'King Dick' Seddon becomes premier

1 May 1893

Caricature of Sir Richard John Seddon, 1900
Caricature of Sir Richard John Seddon, 1900 (Alexander Turnbull Library, A-122-002)

Richard John Seddon became premier following the death of John Ballance. Immortalised as ‘King Dick’, Seddon was to dominate the New Zealand political landscape for the next 13 years. He remains this country’s longest-serving premier or prime minister.

Seddon was first elected to Parliament in 1879 for Hokitika, and later represented Westland. In the House, he was notoriously long-winded and ridiculed as boorish. But the astute politician turned his apparent lack of sophistication to his advantage, presenting himself as a man of the people.

After leading the Liberal Party to victory in the 1893 election, Seddon consolidated major reforms to land, labour and taxation law that had previously been thwarted by the upper house. He even took credit for enfranchising women, a reform he had opposed. 

Seddon’s five consecutive election victories have never been matched. At his peak, he exercised almost one-man, one-party rule, but the quality of his ministry declined as he monopolised important portfolios and meddled in the rest.

New Zealanders were shocked when he died at sea while returning from Australia in 1906; famously, his last telegram read: ‘Just leaving for God’s own country.’