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Seddon and Ward, premier towns - roadside stories

The Marlborough towns of Seddon and Ward are named after New Zealand premiers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – and are built on land made available by the Liberal government’s policy of subdividing large estates. ‘King Dick’ Seddon a popular and charismatic figure, died in office and was succeeded by businessman Joseph Ward.


Narrator: The small Marlborough town of Seddon, sitting on the banks of the Awatere River, is named after one of New Zealand’s most famous and popular politicians – Richard John Seddon. The nearby town of Ward is named after Sir Joseph Ward, who succeeded Seddon.

When the Liberals came to power in 1890, they argued that the large pastoral estates in New Zealand were creating a wealthy elite. This excluded the ordinary working man from making a living out of farming. So the Liberals decided to break up the large holdings by introducing a graduated land tax. They also compulsorily purchased over 200 large estates. Seddon and Ward were both Cabinet members who presided over this policy.

The town of Seddon was created in 1899 when the 14,000-ha Starborough estate was broken [up]. Ward was created six years later when the 23,000-ha Flaxbourne estate, containing over 70,000 sheep, was subdivided.

The Liberals’ policy was not always opposed by the large landholders as the sheep economy was changing. Originally the huge holdings had grown sheep purely for wool. But by the 1890s refrigerated shipping allowed the production of sheep for meat as well as wool. This allowed new breeds of sheep and much larger stock numbers. Breaking up the estates suited the new meat economy.

Richard John Seddon was the first ‘ordinary bloke’ politician. He was not well educated, and dropped his ‘aitches’. He had worked as a gold miner and publican on the rough West Coast of New Zealand. Seddon was a great orator, and ordinary New Zealanders easily related to him. Nevertheless, ‘King Dick’, as he was nicknamed, was autocratic, and used his power to get jobs for his mates. He regularly held up to half a dozen ministerial positions, as well as being Premier.

Seddon was a huge man – 6 feet tall, and over 20 stone in weight. His large pot belly was often hidden by a trademark frock coat. As a member, then leader, of the reformist Liberal government of the 1890s, Seddon’s achievements were considerable. As well as breaking up large rural estates, his government introduced an industrial arbitration system, votes for women – although Seddon personally did not embrace this measure – and pensions for the elderly.

Charismatic and shrewd, Seddon was the first New Zealand politician to exploit the game of rugby. The results of games played by the 1905 All Blacks were announced through his office, and he rewarded the triumphant team with a holiday tour of Canada and the United States while returning home. Then, as the self-appointed ‘Minister of Football’, he was the first to greet them when they finally arrived.

Seddon died suddenly the following year, en route from Australia. He had just cabled the Victorian state premier that he was about to return to ‘God’s own country’. This is reputedly the origin of the popular term for New Zealand as ‘godzone’.

Seddon’s successor, Sir Joseph Ward, was a businessman from Southland who lacked his predecessor’s charisma but continued his popular policies. Ward was born in Australia, became a merchant in Bluff and was responsible for starting the Ocean Beach freezing works there. When serving as colonial treasurer he became bankrupt, but managed to restore his wealth and reputation. He rejoined Cabinet, introduced the penny postage stamp, and followed Seddon as premier.

Ward served again as prime minister, aged in his 70s, from 1928 to 1930, which was the year he died. Ward’s political success came despite the fact that he was a Catholic and was the target of some anti-Catholic feeling.

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Seddon and Ward, premier towns - roadside stories, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated