Richard John Seddon

The son of two Lancashire school teachers, Richard John Seddon was born in 1845. After an unremarkable childhood and teenage working life in St Helens, where it became clear he was not academically oriented, he set sail for Australia in 1863, working his way to Melbourne on board a ship. His gold rush dreams did not come true in Victoria, instead he worked in the railways, next sailing for Hokitika in 1866. Instead of chasing gold he set up a shop at Waimea Creek, which later became a liquor store. After sailing to Melbourne to secure his bride, Louisa Jane Spotswood, he returned to the West Coast where he was already gaining a certain stature for his athleticism, endurance and fist fighting successes.

Though not a gifted public speaker Seddon launched into politics with his first position on the Ahaura Road Board, then the Westland Provincial Council. Provincial Councils gave way to a new County system, and Seddon sat on the Westland County Council, where he was often reported absent at meetings. Nonetheless he was made mayor of the new town of Kumara which served the goldfield there, after moving his struggling pub there from Big Dam.

In 1881 his political career began to prosper and began a long reign as representative for Kumara, then Hokitika, then Westland which did not end until his death in 1906. A populist member of the Liberal Party he was a supporter of Ballance until his untimely death in 1893.
Seddon took the Premiership and set about a 13 year reign where he carved his mark into New Zealand’s fledgling democracy. As well as first completing his dead friend’s manifesto of enfranchisement of women and a regulation of the licensing system, he then took the 1893 general election based upon his own plans for industrial relations reform and managing land settlement issues. After several attempts he was successful in having an Old Age Pensions Bill passed, he took the Native Affairs portfolio and mended relations with some Iwi, and also supported British efforts in colonisation of the Pacific. At the turn of the Century the reigning Premier also held the portfolios of Finance, Education, Immigration, Defence, and Labour, bringing about change in each including free secondary schooling, further industrial relations legislation and improving trade relations with Britain.

His physical stature increasing in line with his political stature, Seddon spent his middle years hovering around 20 stone, yet never slowed in his work or play, culminating in his sudden death in Sydney in May 1906 after a round of meetings and negotiations. King Dick, the unacademic son of a schoolmaster, the freemason, the workers champion, the Lancashire West Coaster, the longest serving Premier of New Zealand was brought home a champion.

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