The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XXI. — In Cartoon and Story
In Cartoon and Story.
There is no colonial politician, with the exception, perhaps, of Sir Henry Parkes, who has been so often described in song and picture as Mr. Seddon, and there have been more stories told of him, probably, than of any other Colonial statesman of these times. He has been cartooned in almost all conceivable political situations. The prominence of the characteristics and talents that helped him on in his career has made him especially adaptable to the purposes of the cartoonist's art. Even before he became Premier he was looked upon as a man upon whom the comic journals might legitimately draw at any time. It is a sign of the popularity he enjoyed that the cartoons in which he figured are, with hardly a single exception, of a thoroughly good-natured character. There is no spleen in them. Mr. Seddon enjoyed the cartoonist's extravagant exaggerations of his words and actions as well as anybody, and he had many a hearty laugh when he saw himself as cartoonists saw him.
In the colony, he had two humorous publications given up mainly to his doings. In one, “King Dick Abroad,” he is shown on his visit to South Africa, taking part in the negotiations for peace, advising Lord Milner and Lord Kitchener, pardoning the Boers, and telling Great Britain what to do. In one picture in this publication, Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Balfour, and other English statesmen are depicted dancing, evidently in great joy at news just received by the Imperial Government. The cause of this display of feeling is made known by Mr. Chamberlain, who says: “Hurrah, he's coming; King Dick of New Zealand has finally announced his intention of looking us up,” and Lord Salisbury adds: “At last, success is assured!”page 346
In South Africa, he is shown pardoning De Wet, who is kneeling before him and humbly offering his arms. On the voyage to England he is in conversation with Sir Thomas Lipton, to whom he says: “Now, look here, Lipton, you're a right good sport, but, hang it, man, you're not patriotic. Racing for the American Cup and giving Uncle Sam all the benefit of your cash isn't the thing. What do you say to promoting a sports syndicate to develop the sporting proclivities of the Empire? As for yachting, why New Zealand can arrange the finest winds in the world, and Shamrock III. and Columbia wouldn't be in it with Aorangi, and there are lots more knocking about Maoriland waters. Bring your yacht to New Zealand if you want some really good sport.”
In another cartoon he is taken as a typical John Bull, standing full in the foreground of the picture, with Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. Balfour, very small figures in comparison, in the background. He is dressed in the dark-felt hat, top boots, and cut-away coat usually worn by John Bull in pictures, and carries in his hand the orthodox hunting-crop, a specially thick and heavy one. He is speaking to Jonathan, who has his hands full of trusts and combines. “Jonathan, my boy,” he says, “I'm just telling you gently, in a friendly sort of way, to stop it. These trusts and combines must be put down, and I'm the man to do it. As long as you act fairly and squarely with the Empire you can rely on Dick Seddon; but the moment you come the underhand on us, I will resent it in a way that will never be forgotten.”
He appears before Lord Roberts in the uniform of a general. “Look here,” he says to the Field Marshal, “you've got to drop all this red tape and sealing-wax. I'm not going to stand any of this kid-glove business.” He is shown speaking through a telephone in England to Sir Joseph Ward in New Zealand, sending messages to the colony, and giving instructions to the Empire generally.
King Dick (as John Bull): Jonathan, me boy! I'm just telling you gently in a friendly sort of way to stop it. These Trusts and Combines must be put down, and I'm the man to do it. As long as you act fair and square with the Motherland you can rely on Dick Seddon; but the moment you come the underhand on us I'll resent it in a way that will never be forgotten. From King Dick Abroad. Dealing with American Trusts and Combines.
Punch could hardly be expected to let Mr. Seddon's visits to England pass without notice. New Zealand would probably have felt rather slighted if the famous humorist had failed to take notice of the Premier from over the seas. Shortly before he arrived in London in 1902, Punch published some notes from his diary at sea. The following extracts are taken from them:— (Communicated by Marconi wire).
“Thursday,—Mr. Seddon has had a busy day. Directly after breakfast he summoned all the crew into the saloon and addressed them in a stirring harangue on the duties and privileges of the British sailor. One passage has excited considerable comment: ‘I am not sure,’ said Mr. Seddon, ‘judging by what I have observed since I came on board, that there is not a disposition to impose too many restrictions on the sailors who do the work on board this ship. I strongly advise you when you receive an order to ask yourselves whether its execution is consistent with the inalienable rights of a Briton. If you find that it is not, it will obviously be your duty not to carry it out—at any rate, not without consulting me. I shall at all times,’ continued Mr. Seddon, amidst great applause, ‘be ready to give you advice on these points.’ Some of the ship's officers, including the captain, seem disposed to think that Mr. Seddon spoke, if anything, just a little too strongly. They urge, too, that the captain's consent should have been asked before the crew were summoned to the saloon, as the absence of the men from their work might, under certain circumstances, have involved the ship in various risks. These remarks were, it is supposed, conveyed to Mr. Seddon, for during lunch he was heard to say that, as Premier of New Zealand, and a friend of the Colonial Secretary, he could not possibly submit to dictation from anyone—certainly not from the captain of a merchant vessel.”
Punch also honoured him with a “Pæan” while he was in England on that occasion:
Oh, what an honour 'tis to be
The Premier of a colony!
Who is there wants to hear a speech
From B-l-f-r, Ch-mb-rl-in, or B-ch?
But all eyes fill and cheeks redden
At every speech from Mr. S-dd-n?
When during this colonial week
Anyone else essayed to speak,
A deep depression settled down,
I noticed, upon London Town,
Our hearts were cold, our spirits laden—
Until aroused by Mr. S-dd-n!
page 348 When in the streets a prince rode by
We looked at him with careless eye;
Even the most distinguished peer
Passed through our midst with scarce a cheer,
But nothing in the world would deaden
Our interest in Mr. S-dd-n!
Since this is so—and so it is—
Since only eloquence like his
With our imperial needs can cope,
I venture to express the hope
That England, at her Armageddon,
Will have the help of Mr. S-dd-n!
The home of “Seddon” stories is the West Coast of New Zealand. It was there that he was best known as a man and a friend. On his visits to the Coast he threw aside all the trammels of office, and went among the people as one of them. His journeys to that part of the colony were triumphal processions, and royalty could hardly have aroused greater public interest.
In 1904 he celebrated his “political silver jubilee” by a special visit to the Coast, where he was received with unbounded enthusiasm. A journalist who accompanied him on that visit states that “if he rode or drove, young and old would wait along the road to do him honour. Red-cheeked children would swing on gates and wave hats and handkerchiefs; their parents would come forward with the certainty that Mr. Seddon would pull up and ask a few questions that would indicate his clear recollection of their family and affairs. In Kumara was Mr. Seddon's old home, whose trees he had planted with his own hands, and he never missed an opportunity of visiting the spot from which he had come forward to take charge of a young nation. When the Premier spoke of those old days, he became once more the genial ‘Digger Dick,’ whom the Coast has never allowed to sink in the Right Honourable R. J. Seddon.”*
* New Zealand Times (Wellington
King Dick: “Who am I? Why, man: I'm Dick Seddon, the man who saved the Empire. Look 'ere, you' ve got to drop all this red tape and sealing wax. I'm not going to stand any of this 'ere kid-glove business; what I want to tell you is this, as I told Colonel Polc-Penton at Palmerston—I'm Boss; and don't you forget it.”
Mr. Seddon and the Field-Marshal.
Two stories are told to illustrate his hold on the affections of the people of the West Coast. It is related that one of his political opponents once approached an old miner with a request that the man would give him his vote in a parliamentary election. The old fellow looked at his questioner with a startled glance. “Is Dick dead, then?” he said. The other story states that an Old West Coaster, in the last days of a lingering illness, was visited by a friend from the East Coast, who inquired whether he needed anything to add to his comfort in his few remaining days. “No,” was the reply; “Dick's seen to all that.”
His birthday, and May 1st, the anniversary of the day he was sworn in as Premier, were red-letter days in the colony. On those days, he was compelled to discard any idea of business. He had no time to do anything but receive the congratulatory messages which streams of telegraph-messengers brought to his room all day long. The following are a few of the messages he received on the last May Day he saw:—
“Heartiest congratulations, and wish you continued health and happiness; from an old pensioner.”page 350
“Your thirteen years' Premiership has brought progress, prosperity and happiness to the people.”
“Congratulations to the May King.”
“Most hearty congratulations on completion of your thirteenth year as Premier and to New Zealand on the happy and prosperous state to which she has been brought through your wise and beneficent statecraft. May the happy bond of union remain unbroken for years to come. Kia ora.*”
“May you continue for the colony's benefit for thirteen more.”
“Congratulations on the fourteen, not out; hurrah!”
“May you carry out your bat.”
“Warmest congratulations on your remarkable record; time only adds to your lustre; many happy returns of the anniversary.”
“Banzai! Long live the King!”
“Please accept my heartiest congratulations on passing the thirteenth mile post, and still retaining unabated confidence people New Zealand. Long life.”
The same deluge of messages poured in upon him as the result of each general election during his Premiership was made known in the newspapers of the colony. His last contest was fought in December, 1905. It was his greatest victory. For his opponents it was a débâcle, and as the result of that election the old Conservative Party practically passed away. The following may be selected from the immense piles of messages that almost smothered him the day after the poll:—
“Kapai, Rangatira; kia ora, ake, ake, ake.”†
“Congratulations for earning the confidence of the whole country that loves you so well.”
“Verdict of the country should greatly encourage you to further service for good of people.”
“Hearty congratulations on the practically unanimous recognition of your liberal and progressive administration.”
“The greatest victory for Liberalism in the annals of the world.”
“O King, live for ever!”
“Hurrah! King Dick still.”
“Fifteen years' service rewarded. Hurrah!”
“Truth prevails, virtue hath its own reward.”
“Te Whiti said, ‘The potato is cooked.”’
“Congratulations. Steering on the old straight course, avoiding dangerous reefs.”
“I salute the admiral. 'Tis a glorious victory.”
“Good old Dick. I don't like it, but you are a warrior.”†
“Unprecedented success, you're simply knee-deep in clover.”
“Old song says, ‘And it was a glorious victory.”
“Kia ora koe.”
“Congratulations from Canada.”
* Maori for “Good luck” or “Long life.” †Maori for “Well done, chief, live on for ever.” ‡From an Opposition candidate.
An enthusiastic Liberal, eighty-two years of age, sent the following letter from Auckland:—
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the noble stand you are making to benefit our colony and to conciliate our kindred and neighbours abroad. We remember your sickness and weakness and weariness, and we know that those who are on your side are greater, more powerful, and outnumber those who are opposed to you. I write to bid you go forward: do not falter or faint. If God be for us, who shall be against us? Your work is before the whole world, and is being copied everywhere; but the battle is still raging, and the fight must go on. We shall need you for our leader to the very end of the conflict.
‘For the life of our leader, aye, now we plead,
Oh, spare him Lord, our country's need.
Oh, lengthen out his earthly span,
God save our chief—our Grand Old Man.’
“I wrote the ‘Liberal March,’ and these words appear in the ‘Liberal March’ of twelve years ago, and they are still applicable, and we must and will pray for you to be spared. Sir George Grey was my master, and at his dictation I wrote that well-known telegram to you ‘to go forward,’ and to-day I say, ‘Thank God for your life and work.”’
Mr. Seddon is credited by a London newspaper with having given the loudest shout heard in the streets of London in these times. It was during the coronation festivities, when the colonial military contingents were marching along the Mall. A stand had been erected for the distinguished representatives of Greater Britain. Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Prime Minister of Canada, was astonished at the apathy of the crowd, and said: “These people want waking up. I say, Seddon, you have a good voice. Raise a cheer.” The New Zealand Premier took off his hat, waved it on high, and gave a cry that echoed from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul's.
Those who came into close touch with him tell stories of his extraordinary energy. In the House, until ill-health made inroads upon his constitution, he seemed to do without sleep. He worked day and night in trains and steamers, sitting up till the small hours and rising to begin work again the first thing in the morning. His thirst for work was never satisfied. He found the hardest work doing nothing while he was under the doctor's orders, which he often, in utter desperation, disobeyed.
Among many stories of his determination, one may be selected. It was told in the smoking room of a steamer by a gentleman who had known him in the early days. The scene page 352 was the old West Coast and the time was in Mr. Seddon's preparliamentary days. He had become well known, however, and, as a reward for his services, it was decided that he should be allowed to christen a new mine opened up near Kumara. On the day set aside for the ceremony Mr. Seddon was away from home, and at the time fixed for the departure of the townspeople for the new mine he had not returned. The party waited for some time, but as Mr. Seddon did not appear it was decided that another gentleman should perform the ceremony. They started on the twelve-mile track to the mine, with pack-horses to carry the hampers.
They had not gone more than half an hour when Mr. Seddon reached Kumara, and was informed of the departure of the caravan. “Who is going to christen the mine? “he asked. “Mr. Blank,” he was told. This was too much for Mr. Seddon, because the gentleman named was a formidable opponent of his in local affairs. Without waiting a minute he hurried home, snatched up a tomahawk, and set out for the mine in a direct line through the heavy bush. He had six miles to go—only half the distance by track—but those who know the New Zealand bush will understand the difficulties of that journey. “Did he get there first?” asked one who listened to the story. “He gets everywhere first,” replied the story-teller; “he was waiting for them when they arrived, with his clothes in rags and his body scratched all over, and it was he who christened the mine.”
He had one pastime; it was deep-sea fishing. That, and a little horse-riding in his later days, were the only relaxations he took from work. Sometimes on a fine day he took the Government launch, the “Ellen Ballance,” down Wellington harbour and fished for an hour or so. A gentleman who accompanied him has said that he was as jolly as a boy, and always as pleased when any other member of the party caught a fish as if he had caught it himself. The rougher the weather, the more he enjoyed the excursion, and it was not unusual to see him sitting up in the bows fishing happily while all his companions were prostrated. Once he stopped in the middle of a journey to go fishing in a rough sea, and reached the height of his enjoyment as he sat in a small boat with the water dashing over his feet.page break page break page 353
Mr. Seddon administered some sharp lessons to speculators, notably those who took up town sections around one of the State coal mines. These gentlemen, in anticipation of a large influx of miners, leased all the best sites in the township laid off by the Government, and were waiting to realise the “unearned increment” from the people who had to occupy them. They had seen the same thing done by people in other parts of the colony, and were probably unconscious of any impropriety in their conduct. The miners, however, appealed to Mr. Seddon, and he promised to lay out another township further down the railway line, and to place the railway station near the miners' sections. This seemed at first to be a high-handed solution of the difficulty. The speculators were quite within their legal rights in attempting to exploit the expected population. The sections were offered on the usual conditions, and it was open to anyone possessing the necessary qualifications to apply for them. But, apart from the legal aspect of the question, public sympathy was with Mr. Seddon and the miners.
When Mr. Seddon first went into Parliament, in 1879, he lodged in a quiet establishment near the Parliamentary Buildings, with several other members of the party, who formed a little democratic coterie, and were a happy family. It was customary for them to assemble in the drawing-room after lunch and spend an enjoyable hour or so. One member of the party played the piano and Mr. Seddon and other members sang and told stories. Mr. Seddon's favourite songs were “The Minstrel Boy” and “The Wearing o' the Green,” and he seldom sang either without having to respond to encores.
It was his custom, after attending banquets that demanded his presence, to return to his home or his hotel and to commence steady work there, from, perhaps, one o'clock in the morning until daylight. He would take a few hours' sleep, and then start work again. A work-day of eighteen hours, for several days in succession, was nothing unusual for him, and after he had worked night and day he was still a match for the freshest of his opponents.page 354
He fought five general elections as Premier. He was never beaten, and although his opponents looked for the turn of the tide at each fresh contest, the people always declared that they wanted him. The results of the contests are shown by the following figures, giving the numbers of members returned to support him and the Opposition:—
“I find it impossible to express my grateful appreciation of this last evidence of the confidence of the electors,” he said, when the result was communicated to him in 1905. “I have trusted the people always, and I have found them true to themselves, to principle, to progress, and to humanity. The result of the polls humbles me. I feel that a great additional responsibility has been cast upon my shoulders, and I can only hope that I may prove worthy of the trust that has been reposed in me. With the assistance of those who have been sent to Parliament with me, I shall strive to obtain results that may contribute towards the happiness and prosperity of the people and the advancement of the colony.”
His rapid journeys up and down New Zealand attracted much attention and admiration from his friends and followers. The diary of his movements at the close of his last session, in October, 1905, gives the following record of his remarkable activity:—
October 31—Left for the south to open a new section of the Cheviot Railway.
November 2—Returned to Wellington.
November 2—Left for Palmerston North.
November 3—Returned to Wellington.
November 7—Left for Auckland, and spoke on November 8th at Paeroa, and subsequently opened a railway to Waihi, and a section of the Helensville line. He also addressed meetings at various places in the Auckland district, and on his way south spoke at New Plymouth, Wanganui, Grey-town and Martinborough.
November 26—Returned to Wellington by special train.
November 27—Left for Shannon, and addressed a meeting there.page 355
November 28—Returned to Wellington.
November 28—Left for the south.
November 29—Spoke at Christchurch.
November 30—Left Christchurch for Dunedin.
December 1—Left Dunedin by special train for Lawrence to turn the first sod of the railway to Roxburgh.
December 2—Was at Waihola and Stirling.
December 6 (election day)—Returned to Wellington.
December 7—Received the colony's congratulations on his great victory.
December 12—Left on a trip in the “Tutanekai” for Marlborough Sounds.
December 14—Returned to Wellington.
December 16—Left for Christchurch, where, on December 18, he laid the foundation stone of the New Zealand International Exhibition.
December 19—Returned to Wellington.
December 21—Left for Auckland.
December 28—Returned to Wellington.
December 28—Left for Greymouth in the “Tutanekai.”
January 25, 1906—Returned to Wellington.
January 26—Left for Pahiatua, and spoke at a political banquet there.
January 29—Returned to Wellington.
February 5—Left for Palmerston, where he attended a banquet to Sir Joseph Ward.
February 6—Returned to Wellington.
February 13—Left for Waipawa, attended a banquet there, and went on to Hastings and Napier next day.
February 16—Returned to Wellington in the “Tutanekai.”
February 17—Left for Oamaru, attended a banquet to the Hon. T. Y. Duncan at Ngapara on February 19; opened the new High School at Ashburton on February 20.
February 21—Returned to Wellington.
February 21—Went to Hastings and attended a Maori meeting.
February 26—Returned to Wellington.
March 3—Left for Auckland by the “Tutanekai,” received the footballers there on March 6, and attended a banquet at Rotorua on March 9. On his way south attended a banquet at Foxton on March 13, another banquet at Levin on March 14; returned to Wellington by special train at 2.15 a.m. on March 15.
March 15—Left for the South and attended a banquet to Mr. F. R. Flatman, M.H.R., at Geraldine, on March 16.
March 18—Returned to Wellington.
Mr. Seddon held many positions in the Ministry, and there were few State departments that he had not personally controlled. At the time of his death, he was Prime Minister, Colonial Treasurer, Minister for Defence, Minister in Charge of the Government Insurance Department and the Public Trust Office, Minister for Education, Minister for Labour, and page 356 Minister for Immigration. The following is a list of ministerial positions held by him:—
|Portfolio.||Date of Taking Office.||Date of Relinquishing Office.||Remarks.|
|Minister for Public Works (including Railways)||Jan. 24, 1891||May 1, 1893||}Resignation of the Ministry owing to the death of Mr. Ballance|
|Minister for Mines||Jan. 24, 1891||May 1, 1893|
|Minister for Defence||Jan. 24, 1891||May 1, 1893|
|Minister for Marine||June 3, 1892||May 1, 1893|
|Premier||May 1, 1893||June 10, 1906|
|Minister for Public Works||May 1, 1893||March 2, 1896||Succeeded by the Hon. W. Hall-Jones|
|Minister for Mines||May 1, 1893||Sept. 6, 1893||Succeeded by Sir A. J. Cadman|
|Minister for Defence||May 1, 1893||June 22, 1896||Succeeded by the Hon. T. Thompson|
|Minister for Native Affairs||Sept. 6, 1893||Dec. 21, 1899||Succeeded by the Hon. J. Carroll|
|Minister for Labour||Jan. 11, 1896||June 10, 1906|
|Commissioner of Trade and Customes||June 16, 1896||Oct. 29, 1900||Succeeded by the Hon. C. H. Mills|
|Postmaster-General||June 16, 1896||Dec. 21, 1899||Succeeded by Sir Joseph Ward|
|Electric Telegraph Commissioner||June 16, 1896||Dec. 21, 1899||Succeeded by Sir Joseph Ward|
|Colonial Treasurer||June 16, 1896||June 10, 1906|
|Minister for Defence||Jan. 23, 1900||June 10, 1906|
|Minister for Education||June 22, 1903||June 10, 1906|
|Minister for Immigration||June 22, 1903||June 10, 1906|