Richard Seddon’s visit to the west coast, 1906

Last week I attended a National Digital Forum (a two day conference in Wellington, mostly on digital heritage) – I was a volunteer helper who went where needed, but I heard some interesting papers. One was about a game played via Twitter that Auckland Museum set up with a few other institutions. Over a couple of days each institution posted a clue with a photo of an object from their collection and people had to guess what the theme was. So here are a few objects – what’s the theme?

DSC07736Statue of Richard John Seddon (1845-1906) in Parliament grounds, Wellington

1906 exhibition news photo

‘His excellency addresses the natives’ at the 1906 International Exhibition in Christchurch

DSC07618 Wairakei Accommodation House and first motor reliability contest in NZ, 1906

DSC07533 Sid Small album ‘The beach at New Plymouth June 1906’.

Yes, it wasn’t too hard – you might have guessed the theme I had in mind was events of the year 1906 (or you might have thought of some other theme).

The major event of that year that first comes to my mind was the death of New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister (he was called Premier then) – Richard John Seddon who died on 10 June 1906 on board the ship Oswestry Grange while returning from a visit to Australia. Just prior to leaving he telegraphed the Victorian premier, Thomas Bent, that he was now heading back to “God’s own country”. He was the Prime Minister when New Zealand decided not to join the Australian colonies when they federated in 1900.[1] More on Seddon shortly.

Another event of 1906 was an international fair; called the New Zealand International Exhibition, it was held in Christchurch from 1 November 1906 to 15 April 1907. It was the brainchild of Seddon; however he died a few months before the Exhibition opened. The image above is fully captioned: ‘The Governor’s visit to the Maori Pa: his Excellency addresses the natives’ and it appeared in the Canterbury Times 7 Nov 1906 [Supplement, p. 9] [2] – the men on the left look like they’re looking at their mobile phones, but are most likely journalists writing in their notebooks!

And, an event not very well known – at least it wasn’t to me – was the first “motor reliability contest” in NZ, also in 1906.


“The life, the health, the intelligence, and the morals of the nation count for more than riches, and I would rather have this country free from want and squalor and unemployed than the home of multi-millionaires.” – Richard Seddon, 1905 (Quoted on Penguin Books website for a recent biography: Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own: The life and times of New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister, by Tom Brooking, Penguin, 2014).

Seddon was born in Lancashire and immigrated first to Australia, in 1863; moving to New Zealand’s west coast in 1866. After returning to Melbourne to marry Louisa Jane Spotswood in 1869, they returned to the west coast, where Seddon expanded his shop into a hotel, and became involved with local politics. He was first elected to the Westland Provincial Council in 1874 and in 1877 became the mayor of Kumara. Although unsuccessful in standing for Parliament in 1876, he succeeded three years later in 1879 and remained in Parliament until his death in 1906.[3]

Another quote from the book publicity: “…Seddon was successful by mastering the art of the possible. He knew instinctively what his electorate would tolerate and remained in step with public opinion. Despite contradictions in his attitudes towards other races, he fought to ensure privilege did not become entrenched in what he envisioned as a white man’s utopia. … Seddon was no saint. Somewhat autocratic and given to petty nepotism, he nevertheless remains the most dominant political leader in our country’s history. Internationally, his high profile within the Empire helped put New Zealand on the map. Domestically, he sought a middle ground between free-market extremism and full-blown socialism. And more privately, Seddon was a devoted family man, his actions shaped much more by his supportive wife and assertive daughters than has previously been realised.”

There are at least two statues of him – one in Wellington’s Parliament grounds (photo above) and one in Hokitika. These two are listed on the New Zealand Heritage List as Category One by Heritage New Zealand. There is also a column and statue on his grave in the Bolton Street Cemetery in Wellington and a Seddon memorial pulpit at Old St Paul’s church in Wellington, donated by his family.


One small job I did when I worked at Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) was some research on places owned by HNZ – including the site of Seddon’s house in the small west coast town of Kumara. It is significant that it is only the site and not the house – despite Seddon’s popularity it didn’t save his house from being removed in 1913.

Below is an image of the house from: The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon, James Drummond, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1907, and a newspaper item about the house and hotel, noting that “many is the kodak that has been snapped before them”.

Seddon's kumara house

Seddon house in Kumara 1913

Ring portrait One of the photograph albums I referred to in my previous post – NZ Edwardian photo albums – part 3 – was the James Ring Album (no. 2, Turnbull Library Ref: PA1-o-436) which records a visit made by Seddon to the west coast of the South Island – as well as being Premier, this was his home electorate (he was the MP for the electorate of Westland). Seddon made this visit in January 1906 – six months before he died of a heart attack. James Ring was described in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, (coincidentally published in 1906) as an artist and photographer, based in Greymouth since 1880.[4]

Photo of Mr J. Ring, from the Cyclopedia…, 1906

Seddon bookTom Brooking, in his recent biography of Seddon, describes this visit in a couple of paragraphs: “In January 1906 he attended a bewildering number of banquets and picnics and received numerous deputations in between opening an extension of the Hokitika railway towards Ross, and visiting tourist sites such as Lake Kanieri and the Franz Josef Glacier. On each public occasion he praised West Coasters for their special qualities… Such self-congratulation went down well with his large audiences, but he tempered his praise somewhat by claiming that Hokitika needed to pull down its old corrugated-iron buildings and replace them with more permanent structures, while the town’s sanitation required urgent upgrading. He added to this criticism by complaining about the unsightly blackberry and ragwort covering many local farms. Accommodation needed to be improved everywhere to increase the appeal of the ‘picturesque scenery’ to tourists, and he hoped to extend the road across the Haast Pass. Intriguingly, he received the greatest applause for elevating the status of the teaching profession” (pages 395/6). He also received a death threat in a postcard dated 26 January 1906, but this was shortly after the west coast visit had finished.

Perhaps to check out the Haast Pass, his son Tom Seddon with Mr Bruce, the Mayor of Adelaide, made a ‘successful tour’ on the route from Hokitika to Wanaka via the Haast Pass at the same time as Seddon’s west coast tour (reported by West Coast Times, 20 January 1906, Page 3). However, I believe Seddon was a bit optimistic about the Haast Pass road – according to Wikipedia: ‘The road through Haast Pass was converted from a rough track to a formed road in 1966 and finally received a complete tarmac surface by 1995’.[5] I remember driving over it on a family holiday in the 1970s when it was still a gravel road.

Despite mentions in the newspapers of Seddon attending picnics, disappointingly there are no photographs of them in this Ring album. The album’s shots are mostly of travel, opening the railway extension, and Seddon posing with various groups of people.

The album begins with Seddon’s arrival by ship at Hokitika on 3 January – on the left is a detail of Seddon – the man in the middle of the three (the image this detail comes from is on the right). I should mention that I took these photographs of the album at the library, so the quality varies.

Seddon arrival 3  Seddon arrival 2

The news reported the cordial welcome – more so than usual as Seddon and his Liberal Party had recently won another general election. With hindsight, the comment about his excellent health and continuing for many more years was misplaced.

Hokitika 1   …  Hikitika 2

A number of the photos show the Seddon party crossing rivers by coach, horseback and boat – travel on the west coast wasn’t easy in 1906.

river crossing 1 river crossing 2

In ‘Premier at Hende’s’ Seddon is shown on horseback (detail and full image):

Seddon on horseback   Premier at hendes

This image of Mt Hercules gives some idea of the roads.

Seddon road

Wherever he went, he had official welcomes and was photographed with local groups:

Welcome at Okarito forks Seddon group

Left: Welcome at Okarito Forks; Right: Group at T Ferguson’s, Mt Hercules

But I particularly like this one – and perhaps Ring did too – of the Premier upstaged by the boy looking at the camera! He hasn’t titled it so I presume he didn’t expect to sell it.

boy looking at camera

Seddon’s visit lasted twenty days. On 17 January Seddon arrived at Kanieri about 5pm (after a halt for lunch at Ross), having returned from a tour of South Westland. In this extract from a long news item, there is a reference to the ‘ubiquitous photographer’ (unnamed, but probably Ring); and also an image which is probably one of the shots referred to.

Kanieri 17 JanFrom:  West Coast Times, 17 January 1906, Page 3

Image of ‘Premier at Kanieri’

premier at kanieri

On the 19th he arrived at Kumara, where he used to live and was once mayor.[6]

premier at kumara better

Ring includes a number of ‘tourist shots’ – lakes, glaciers and so on. His photographic skills are evident in these views of Franz Josef Glacier, with their many tones from white to dark.

Seddon on the glacier Franz Joseph glacier

Interestingly, in 1925 at another Exhibition, this one in Dunedin, a stage coach used by Seddon to travel on the west coast was to be exhibited:

Seddon's travels in coach From: New Zealand Herald, 13 November 1925, Page 13

Ring was a professional photographer – the photographs, as well as a title, have the inscription ‘Protected 22/1/06’ and often a number. Presumably Ring had the book in his shop and people could order, and pay for, an image. Some of the images also appeared in newspapers, for example in the Otago Witness, 7 February 1906, page 39, eight photos by ‘Ring, Greymouth’ of the visit appeared.

January 2016: For anyone particularly interested in seeing images of the West Coast, a Margaret Stoddart album recently digitised by Christchurch Art Gallery (from the Canterbury Museum collection) also includes photos and her watercolour drawings from c. 1896. See my Stoddart Cottage post for details of this album.

In none of Ring’s photos of Seddon’s visit could I see any motor cars. But in the same year (1906) the first “motor reliability contest” took place in the North Island. An album in Turnbull Library includes some photographs of this event – the album is called the ‘Wairakei’ album and was probably created and in part photographed by Robert M McKnight (Ref: PA1-o-509). According to the Turnbull Library catalogue entry the contest involved ten cars (four Daracqs, two Cadillacs, and one Rover, one steam car, one Oldsmobile and one Leyland) travelling from Auckland to Taupo and back (421 miles).

motor reliability March 2 Motor reliability March 1906

contest carsThis album contains a mixture of photos. The catalogue entry says:

“Photographs relating to the contest, including scenes photographed during the trip are on even numbered pages from 2 to 36, possibly taken by R M McKnight in 1906; odd numbered pages from 1 to 63, were taken by unidentified professional photographers, circa the 1880s to 1890s; all relating to the route taken on the 1906 road contest. Most of the earlier photographs are scenes in the thermal area around the Wairakei and Bay of Plenty Regions and include images of the Pink and White Terraces taken before and after the 1886 Tarawera Eruption. Views of the Motor Reliability Contest show scenes taken on the route; groups of people involved; lineups of all ten cars; and one car fording a river.”

car in water

However, the earlier photos appear to relate to a trip taken – they seem to be not just professional shots added by the later compiler to illustrate the motor contest route taken. The first shot for example is labelled: Tauranga the point of disembarkation on the way to the Hot Lakes.


Some of the labels for the photos of the Pink and White Terraces also suggest a trip, such as ‘On the descent. White Terrace’. The Terraces were destroyed – or at least covered up – in the Mt Tarawera eruption on 10 June 1886:

white terrace descent

One of the photos of the Motor Reliability Contest names some of the contestants, and I think this group must also be of contestants as the clothing looks to be from 1906 rather than the 1880s/90s.


In March 1906 Dunlop tyres advertised that the Australian Motor Reliability test had been raced on Dunlop Tyres (the race was from Sydney to Melbourne and Melbourne to Ballarat and back) [e.g. Otago Witness, 21 March 1906, Page 55] – unhappily for Dunlop their Christchurch warehouse was gutted by fire in April 1906 and all the stock lost [e.g. reported in Ashburton Guardian, 19 April 1906, Page 3].

australian motor reliabilityAnother motor reliability test was undertaken in December 1906 from Auckland to Wellington.[7] And there are reports from the same year of motor reliability contests in Britain, Bombay and America – clearly this was the year of the motor car; but not it seems on the west coast!

So, despite both of these albums containing photos taken around the same time as Sid Small’s album, there is not a lot of similarity in content. One is a professional photographer’s album of a visit by the New Zealand Premier (a travelogue of sorts, but with a view to sales) and the other album is more of a travelogue and record of a relatively new technology – the motor car. Another of the albums I looked at in Turnbull Library – Charles Salmon’s album 1 (Ref: PA1-o-455) is also a travelogue. The photographs were taken by Charles Tenison Salmon about 1906 to 1909 and include views of the Ohakune / Horopito Road, a Christmas camp in the bush at Ohakune, the volcanic eruption of Mount Ngauruhoe in April 1909, and views taken when traversing the Tongariro National Park.

DSC07637 DSC07635

A horse-drawn coach is fording a river, but he also photographed a just-completed railway viaduct for the Main Trunk Line (see this link about the Hapuawhenua Viaduct (the viaduct in this photo is now redundant and may be crossed) or my Mangaweka on the main trunk line post for more information).


In my next post I’ll consider the remaining two albums I looked at in Turnbull Library – these are more similar to the content of Sid Small’s album.

Links to information about the two Seddon statues listed by Heritage New Zealand:

A search on ‘Seddon 1906’ on a West Coast history website will also find a few photos of the Seddon trip.


[1] For more information see:

[2] From the Christchurch City Libraries website:

[3] For a brief biography of Seddon see: David Hamer. ‘Seddon, Richard John’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Feb-2014; URL:

[4] ‘James Ring’ entry in The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts], Cyclopedia Company Limited, The Cyclopedia Company, Limited, 1906, Christchurch; URL:

[5] Wikipedia entry:

[6] Reported in the West Coast Times, 19 January 1906, Page 4

[7] New Zealand Herald, 29 December 1906, Page 6

One thought on “Richard Seddon’s visit to the west coast, 1906

  1. Excellent post, Viv. A vivid glimpse of another political era. The Seddon quote from Brooking (1905 quoted in 2014) is still powerful: “The life, the health, the intelligence, and the morals of the nation count for more than riches, and I would rather have this country free from want and squalor and unemployed than the home of multi-millionaires.” … One can’t really imagine our current Prime Minister voicing such opinions!!


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