one another and to the United Kingdom by a close federal union. Men such as these—united as they are in a common cause—we are unwilling to separate from one another even when we praise them. And yet we gladly welcome each in turn; and while each familiar name will shortly be proclaimed aloud, we shall at the same time silently remember all the heirs of Britain's name throughout the world.”
When it came to Mr. Seddon's turn in the individual presentations, Dr. Sandys spoke in Latin to the following effect:—
“New Zealand, a group of islands of almost the same extent as our own country, has sent us her Prime Minister, a man who, endowed with a truly liberal spirit, and thinking that nothing should be excluded from the ranks of his party, was the first of all Ministers of the British Empire to grant the right of voting to the sex to which the Goddess of Learning and the Muses belong. I present to you a man well worthy of honour, Richard John Seddon.”
Wearing a scarlet stuff gown with pink silk facings, and his Doctor of Laws honnet, Mr. Seddon received the hand-clasp of the Vice-Chancellor, and became an honorary LL.D. of Cambridge.
To the world's eyes he gave himself up to thorough enjoyment on that Diamond Jubilee visit. It seemed to the colonists whom he had left behind, and who read of his doings in their daily newspapers, that he spent a merry and a magnificent holiday. While all England was rejoicing, however, he was observing and thinking, and his observations and thoughts made more steadfast his determination that, as far as his power went, New Zealanders would never be like the physically inferior human beings he saw in the manufacturing districts of the United Kingdom.
At Belfast he went through the flax and linen factories, and made mental note of the fact that children eleven years of age there were not equal in size to children five years of age in New Zealand. He could not refrain from expressing his surprise at seeing those little, stunted, puny, and almost degenerate beings at work in the factories. They ought to have been at school, but there they were, with their gowns wet through, page 309 slaving away in a workroom that was more like a Turkish bath than a place for people to work in. While he was looking over those factories his mind went back to the splendid work-rooms, with their ventilation and supplies of fresh air, in New Zealand, and he said: “If this is the result of factory life in the Old Country, and if this is to be the end of it, it will be much better for us in New Zealand never to have a factory in the country.”
In visiting his old home in Lancashire, he took advantage of the opportunity to go through the cotton mills. There, also, his mind was at work, observing, noting, and comparing. He found that during his absence of 34 years, the hours of the workers had been reduced, and their general conditions had been improved; but he said that the physical life of the community had been injured, and that there had been a degeneracy of the race.
He told people in New Zealand afterwards that he saw more evidence of real poverty in ten minutes in Glasgow than he saw in three months in his own colony. He went to Glasgow on a public occasion, when the citizens of the great city put forth an effort to make a good appearance before their distinguished guests. They were clean and tidy, but they could not hide from his eyes their bare feet and unprotected heads, their patched clothes, their wan, pinched, pale faces, and other signs of abject poverty.
London at first oppressed him with a sense of disappointment. The buildings did not seem to be any better than those he had seen in the colonies, and the narrow streets were not at all to his liking. “But when I came to see the great cathedrals, the abbeys, the churches, and the public buildings,” he said afterwards, “I was reminded at every turn that I was in a city memorable with age, rich in traditions, and enormously wealthy, as the vast traffic and magnificent pleasure-grounds abundantly testified. I then felt that there could be no city in the world like London. It is the greatest and grandest—a worthy centre of a magnificent Empire.”
In the grand array of cruisers at the great naval review he saw the reflected magnitude of the Empire's commerce; in the review of the army at Aldershot he saw the vastness of Great page 310 Britain's military resources. There were not thirty thousand men all told in that function, but Mr. Seddon saw behind them the millions that were ready to come forth when the Empire called them.
Politically, he came back from the visit a non-party man. In London he saw the leader of the House of Commons and the leader of the Opposition consulting as to the best method in which the business of the country should be conducted; and he noticed that although criticism was delivered when it was considered necessary, personal matters were never introduced. That impressed him as being an example which might well be followed in the New Zealand Parliament, where personal feeling often found expression. He determined that he, at all events, would never take part in personalities again, and that it would be no fault of his if, while he was conducting the business of the House, personalities broke out amongst members. He made up his mind that he would always extend to those who differed from him the greatest courtesy. “When we reflect on the short time we are in this world, and how soon Death makes his appearance amongst us,” he said, “it must be satisfactory to feel that, though we may have differed from those who are called away, there has never been any ill-feeling or anything of a personal character, and that to the last we retained the friendship of those we knew.”
It was thought, and the thought found ready and open expression in the newspapers, that his visit would make him lean towards Conservatism; but the object lesson he was taught by the Mother Country strengthened his determination to help those who were struggling. And the message he brought back to his people in New Zealand from the Old Country was that though they were part of the great Empire, there was a seamy side to that Empire's industrial life, and New Zealand would have to be more watchful than ever that the Old World's evils did not creep into her happy life.
An enthusiastic reception at Wellington was a fitting finale to a memorable chapter in his career. It showed that the people of the colony appreciated the manner in which he had represented them. They had entrusted him with their message of page 311 loyalty and goodwill to the Queen, and he had performed the mission in an earnest and graceful manner. When he stepped on to Jervois Quay at Wellington he saw a great crowd which had gathered to greet him. Members of the legislature, clergymen of all denominations, trades organisations and citizens formed a procession, which accompanied him to the Parliamentary Buildings, and as he alighted from his carriage the strains of “Home, Sweet Home” fell upon his ears. It was a great national welcome.
He inaugurated his “foreign policy” in September, 1900, when he moved in the House that the colony's boundaries should be extended so as to include the Cook Group and other islands. He had thought out his scheme and had gone into its details at length. He had studied the history of the islands, and of the movement for an extension of the colony's boundaries. He had had the advantage of many discussions with Sir George Grey, Sir Julius Vogel, Sir William Fox, Sir Robert Stout, and other statesmen who had taken up the same idea, but had failed to adopt it as a practical policy to be applied to the circumstances of the day. He was prepared for much criticism and opposition to his proposals, and he knew that the personal element had been brought into the discussion, statements having been made that he was seeking self-glorification more than anything else.
The whole modern movement in favour of annexation had been described as another phase of “Seddonism.” He had been cartooned as a savage monarch, dressed in mats, with a murderous club in his hand, and with the words “Kingi Tiki” (King Dick) tattooed across his naked chest. It was suggested by other critics that when annexation took place the islands ought to be re-named, and they asked what better name could be given than “Seddonia,” and the wit of one joker ran in the direction of comparing Mr. Seddon to Sancho Panza when he became possessed of the idea of governing the Island of Barataria.
These pin-pricks irritated him somewhat, and he complained that although he was conscientiously and earnestly endeavouring to improve the colony's status, and to promote unity of interest, he received very little assistance from page 312 those to whom he had a right to look for at least some encouragement.
He admitted that the colony had made a mistake in not adopting some of the schemes put forward by Sir Julius Vogel and Sir George Grey many years previously, but he thought that the time had come to remedy that mistake. Once, in the Stout-Vogel régime, the Government steamer “Hinemoa” was waiting at Auckland, with everything ready for the annexation of the Navigator Islands, but just before the steamer set out to take possession of the islands the imperial authorities became alarmed, and the Governor was instructed by cable message to prevent the intended action being taken.
Investigations had convinced him that the annexation of the Cook Group would be satisfactory to New Zealand commercially, and he believed that thousands of pounds would be brought into the colony by means of the new connection. He had no fear of a native trouble. The natives would be practically self-governing. He found that they were law-abiding, and would not require an elaborate system of local government. Apart from that, he struck the imperial note in his addresses on the question. When he brought his motion before the House, several members said that they wanted to think over the scheme before they decided upon its feasibility; but Mr. Seddon was too intent on annexation to listen to proposals for delay, and he said that it would not be in the interests of the colony or the islands to postpone the great action.
“We want to think over it,” they reiterated, but their inexorable Dictator replied: “It is not a question of thinking it over; the time has come for action. It has been thought over already. It will not be wise to postpone this debate, and the House must come to a decision.” It did so by passing his motion by a large majority, and he was a happy Premier, with a small “foreign policy” in hand and a larger one in view.
Mr. Seddon and the Duke and Duchess of York during the Royal Visit to the Rotorua District, in 1901.
The old laws and customs of the natives of the Cook Group have been preserved as far as possible, but there is provision in the annexation Act for the gradual introduction of New Zealand's laws. The old High Court of Justice is confirmed, but appeal is allowed to the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The native Federal Council and the Island Councils are allowed to make ordinances, but the Governor of New Zealand has the power of veto. The Customs tariff of New Zealand applies to the islands, all New Zealand's products are admitted free, and the New Zealand Government is empowered to set aside reserves for military and naval purposes.
There is probably no one in the British Empire who watched with keener eyes than Mr. Seddon's the rapid development of affairs in South Africa from the beginning of 1899 onwards. Great Britain's quarrels were his quarrels now; her enemies were his enemies; and when at last it was clear that war with the Boers was unavoidable he grasped the situation firmly, displayed to the full his powers of organisation, and infected the whole colony with his enthusiasm.
The story how he sent out one contingent, then another and another, until ten had left the colony's shores, has been told often and graphically in the newspapers of the day. It has been stated that his action on that occasion illustrated the exaggerated view he took of the position occupied in the world by the country he ruled, and that he expected a handful of New Zealand troops to have a marked effect in subduing the Boers. As a matter of fact, he looked upon the contingents in an entirely different light. They were to him a living representation of the imperialistic principle, of the solidarity of the Empire, and of the readiness of the colony to spring ready armed to the side of the Mother Country. He placed no value on the numerical strength of the contingents. He knew that the imperial troops did not need assistance, and that the Imperial Government could settle its difficulties without the colonies' assistance; but he believed that the moment had arrived when those who had been talking of national unity should do something to show the world that it page 314 was not talk alone. It is necessary to make this explanation, because Mr. Seddon's motives were quite misunderstood at the time, especially in England, where, when the first offer of contingents was made, a leading newspaper wanted to know what New Zealand had to do with the Transvaal.
He did not rush into the conflict. When he moved a motion in the House of Representatives on September 8th, 1899, giving instructions that a contingent of 200 men should be enrolled, he probably never spoke under a sense of greater responsibility. The Empire was involved in a struggle, and he, the Premier of New Zealand, and one of the counsellors of the nation, had to take steps which would show the Empire's enemies that the nation was united. He had counted the cost of sending that single contingent. It was £20,000—a tiny sum when set beside the great total the nation spent on the war; but it was a little colony with a population of only three-quarters of a million that was sending the contingent, and it would have to see that the men were maintained and well-equipped in South Africa, perhaps for a long time. It was not a small undertaking, and he knew how far the effect of his action might go. He recognised, however, that the expense must be a secondary consideration, and that the principle with which he had been seized must be upheld. Looking all round the subject, he anticipated the question, which was asked afterwards, “Why should the people of New Zealand follow your lead in this?” He had a safe reply: “Because we are an integral part of one great Empire.”
Someone expressed a doubt as to whether he would get a sufficient number of volunteers. “If we want two thousand at once, instead of two hundred,” he replied, “we could have them.” He had gauged public feeling accurately, and he knew that he would be almost unanimously supported.
Sir William Russell, Leader of the Opposition, seconded Mr. Seddon's motion in the House, and spoke strongly of New Zealand's duty. There was a brief discussion, and the motion was carried by fifty-four votes to five.
A stirring scene followed. Led by Mr. Seddon, the members almost spontaneously rose and sang the National Anthem with page 315 great enthusiasm. The onlookers in the galleries rose at the same time, and joined in the hymn. Hardly had the last notes died away when Mr. Seddon raised his hand and asked for a true British cheer, which was given with the utmost heartiness. The response from the public was greater than he could have anticipated, and in three weeks the first New Zealand contingent was on the water. In later months, nine more contingents left, taking in all over 6,000 men.
His action in sending the contingents was appreciated more highly in New Zealand than anywhere else. In the Canterbury Hall, Christchurch, he was presented with a national address shortly before he left the colony to attend the ceremonies at the Coronation of the King. The character of the gathering is shown by the fact that on this occasion he was surrounded by political opponents. Foremost amongst them was Sir John Hall, who gracefully presented the address, which is sufficiently brief to be given in these pages in full. It is as follows:—
“To the Right Honourable Richard John Seddon, P.C., LL.D., Premier of the Colony of New Zealand.
“Right Honourable Sir,—
“In the course of a few days you will leave us to represent New Zealand at the Coronation of our King, and it is thought that your approaching departure presents a fitting time to express to you our appreciation and approval of the prompt and practical proof you have given of the sympathy of your fellow-colonists with their Motherland in her South African struggle. Loyalty is but kinship written large, and every man and woman of this colony is proud of the crimson thread which makes the people of New Zealand loyal sons and daughters of the British Empire. Your high office has been to voice our loyalty, and give it effectual shape, and the vigour and judgment you have displayed in this have not only won our gratitude and admiration, but have shown the world that whatever be the sacrifice, we cheerfully take our stand beside the Mother Country for the maintenance of her honour and the integrity of the Empire.”
He was highly pleased when he received an invitation from Lord Kitchener to break his journey Home at Cape Town and see something of South Africa. He accepted the invitation, and left the colony's shores on April 14th, 1902, with the plaudits of thousands ringing in his ears. The “good-byes” that echoed on the Wellington wharves found a response throughout the colony, and he knew that he went to London as the representative not of a party or of a class but of a united country.page 316
He had not gone very far on his voyage when he was stopped by people of another country, who desired to show their appreciation of the position which he had now taken in the Empire's affairs; he was welcomed at Sydney by a brilliant gathering at the Hotel Australia, where a banquet was held in his honour under the auspices of the Birt Company and the Houlder Company. Amongst those present were Mr. Barton, Mr. See, Mr. Wise, Mr. Reid, and Sir William Lyne. On rising to respond to the toast of his health he was very heartily received, and amidst shouts of “Kapai the King*” he told those present that he took the honour as belonging to New Zealand, not to himself.
South Africa received him with many marks of appreciation. Buried away in piles of parliamentary papers in the General Assembly Library at Wellington there are copies of many addresses presented to him in South African towns. There was something about him and his speeches that made the people there feel brighter and more hopeful. They had been tried and depressed by the great struggle, which was just drawing to a close, and it was refreshing to turn to the breezy personality of their visitor. They said they regretted that the imperialist of New Zealand had not had an opportunity of meeting Mr. Rhodes, the imperialist of South Africa. The open manner in which he said what he thought and fearlessly expressed his opinions came to them with startling effect, and they could not refrain from comparing him with their own statesmen, who spoke guardedly and in carefully chosen words.
With bewildering rapidity he passed from one town to another. New Zealanders read one day that he was speaking to thousands in Durban, and a few days afterwards that he was addressing New Zealand troops at the front. Then he was in the hospitals comforting sick and wounded New Zealanders, then back in the seaport cities with more speeches, more cheery words, and more imperialistic sentiments. Night and morning, wherever he stopped, there were New Zealanders to welcome him, and the cheers of his fellow-men seemed never to die out.
At the front he inspected the Eighth New Zealand Contingent at Klerksdorp. The contingent had just returned from page 317 a successful “drive.” He was accompanied by Generals Hamilton, Baden-Powell, and Wilson, and when General Hamilton, addressing the column, praised the New Zealanders and said that he did not want any better men under him, the New Zealander Premier was a happy man. He went along the front for sixty miles, and also visited the hospitals at Johannesburg, Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp, speaking kindly and encouragingly to the New Zealanders who were sick or wounded.
At Durban he announced that New Zealand desired peace on an everlasting basis, “but if more men are wanted,” he added, “more will be sent.” In the same city he told the people of South Africa that the only conclusion possible to the war was unconditional surrender by the Boers, but he declared with an air of kingly clemency that brave fighters would be treated with Britain's traditional generosity.
On May 24th he sent a cable message to Sir Joseph Ward stating that he had had tea with Lord Milner and dinner with Lord Kitchener. “Had a long interview with both, which was very satisfactory,” was the significant addition to the message, and on the same day there came the still more significant brief message: “No more contingents will be required.”
This message was taken all over the world as an augury of peace, and London newspapers accepted it as fairly strong proof that the conditions were such as to satisfy this strong advocate of unconditional surrender.
He supplied the South Africans with a policy, to be taken in hand as soon as the country had settled down after the war. That policy ran largely on the lines adopted in New Zealand, whose example, he thought, South Africa could not do better than follow.
In Reuter he had a zealous advance agent. Almost daily the great morning newspapers told the people of London in large type what he was doing, saying, and thinking. At least one comic journal had a Seddon cartoon ready for publication on the day of his arrival. At the Diamond Jubilee he had gone as a stranger, but at the Coronation it was the return of an interesting man who had been the talk of the Empire, and he received a royal welcome.page 318
At Euston station two royal carriages were in waiting, each drawn by a pair of horses, and with coachmen and footmen wearing the royal scarlet liveries. In these carriages he and his party were driven to the Hotel Cecil, London. He was disappointed at not having a little more time for a chat with several New Zealanders who met him on the station platform, but there were the royal carriages waiting, with the men in their gorgeous liveries, attracting much notice, and he set off at once. It rather amused him to travel in such state, and to see the sentries at one place present arms as the party passed; but he felt that he was being given a very pleasant welcome to England.
There was another whirl of receptions, banquets, excursions and other amusements, and then came the second Premiers' Conference and business.
He had brought with him from New Zealand a number of proposals to place before the Premiers. They were:—
That it is essential to the well-being of the Mother Country and His Majesty's Dominions beyond the seas that in such dominions, where the same does not exist now, preferential tariffs, by way of rebate of duties on British manufactured goods carried in British-owned ships, should be granted, and that in the Mother Country a rebate of duty on colonial products now taxable should be conceded.
That it is desirable to have an Imperial Reserve Force formed in each of His Majesty's Dominions over the seas, for service in case of emergency, the limits within which such reserve force may be employed outside the colony wherein it is raised to be defined by the Imperial and Colonial Governments at the time such reserve is formed, and to be in accordance with any law in force for the time being respecting the same; the cost of maintaining and equipping such reserve force to be defrayed in such proportion and manner as may be agreed upon between the Imperial and Colonial Governments.
That the Australian Squadron be strengthened: (a) by increasing the number of cruisers; (b) by withdrawing some of the inferior gun boats and replacing them with modern and better-class cruisers; and (c) by adding torpedo catchers or destroyers, if deemed necessary, the extra cost of maintenance entailed to be defrayed in the same proportion as provided under the existing agreement and on a population basis.
That, in arranging for the administration of that portion of the Empire formerly known as the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, provision should be made that duly qualified members of the learned and skilled professions now admitted and hereafter to be admitted to practice in the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, and in New Zealand, be allowed to practice within the newly acquired territories referred to.
That it would be an advantage to the Empire to have subsidised mail services established as between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Great page 319 Britain, the steamers carrying such mail to be British-owned, and such steamers to be of such a class, and so fitted, that in time of war they may be armed and cased as cruisers.
That it would be to the advantage of the Empire if triennial conferences were held at which questions affecting the political and commercial relations of the Mother Country and His Majesty's Dominions over the seas could be discussed and considered as between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Prime Ministers of the self-governing colonies. In case of any emergency arising upon which a special conference may have been deemed necessary, the next ordinary conference to be held no sooner than three years thereafter.
He was strongly in favour of colonial participation in the defence scheme, but he did not get as much support from his colleagues as he had anticipated. Sir Wilfred Laurier and Mr. Barton made it clear that they were not prepared to ask their Parliaments to sanction any military expenditure beyond what was necessary for their own defence. The discussion showed considerable difference of opinion amongst the Premiers. While the representative of Cape Colony and Natal was inclined to fall in with the policy suggested by Mr. Seddon and the Secretary for War of having a special body of troops ear-marked for imperial service, the Premiers of Canada and Australia believed that the best course was to endeavour to raise the standard of training for the general body of the forces, to organize the departmental services and equipment required for the mobilisation of a field force, leaving it to the various colonies, when the need arose, to determine how and to what extent they should render assistance. It was held that to establish a special force, set apart for general imperial service, and practically under the absolute control of the Imperial Government, was objectionable in principle as detracting from the power of self-government enjoyed by the colonies, and would be likely to impede the general improvement in training and organization of the colonies' defence forces, and their ability to render effective help if it should be required. The Conference ultimately decided that if the Imperial Government should think it desirable to take action on the suggestion of the Secretary for War, it should do so by communication with colonies that were disposed to give assistance.
The strong point of Mr. Seddon's proposals was the scheme for a preferential tariff. The discussion showed that there was page 320 a feeling amongst the Premiers in favour of making some definite advance towards establishing closer trade relations, but they said that the circumstances of the different colonies differed so widely that it was apparent that no arrangement applicable to all of the colonies could be devised. The general effect of the resolution passed was that while the Conference recognised that certain trade relations existed between the United Kingdom and other Powers, it was desirable that closer trade relations should exist between the Mother Country and the colonies. The Conference also recognised that while anything like free-trade between the different parts of the Empire was impossible at present, the promotion of inter-imperial trade was desirable, and, with that object in view, the Parliaments of the Empire should be asked to give a substantial preference in customs duties to the products and manufactures of the Empire.
Mr. Seddon's proposal to establish triennial conferences of Premiers was discussed at length, but it was decided that a better plan would be to hold them as far as practicable at intervals not exceeding four years.
As to the strengthening of the Australian squadron, it was shown that Canada, Newfoundland, Cape Colony, and Natal were not directly concerned, and it was decided that the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand should deal with the matter as a separate question apart from the Conference.
The opinion in regard to the fourth and fifth motions submitted by Mr. Seddon was that colonial members of the learned and skilled professions should be allowed to practice in the newly acquired South African territory, but that the arrangement should be reciprocal; and that the position of mail services between the different parts of the Empire should be reviewed by the Governments interested, and that all new contracts should contain provisions to prevent excessive freight charges.
Other motions moved by Mr. Seddon were passed, drawing attention to the position of the navigation laws in the Empire and urging that steps should be taken in that respect to promote imperial trade in British possessions.page break
The Conference did not go as far as Mr. Seddon thought it ought to have gone. He was rather disappointed with the result. He had held high hopes that something would be done, and he felt that the imperialistic tone was not as prominent as he had been led to expect it would be. The feeling in New Zealand, and the press of the United Kingdom, had made his view too optimistic. He had heard a great deal about consolidating the Empire, taking counsel, interchanging opinions, and discussing imperial questions, and he was disappointed that the Premiers, when they came together, did not go much further.
During this visit to England he was given the freedom of St. Helen's, Annan, and Edinburgh, and received the degree of LL.D. of the Edinburgh University. At all ceremonies, public or private, he sang New Zealand's praises, and he insisted that the honours bestowed upon him should be shared by his colony. He told the people that the other nations were making war on Great Britain by means of the trade relations that existed. It was a ruthless war, and the only successful method of warfare the Empire's enemies could adopt. Foreign nations increased their trade with the British colonies, and out of that increase they strengthened their armies and navies. He advised the Old Country to make itself independent of foreign nations, and to build up its own commerce, trade, and manufactures. He told England in plain words that she would have to do more for her aged workers, and broadly hinted that she might do worse than adopt a scheme of Old Age Pensions on the same lines as the New Zealand scheme.
The most striking impression made upon his mind during the coronation visit was England's apathy regarding the danger that threatened her manufacturing supremacy, and he gave her four clear-cut pieces of advice:-
Adopt up-to-date ideas.
Establish confidence between workers and employers.
Do not hang on to obsolete machinery.
Be less conservative.
The cartoons and the jokes made in the press at his expense were quite a feature of the visit. A good many imperialists in England thought that he had gone too far when he freely criticised the administration of affairs in South Africa, and one daily newspaper facetiously told its readers: “That we have no reason to believe that Mr. Seddon, of New Zealand, at present inspecting South Africa, has arranged to succeed Lord Salisbury at and after the coronation; while another report that he intends to take over the Colonial Office and the War Office and run them together as one department, which they were before 1854, is at least premature.”
“The Put-on and Take-off Tax” is the title of a cartoon. Mr. Chamberlain is shown working at his desk in the Colonial Office. Behind him hangs a portrait of Mr. Seddon, and on a table stands a frame bearing the words, “What Seddon says.” “Seddon” and “Imperial Zollverein” are clearly visible on the papers on the desk. The Chancellor of the Exchequer enters and says: “I'll tell you what it is, Chamberlain, if this peace comes very soon I'll be hanged if I don't drop the bread tax.” Mr. Chamberlain says: “Good heavens, don't do that! What shall I say to Seddon when he comes?” “Send him to my room,” replies the Chancellor. This cartoon was suggested by the rumour that the Cabinet was divided on the question of dropping the tax and the Chancellor (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had threatened to resign if the tax was maintained in the event of a speedy declaration of peace.
Another London cartoon was entitled: “Suicide or Seddon.” It referred to his statement that Great Britain must withdraw altogether from the suicidal position which it had maintained for years in regard to trade and commerce. In the cartoon, John Bull lies on his back on a stone labelled “Protection,” to which he is firmly bound by ropes. Above him there is suspended by hook and tackle a massive block labelled “Zollverein.” Mr. Chamberlain is pushing the stone towards John Bull's body, while Mr. Seddon lowers it by the rope. Both men have taken their coats off for the work of “laying the foundation.” Mr. Chamberlain cries, “Lower away, Seddon.” John Bull, who has an agonised expression on his face, exclaims, page 323 “Here, I say, what're you doing?” “We're saving you from suicide!” replies Mr. Seddon.
There was genuine regret when the time came for his departure. Just before he left, he sent the following letter to the London press:—
“On the eve of my departure from the Mother Country for New Zealand, I feel I cannot leave without expressing through the medium of your valuable paper my appreciation of the hospitality that has been extended everywhere and at all times to myself, as one of the representatives of the self-governing colonies beyond the seas who visited the Old Country on the occasion of the Coronation of His Majesty. The very kind manner in which I have been treated will afford much pleasure to the people of New Zealand, and I deem the courtesies that have been extended to me more a compliment to the colony than to myself personally. I hope that the confidence and goodwill now existing between the Motherland and the dominions beyond the seas may long continue, and that the labours of the colonial representatives may result in improved imperial trade relationship and further insure the stability of our great Empire.”
One of the London newspapers headed the letter “Mr. Seddon's Encyclical,” and another “By Royal Proclamation.” The “St. James's Gazette,” in a happily-worded leaderette, expressed in the following words the general impression that Mr. Seddon had made upon London, England, and the whole of the United Kingdom:—
“We have, more's the pity, lost our semi-royal visitor. Or, rather, it would perhaps be more correct to say that he has gone before his welcome has outworn itself. But he has left something more tangible than mere happy memories behind him; and for the moment we refer rather to the encyclical which has made its august appearance in our morning paper than the work which he has accomplished in the cause of Imperial Federation. For the work is more or less in secret, while the letter is written openly. ‘On the eve of my departure,’ writes Mr. Seddon, and it is the general tone of his graceful letter of appreciation of English hospitality that gives us pause at this sentence. Surely ‘my’ should have been ‘our?’ There is indeed in all the deeds, and more especially in all the words, of the splendid Maecenas of our poor little home-grown institutions something so characteristically regal that the final proclamation issued by H.S.H. R.J.S. seems quite in character. Here in the impoverished heart of ‘our great Empire’ we have the kindliest feelings for the Premier of New Zealand, and we are glad that he is pleased with us.”
The following year, he gave effect to his suggestions at the Premiers' Conference by introducing into the New Zealand House of Representatives the Preferential and Reciprocal Trade Act, which places additional duties on certain goods not produced or manufactured in the Empire, and imposes duties on page 324 foreign goods that were once imported free. The Act abolishes the duty on tea grown in the Empire, and supplies machinery for establishing reciprocal trade relations.
In introducing the Bill, he said he believed that it was the duty of all who wished the Empire well to facilitate the granting of preferential trade with the Mother Country, but he thought that it was better to go further, take a broader view, and give preference to all within the Empire. He looked upon the Act as hardly anything more than an affirmation of a principle. It seemed to him to be only an instalment of a great deal that was to come afterwards. He scouted the idea of receiving something from the Mother Country in return. He refused to take up that attitude at the Premier's Conference, and gave another refusal in the colony. New Zealand, he said, must be prepared to give, and he left it to the Mother Country to say what the return should be, or whether there should be any return at all.
He never ceased to look upon the Empire's trade as its life-blood, and he often said that the vaunted open door of the United Kingdom was the open Sheol of trade and the Hades of the British manufacturer and workman.
He pointed out the importance of Great Britain establishing and maintaining supremacy in the Pacific. He lost few opportunities of expressing the strong opinion he held on this question. He believed that English statesmen did not realise the danger which he saw in the distance. A few months before he died, he wrote to a friend in England:—
“The Pacific Islands question is of paramount importance. Under the altered conditions now existing, which in the future will be greatly changed, to the advantage of other nations, by the construction of the Nicaragua and Panama Canal, numbers of industries will be greatly affected. In fact, it is difficult to grasp the momentous issues involved. Unless British statesmen grasp the situation and provide therefor, they will find in years to come the weak spot. They will discover that the most deadly blow will be struck at our Empire in the Pacific itself.
“The Japanese have stopped the Russians in the East, and what is going to happen in the West, who can tell? It is well ever to be prepared. With industries crippled and food supplies stopped, the people in the heart of our great Empire will be in a bad way. It is not too late for action. Prevention is better than cure, and we must be up and doing. If our kindred at Home do their part, then the self-governing colonies will not fail when the occasion arises. Meantime, wherever possible, the British flag should float over the islands of the Pacific.”page break
Mr. Seddon and Sir Joseph Ward at a welcome give by the Maoris to the Hon. Huia Onslow, son of Lord Onslow, a former Governor of New Zealand, in 1904. In 1891, the Hon. Huia Onslow, who was then one year of age, was inducted as a chief of the Ngatihuia tribe, of Otaki, in the North Island. On his return to the Colony in December, 1904, he was welcomed at a gathering of the Ngatihuia and Ngatiraukawa tribes.
On several occasions, he referred to his policy of annexing islands to New Zealand, and he remarked: “I never stood such jeering as when I was fighting this question.”
He spoke in angry tones of the apathy of British statesmen in this respect:—
“They foolishly lost Samoa. The steamer was there tearing at her hawsers, and everything was in readiness to take possession. The king and islanders were prepared to be annexed-in fact anxious to come in with New Zealand-but Downing Street intervened, and Samoa was lost and given to America. Great credit is due to Sir Robert Stout and Sir Julius Vogal for the effort to save Samoa. The imperial statesmen did not grasp the full significance of the loss of this and other islands. New Zealand was injured, as Samoa was close to it and lay on the track of the West. Through their muddling and through their mistakes irreparable injury was done to New Zealand by the British statesmen of that day.
“As to the Sandwich Islands, the Republican Government was prepared to support a protectorate under America and Britain. I interviewed John Sherman, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, on the subject, but that gentleman told me there was no danger. To interfere with these islands, said Mr. Sherman, would be contrary to the Monroe Doctrine, and he did not himself approve of a protectorate. America, he said, would be true to her Monroe Doctrine. I then saw President M'Kinley, who put quite a different complexion on the position. He said, ‘You know, Mr. Seddon, American interests are so great—there is so much American capital there: there is the cane interest of San Francisco, then there is the beetroot sugar question—that we find great difficulty in our country in that respect, and it is important to us. And,’ said he, ‘I will urge all I can that those islands shall be annexed to America.’
“I subsequently saw the representative of Great Britain on arrival in England, and made representations strongly urging that, in the interests of the Empire and New Zealand, British statesmen should do their duty and save these islands. At that time a third of the boats trading between San Francisco and New Zealand belonged to New Zealand. They were doing a large business with Hawaii, and I knew that if the American coastwise laws were to be applied New Zealand steamers would be shut out. Two of the Ministers of the islands were New Zealanders, and the majority of the Sandwich Islanders wanted the islands to be British, and my idea was to have a protectorate as a step in that direction. Further representations were made in London, but they were pooh-poohed. America, they said, would never annex; but within three years those valuable islands formed part of the American Republic, and British and New Zealand trade was shut out.
“Then with regard to Noumea, Sir George Grey urged, as far back as 1853, that it should form part of New Zealand—and the chiefs wanted to be annexed to New Zealand—they wanted it to be British. Sir George begged Downing Street to make the annexation, but, apparently, from sheer indifference, no action was taken. Shortly after that the Marist Brothers arranged with some agents who were there, the French hoisted their flag, and Noumea and New Caledonia became annexed to France. These losses were incalculable, and it was a pity that such statesmen should ever have been entrusted with the destinies of Great Britain.page 326
“The Philippines are also American. Undoubtedly America is pursuing an inter-island policy, and has entirely departed from the Monroe Doctrine. It was only the other day that President Roosevelt said that the Stars and Stripes, should dominate the Pacific. I say the flag that should dominate the Pacific is the Union Jack.
“In New Zealand we are face to face with the New Hebrides difficulty. At one time the New Hebrides actually belonged to New Zealand, having been included in the latitudinal and longitudinal bearings, but subsequently this was altered and the islands were left out. I wish that they had been allowed to remain. They are valuable islands and are close to New Zealand, only about four days away.
“A long time ago a despatch was sent from this country to the British Government, in which it was plainly and distinctly laid down what was believed to be a proper course for the British Government to follow. Some other arrangement should have been made with France, in the way of compensations, or concessions elsewhere, in consideration of her ceding her claims in the New Hebrides to Britain. As things are, it would be better if they divided the New Hebrides, Britain taking one part and France the other. The protectorate between the two nations is dangerous, as it may lead to friction between the two Powers, and ultimately end in Britain ceding everything to France. In these matters the Opposition should join with the Government. In all such cases party matters should be sunk, and we should stand together for the good of our colony and the advancement and solidarity of the greatest Empire the world has ever known.”
* A Maori-European appreciation.