House of Representatives
12 June 1906

2nd Parliament · 3rd Session



Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

DEATH OF MR. SEDDON.

Mr. DEAKIN - (Ballarat- Minister of External Affairs) [2.32]. - I desire, by leave, and without notice, to submit the following motion -

That this House places on record its profound regret at the untimely decease of the Right Honorable K. J. Seddon, and expresses its deep sympathy with his family and the people of New Zealand.

The motion is couched in simple terms, such as become the man whom we deplore and this unhappy event. It needs no justification, when we remember to whom it relates, and his many claims upon us as a. man, a statesman, and our guest, who, no later than our last day of meeting, Mr. Speaker, occupied a chair al your right hand. None of us then apprehended what has happened since ; no one suspected that this would _be the last Parliament upon which he would ever look. He passed from us in the full strength of a buoyant manhood, with no trace of the weakening of the great capacities which had been manifested throughuut bis whole career. Those who had the privilege of association, with him during his May in this country will realize how completely he fulfilled the obligations cast upon him, and, perhaps too generously, consented to assume many others. He came to us crowned with recent triumphs in his own country, where, after long and stormy political campaigns, he had won the confidence and admiration of the whole people whom he so worthily represented. We remember - now with a deeper, though a sadder pleasure - the royal reception which he received in Australia from all classes and parties. He can never visit us again. The members of this Government admired the vigour with which he entered into the discussion of matters of far-reaching importance, and of the most intricate detail, exhibiting a mastery of both principle and substance, which witnessed to the great extent of his knowledge, and the broad character of his political views. All our relations with him seemed to give assurance of prolonged and splendidly progressive public activities, continuing far beyond the hour at which we bade him good-bye Never was man more alive than the right honorable gentleman during the labours and welcomes throughout his stay. He came to us a friend who. apart from his abounding and most impressive personality, would have been honoured because of his .great achievements mrt the advanced ideas bv which he was guided. Owing to his warmth of disposition, he stepped at once into the regard and esteem of all with whom he came in contact. He could not be deemed a stranger anywhere in Australia j particularly not in this State and in. this city. Tt was in our bay that he first landed in the new world ; it was in this city that he worked as a mechanical engineer ; it was of the Government of Victoria that be was in the first instance an employe : it was on our gold-fields that, he became a Sieger ; and. as he was proud to admit, it was here, too, that he won the helpmeet to whom he owed so much in both his. public and private life. May the recollection of his affection and gratitude soften the terrible blow that has shattered her happiness, and left his home desolate. No turning of the records is called for to revive the memory of Richard Seddon. The tasks which he faced and accomplished were too opulent for even the briefest summary. The pages of the current statute-books of “New Zealand will preserve for all time the legislative embodiment of his ennobling aims. An administration prolonged beyond any in this hemisphere was crowned with unnumbered deeds of usefulness and service to his country. He goes to a wellearned rest New Zealand has known no more devoted son, and no more successful Minister; the Empire has known no better patriot, and no more loyal citizen; Australia has known no man more typical of the first generation which conquered and made this country what it is to-day. Like most of those with whom he came, he stepped upon these shores endowed only with his coinage and personal resources. He bad, indeed, a splendid inheritance from the parentage from which he sprang, and an endowment in his plain schooling, and the honest trade which he brought with him from the Motherland;- but of adventitious aids to fortune he had none. He came here as a private soldier of the gallant army of pioneers which .poured’ itself upon these shores. Their deeds of daring in subduing the wilderness and building up a new country by peaceful invasion, will for long, if not for always, remain the greatest feat in Australian history. He rose bv his own achievements, and by those alone. He was one of the band to which many of our fathers belonged, and among which even in his last days he was proud to number himself. He was a miner. Like his comrades he displayed throughout the whole of his after life the self-reliance, adventurous spirit, and resolution of steel needed bv the men who opened up the fields of Ballarat and Bendigo where be. Im. wielded pick and shovel. After that he passed to the west coast gold-fields of what became his own country. He was soon prized and appreciated as a natural leader of men. as one to whom his comrades could turn, in all their trials, whom they sought out when making their first efforts at local government, and. subsequently, chose in their hours of political need. Public life was thrust upon, rather than entered by him, many years ago. He received his accolade at the hands of Sir George Grey, one of the finest idealists whom our political life has ever gained. As the follower and associate of that grand old man, he stepped into the Ministry which afterwards bore his name, and reigned over it till now, solely by his own qualities. He ruled by reason of the generous appreciation which he could not but win with his brain, his character, and wonderful physique. He was a real representative of the people; becoming such by no mere act of election, but because through every fibre of his being he responded with eager sympathy to the wants and hopes of those by whom he was surrounded. Wary but forceful, tactful, yet resolute, he pursued his onward course. Our democracy gave him a sphere of action for which he was eminently adapted by all his gifts, which he used without stint, without fear, and without favour in the cause of the people of New Zealand. A Liberal he was bound to be by temperament as well as by training, and from the cause of Liberalism he never faltered. Those who called themselves by other names, when confronted by him, came to feel the warm heart, wide vision, and grasp of affairs, brightened by the generous purposes ‘ which inspired his policy. They gradually realized the artificiality of local divisions. Mere party differences disappeared like cobwebs, and left them face to face with the man whom we all honoured and revered, and whose loss to-day we so deeply regret. He was exceptionally gifted with the power of speech, the power of leadership, with rapid perception, and popular sympathies. His was a manhood of worth and work. As such we shall always remember it. He made his way - his own way, and at the same time left behind him scarcely a trace of animosity, even among those whom he felt it his duty to oppose. His .indomitable individuality has been .taken from us, leaving us poor, leaving a high place vacant - so conspicuously vacant after his potent personality that we ask ourselves, “ Who will be bold enough to fill it?” He occupied that place by right of merit. He steps from it at another call, leaving behind him a great figure in the history of these new countries. - a great figure even when measured by the standards of the mother country, or by the bounds of his influence, which extended not only to all British Dominions, but wherever the Eng lish tongue is spoken. Further still, irrespective of race or country, wherever social questions are sought to be solved, the name and work of Richard Seddon stand high. We could have wished that the voyage upon which he had entered had been permitted to close - that the end of his life journey had not preceded it - that he might once more have been able to see the land he loved, to whose advancement he had devoted himself. The recollection of his visit will remain with us, marked by his last statesmanlike efforts to bring about greater amity and unity between’ the Commonwealth and the beautiful island Colony of which he was the honoured head. A national representative he was and will be, and although we must ever regret the sudden extinction of a life still brimful of promise, of high hopes, of ideals pursued bv practical means, and never abandoned while realization was possible, we can yet be thankful that it has been our privilege once more to meet and work with a true man, whose memory will live long after we and our generation have passed away.

Mr. McLEAN (Gippsland) [2.50]. - I desire to second the motion that has been proposed in such feeling and appropriate terms by the Prime Minister. With evenword that has fallen from him, I thoroughly and heartily agree. It seems to me - and I think to every honorable member of this House - that there is something ineffably sad and pathetic in the reflection that the man who was amongst us in this very chamber at our last meeting, apparently in the enjoyment of his usual health, and in the full vigour of a sturdy and robust manhood, should, in the brief interval that has since passed, have gone to his last, long home. It would be, perhaps, too much to say that during his long public career, Richard Seddon- never committed any errors of judgment, but whilst I would not go so far as to say that, I do sa.y - and I think all will concede it - that his was a powerful and strong personality. He was a natural leader of men - able, tactful, and resourceful. He was a true democrat in the verv highest sense, a deep sympathizer with all the sufferings and hardships of humanity, a man who sympathized with all the legitimate aspirations of the great masses of the people, and at the same time an Imperialist in the widest and best sense of the term. The great love and patriotism that he had ever displayed towards his adopted country was but part and parcel of that still deeper love and wider patriotism which, as a true Briton, he ever evinced towards the great and glorious Empire of which he was so worthy a son, and of which his own adopted country was but a unit. His sudden removal from the busy stage of public life must, I think, have come as a great shock, not only to the people of his adopted country and to all who knew him, but above and beyond all, to his good wife and bereaved family. Let us hope, Mr. Speaker, that it may be some consolation to them to know that after all, his end was such as I have no doubt he would have chosen for himself. He passed away after a long, distinguished, and honorable public career, whilst still in the full possession of his great mental faculties, whilst still at the very zenith of his power and popularity, leaving behind him a name that will long be revered by many thousands of people whom he had provided with comfortable homes - a name that, I venture to say, will live long in the annals of his country, through many succeeding generations.

Mr. WATSON (Bland) [2.53].- I merely desire to say that I join fully in the expressions of regret that have been uttered by the Prime Minister and the acting leader of the Opposition in respect of the untimely death of Mr. Seddon. As one who spent the greater part of his boyhood’s years in New Zealand, I know something of the enormous and Herculean task which was undertaken by that gentleman and his Government when he entered upon office some fourteen years ago, and I can fully sympathize with the people of that Colony in the loss which they have sustained by his removal from amongst them. New Zealand, during his term of office, with the assistance of those associated with him, replaced stagnation with progress, destitution with prosperity, and I honestly feel that on this occasion she has suffered a loss from which it will take her a very long time indeed to recover. I agree also with the suggestive remark of the Prime Minister when he says that the loss is not confined to New Zealand alone, but that the influence of the work of Mr. Seddon extended far beyond his own Colony, far beyond even these communities under the Southern Cross - beyond even the Empire itself - into the hearths and homes of every set of people who are interested in social and progressive legislation. I can only say that, so far as I am con cerned, I should have much preferred that his life’s work had been completed, that the many additional courses that he had opened out for himself in prospective might have been followed with the same energy and vigour and earnest strenuousness that he exhibited in every other relation. Therefore, one must sincerely regret that he has been cut off in the sudden fashion that he has. I do not know what else I can add. He was certainly a man of initiative - one who never felt himself bound to follow the beaten path, but who blazed new tracks in legislation, and by demonstrating the practicability of scheme after scheme, reassured the timorous, not only in his owncommunity, but in others. I join fully in the regret that has been expressed at his untimely demise, and believing that Australasian democracy has indeed lost a champion, I feel that the only consolation we have is the hope that his bright example may act as an incentive to others to follow in his footsteps, and to, at any rate, endeavour to achieve as much in the public interest as was accomplished bv Mr. Seddon.

Mr. MALONEY (Melbourne) [2.57].- As one who has benefited much by the late Mr. Seddon’s help, by his personal kindness, and as a personal friend, may I be permitted to say a few word’s ? When he was over here upon a previous occasion not only his help, but his stimulating power, assisted me to override the great troubles which I was experiencing, and face them as a man should. He told me then that he liked me on account of my views, and on account of the party to which I belonged. Those words, strange to say, were reechoed in this hall a week ago, when he was with us. When in a joking way I said - “Well, Mr. Seddon, they would not invite me to come to you, but they brought my opponent,” he replied - “Never mind, my boy. You have Melbourne; hold it, and I shall see you again later on.” Subsequently he gave me half-an-hour of his company, when he spoke of the time when we had previously met, and of many other occasions. Never shall I forget his kindness. In my opinion no Englishman has yet placed upon, the statute-book of any nation or of any Colony the splendid humane Statutes for which he is responsible in New Zealand. He was the first to give to woman the right to vote equally with man. He was the first to take her from the category .of lunatics and criminals in which she is included in Victoria, to the disgrace of this State. He did that, and he did more.

He was instrumental in bringing about that beneficent reform under which woman, in her hour of trial, when she stands sentinel twixt life and death, is cared for by the State-paid nurse. In the last words that he spoke in public he gloried that New Zealand as a country had the lowest deathrate in the world - a death- rate that is equalled only by the city of Adelaide. When we look at these matters, have I not the right to say that, whereas last week one of the greatest of Englishmen was alive, to-day he is with the dead, the glorious dead - and that his name will be handed down with honour,not only here, but also in England ? We can indeed say, in all sincerity and with the deepest feeling, “ Peace to his spirit, honour to his ashes, and glory to his memory.”

Mr. KNOX (Kooyong) [3.].- Perhaps I may be permitted to add a few words in support of the motion now before the House, on behalf of the commercial community of the Commonwealth, who join, with one accord, in the expressions of profound regret at the death of so prominent a figure in our Empire. The loss to the sister State of New Zealand will be farreaching and probably irreparable. Mr. Seddon had congenial work still to do in perfecting and adjusting the great Liberal movement with which his name has been, and will ever continue to be, associated; but, so far as that movement will promote the good of the whole people and benefit humanity, it cannot die with him, but will still live on. His work, particularly in later years, was manifestly influencedby an earnest desire to better the position and relations of his people. Mr. Seddon was, in every sense of the word, a strong man. He was a born leader of men, and he was quick to discern the moving tide and influences of our democracy, and was ever ready to guide and advise it. He took no narrow provincial view of the situation ; he stood always for’ the Empire. In New Zealand, the Empire’s outpost in the Pacific, he stood as the nation’s sentinel, guarding our interests there, always watchful and far-seeing, and we cannotbut deeply deplore that some of his most far-seeing and statesmanlike recommendations should have been so long neglected. The Empire, Australia, and New Zealand are poorer to-day because Richard Seddon is dead, and there can be only one feeling throughout this Commonwealth - a feeling of profound regret at the loss of so prominent and so distinguished a citizen. I support the motion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Motion (by Mr.Deakin) agreed to -

That Mr. Speaker be requested to convey the resolution to Mrs. Seddon and the Government of New Zealand.

House adjourned at 3.5 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 June 1906, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060612_reps_2_31/>.