Richard “King Dick” Seddon (1845 – 1906)

Richard Seddon or King Dick – as he was referred to in his latter years – is the longest serving Prime Minister of New Zealand.Born in Eccleston, England in 1845, his unruly nature was the complete opposite to his parents; who were both teachers. Taking little interest in school, he left at the age of 12 and began working on his uncle’s farm. With an enthusiasm in engineering, his next two jobs were at a foundry.In 1863, he emigrated to Australia and worked in the workshops of the Railway. When gold was discovered in Bendigo, Richard hit the goldfields. He did not find his fortune.In 1866, he fell in love with Louisa Jane Spotswood and asked for her hand in marriage. The family agreed to an engagement but there would be no wedding until he was better placed financially. With that in mind, Richard moved on to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand to try his luck in the goldfields there. He prospered so much there, that he was able to open a store, situated close to Waimea Creek.

It was there that he got a taste for political life, becoming an advocate for miner’s rights and interests. Along with his passionate speeches, he was a fine athlete and fist fighter, making a name for himself in more than one social circle.

Returning to Melbourne in 1868, he finally got to marry Louisa. He brought his new bride proudly back to the West Coast. Not satisfied with the store he was keeping, he got himself a license to sell liquor and added the profession of ‘publican’ to his list of achievements.

Incredibly fond of the West Coast and the people there, Richard tried to get into the local government. In 1876, he tried to win the seat for Hokitika and lost. The following year he met with success when he became the first mayor of Kumara. Owning a claim there also, he opened a fine establishment he called the Queens Hotel.
Unfortunately, soon after opening, the gold fever waned. The lack of hotel business resulted in the Seddon’s filing for bankruptcy. In 1879, Richard won the seat for Hokitika and never looked back.

Richard found swimming in the political pool with bigger fish less than pleasant. Mocked for his lack of education and his passion for the rights of the ‘common’ man, his shortcomings were constantly thrown back in his face. He had the habit of dropping the ‘h’ off his words when he spoke so you can imagine this had a startling effect during his speeches! He was also well known for bragging, mostly about things that weren’t true.

This did not hold him back, it made him more determined. In the 1890’s, he was involved high up in the Liberal Party that was governing New Zealand at the time. When Prime Minster John Ballance became ill, Richard placed himself in the leadership role, convincing his fellow liberal leaders that he was the best candidate for it. Robert Stout, who should have taken over was extremely put out by this and was a harsh critic until Richard’s death in 1906. That was the only way Richard let go of the reins – in spite of the constant demands that he retire. After all, he had been Prime Minister for 13 years!!! He had been accused of cronyism and nepotism during his reign and was an open racist against the Maori and Chinese.

However, Richard was the Prime Minister who pushed through the bill for the old age pension and did his best to make the woman’s suffrage bill fail – twice. When it was obvious that Kate Sheppard was going to get her way the third time, he quickly changed camps and stated that he would back what the people wanted.

He was a man that loved life – he loved to eat and drink a lot (he was 20 stone at his death), would let loose on the dance floor (in common dance halls where he felt more at home – not upper class parties), enjoyed deep sea fishing and in his last few years, kept horses. There is a suburb in Melbourne and a town in New Zealand named after him; we also have him to thank (partly) for Wellington Zoo – the oldest zoo in New Zealand.

The Bostock and Wombwell Circus gifted a baby male lion to the Late Richard Seddon, named King Dick in 1906. This lion became the the beginning of the zoological collection that became the Capital’s zoo.

Richard is buried at Bolton Street Cemetery, under a monument so huge, you can spot it from certain places around the city of Wellington.

*Photo taken by Chris Bulovic*
*Photos of Richard Seddon’s Grave and Statue taken by Annette Bulovic*

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