Memorial befits social reformer's lasting legacy

FONDLY REMEMBERED: Richard Seddon's memorial in Bolton Street Memorial Park. An observatory was demolished to make way ...

FONDLY REMEMBERED: Richard Seddon's memorial in Bolton Street Memorial Park. An observatory was demolished to make way for the large monument.

The most photographed statue in Wellington is of former Prime Minister Richard John Seddon and stands in Parliament grounds.

But the Seddon memorial near the Kinross St entrance to Bolton Street Memorial Park (formerly Bolton Street Cemetery) has a more intriguing history.

It stands on Observatory Hill, once the site of the Colonial Time Service Observatory.

New Zealand's first time service observatory was demolished to make way for the memorial to the country's longest-serving prime minister.

The memorial was completed in 1910.

Seddon was prime minister for 13 years and 44 days, from 1893 until his death in 1906.

The legacy of the Liberal Government he led includes women receiving the vote in the Electoral Act of 1893 and the Old-age Pensions Act of 1898, which gave a means-tested income to persons aged 65 and over. Both pieces of legislation were world firsts.

More than a century later, his nickname of "King Dick" is recalled when people speak of him and the social reform his government introduced.

The Seddon family vault under the memorial contains the remains of Seddon, his widow Louisa (1851-1931), their daughter Mary Stuart Hay, and a memorial to their son, Captain John Spotswood Seddon.

Captain Seddon was killed in 1918 while serving his country in France during World War I.

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Those visiting the memorial usually walk around the iron-fenced plot in a clockwise direction from the side facing Karori, where the plaque's inscription is only the name "Seddon".

The plaque on the side looking towards Tinakori Hills acknowledges the strong and resolute man's indomitable will, which enabled him to ensure humane and progressive legislation was passed while he was prime minister.

On the side facing Parliament Buildings, the plaque is dedicated by Parliament and the people of New Zealand to the memory of Seddon.

The plaques below it for Mrs Seddon and Captain Seddon were added after the memorial's completion.

The southern side's plaque gives a brief history of Seddon's career as a Member of Parliament.

Government architect John Campbell designed the memorial, built by Edwards and Son of Waring Taylor St at a contract price of £2746 (now $443,000).

A reinforced concrete column faced with Coromandel granite is mounted over the family vault on a square concrete base.

The bronze female figure at the top of the column was modelled at the London studio of British sculptor Henry Poole and cast by Alexander Parlanti. She symbolises a country in mourning for its dead.

Seddon was born in Eccleston, Lancashire, on June 22, 1845, and died suddenly of heart failure aboard the ship Oswestry Grange while returning from Australia on June 10, 1906, aged 60.

Seddon had arrived in New Zealand from Australia in 1866, after the discovery of gold on the West Coast.

He entered Parliament as the Independent member for Hokitika in 1879 and represented West Coast electorates until his death. From 1890, he was the Liberal member for Westland.

In 1891 he was appointed Minister of Public Works, simultaneously holding the portfolios of Mines and Defence. He became prime minister on May 1, 1893, after the death of John Ballance.

The statue of Seddon in the grounds of Parliament was erected in 1915, and was paid for jointly by public subscription and the Government.

That statue is about a 15-minute walk from his memorial in Bolton Street Memorial Park.

 - The Wellingtonian


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