Richard Seddon, King of God’s Own:
The life and times of New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister
by Tom Brooking (Penguin, $64)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan
My father grew up in Wellington during Seddon’s premiership and was a great admirer of his. I can recall him standing under the Seddon statue in the grounds of parliament and telling me that Seddon had more backbone than Sid Holland and all his cabinet colleagues put together. I now realise that he was referring to the 1951 waterfront dispute, and his belief that the wharfies would never have dared to defy Seddon. Although this interpretation of history may be disputed, it does help illustrate Seddon’s enduring popularity, and why recent polls continue to put him ahead of all rivals as New Zealand’s most popular Prime Minister. Both the right and left sides of New Zealand politics look back fondly to King Dick and claim him as their own.
Despite his popularity, it is amazing that this is the first scholarly biography of Seddon. R.M. Burdon wrote a widely-read biography in 1955, but this was based almost entirely on newspapers and secondary sources. Historians have researched specific aspects, but Tom Brooking is the first to tackle Seddon’s career as a whole and show how his political beliefs and achievements can be assessed on the world stage. The reason why Seddon has been so neglected probably relates to the huge amount of documentary research involved. Seddon was our longest-serving Prime Minister, from 1893 to 1906, and the effort of going through the official files for this period and earlier is daunting. There is more material for Seddon than many other Prime Ministers, both because of his long career and because he had an enormous capacity for hard work.
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