In his day Richard John Seddon was the most admired and feared politician in the land. He so represented the power and authority of the state that he became known as 'King Dick'. He turned New Zealand upside down and in his own words made it "God's Own Country."
Seddon, a publican from the West Coast town of Kumara, was part of the 1891 Liberal government under Premier John Ballance. When Ballance died in 1893, Seddon used his mastery of Parliamentary procedure to become the caretaker Premier and then finally the Premier. Some doubted that Seddon was up to the job.
Seddon never forgot his British roots. When war broke out in South Africa in 1899, he proposed to Parliament that New Zealand should send a contingent. His own son was among those who went to fight in the Boer War. But Seddon loved New Zealand and in 1901 when the six Australian colonies joined as a Commonwealth, New Zealand could have been its seventh state, but Seddon would have none of it.
By 1902 the stars of the Liberal administration had gone. With Ballance and McKenzie dead and Reeves out of Parliament, Seddon now ran the country. In addition to being Premier, he took over the portfolios of Education, Defence, Labour, Treasury and Immigration and he left his mark everywhere.
He created a limited old age pension scheme; got New Zealand's first state houses built and offered low interest loans to workers so they could buy their own homes. And he kept up Liberal reforms by declaring Labour Day a public holiday.
In these ways, Seddon oversaw the first awakenings of the welfare state. By now, "God's Own" had achieved one of the highest standards of living in the world and New Zealanders saw themselves in every way ahead of old England.
In May 1906 King Dick Seddon ended a visit to Australia. But he was sick. Three days later, he was died on board the Owestry Grange, the ship that would take him home. He was brought back to Wellington for a state funeral. The nation was stunned. Seddon had dominated New Zealand politics for thirteen years and his funeral was our first moment of national mourning.