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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)


The title of Richard John Seddon to permanent fame in New Zealand and the British Empire rests in the first place on his pioneer work in liberal and humanitarian legislation, and in the second on his vigorous development of the Imperial sentiment. More intellectual men than he occupied the position of Premier of the Colony that is now a Dominion but none so forceful and dominating in character. In his thirteen years of office as head of the Government he overshadowed all others; he was the uncrowned king of the country, the popular hero of the democracy. Like every strong man he had many enemies, but many more friends. He has been described as the most autocratic of democrats. His leadership in experimental Socialistic legislation attracted the attention of statesmen and writers in the outside world; his fervent advocacy of close relations with Britain and the despatch of New Zealand Contingents to the war in South Africa made him a most popular figure in England. In this character sketch by one who knew him well, party politics are touched upon but lightly; the writer endeavours to give a personal study of a great builder of New Zealand who is held in affectionate remembrance for his courage, his championship of the people's rights, and his devotion to the cause of a united Empire.

The Rt. Hon R. J. Seddon, P.C. (Born 1845; Premier of New Zealand 1893–1906; died 10th June, 1906.)

The Rt. Hon R. J. Seddon, P.C.
(Born 1845; Premier of New Zealand 1893–1906; died 10th June, 1906.)

When we think of R. J. Seddon we think first of the West Coast, the Golden Coast. It was there that the twenty-one-year-old Seddon set foot on New Zealand soil in 1866. He came from Victoria, but he was not many years out from his native Lancashire; the accent of his birthland was strong on his tongue all his life. It was the rough-carved, bold, manly life of gold-digging Westland that developed his spirit of enterprise and resourcefulness, vigour and self-reliance as it developed his burly frame. The first great rush of diggers was over, but the Coast was still a scene of amazing strident treasure-hunting activity, and Mr. Seddon had a taste of almost every phase of industry there. His name is associated most of all with the gold-sluicing township of Kumara; there he went into business, made his weight felt—very literally sometimes—in local affairs; he mastered the ways and laws of the goldmining industry, and raised a young family.

The West Coast made Seddon, not as a man of wealth as it had many others, but as a bold, confident young man of affairs and presently as member of Parliament. And once he entered Parliament—he was returned as member for the district in 1879—he never looked back. The crude excitements of local politics developed into the Parliamentary fever that never left him. He was captured by the newly-born Liberal ideas and the personal enchantment of that great and enigmatic figure Sir George Grey.

He won his way in politics by force of character, the rugged power and the straight speech that close contact with the fearless men of the Golden Coast had developed in him. His opportunity came when John Ballance became Premier, on the rising tide of legislation for “the masses.” Seddon became Minister for Public Works, Mines and Defence. Thus the strong man from the half-tamed West Coast put on the yoke of office from which only death was to release him—the death that came upon him at sea in 1906 after a health tour in Australia that became a kind of triumphal march.