The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XXII. — Last Days
In later years the strenuous character of Mr. Seddon's life made its mark on his health. He felt the strain of the heavy tasks he voluntarily undertook. He found it necessary to take frequent rest and occasional holiday trips, and necessity compelled him to leave a great deal to his colleagues, and to the senior officers of the departments he controlled.
At the beginning of 1906, his health was in a very unsatisfactory condition, and it was clear that he would have to take another rest soon, and to make it a fairly long one. He had set on foot a proposal for holding a great International Exhibition at Christchurch, and his busy brain was devising many means to make it attractive to people in other countries. Early in May, after he had celebrated the anniversary of his accession to the Premiership, he received the following cablegram from Mr. T. E. Donne, Superintendent of the Tourist Department, who had gone to Australia, and was then in Sydney:—
“General opinion expressed here that if you could possibly arrange visit to Australia now, it would be of direct advantage to Exhibition, by creating special interest, likely to result in heartier co-operation. It is also desirable, in the interests of New Zealand commerce, that definite proposals should be discussed and propounded for a reciprocal tariff between the two countries before the meeting of the Federal Parliament. I have information from Melbourne to the same effect. If you concur and intend coming, kindly cable me. Newspapers are asking for information.”
Mr. Seddon fell in with Mr. Donne's suggestion, and left Wellington on May 12. “It will be a trip partly for health and partly for business,” he said. A few days before he left for Australia, he told a friend in Christchurch that he had had warnings. “They are serious warnings,” he said; “and the doctors tell me that I must get away or risk my life.” “But page 358 are you going to take a rest?” his friend asked him. “Oh yes,” he replied. “There will be the trip across; that will be nearly a week; and then I am not going to worry myself on the other side. There will be reciprocity, the Hebrides, and defence, and, perhaps, one or two other things to talk over with the Federal Premier, but this will be nothing compared with what I am doing here. Oh yes; I am going to take a rest.” “And I suppose that you will be banqueted and interviewed, and expected to make speeches just as you are here.” “No, I am going on a holiday. It must be a holiday. I can't give up work altogether while I can be of any use to the country, but I am not going to throw my life away. The doctors have treated me very frankly. They say that I have gone as far as it is safe to go, and that they won't be responsible if I go any further. It is hard, because there is so much left to do, but I suppose I must stop.”
He took a little rest while on the water, but politics and public affairs were always uppermost in his mind. On the day before he reached Sydney, he wrote a long letter to a gentleman in England who had been a political opponent of his in New Zealand many years previously. In this letter, he said:—
“We often think of you, and of your kindness and attention to us when we were in the Mother Country. My kind feeling towards you dates much farther back, for you were very considerate and kind to me, although, perhaps, as a young colt and turbulent spirit, I gave you more trouble than all the rest put together. Those were happy days, and looking back to those who took part I think we were not as generous to each other as we might have been, and perhaps construction was placed upon the actions of leading men of those days which, viewed in the light of the experience I have had myself, was hardly justifiable, and which now leads me to respect their memories. There is nothing like responsibility for sobering one.
“A funny thing occurred in respect to the well-remembered ‘compact’ of '79, when Swanson died. Considered in the light of subsequent events, I thought, and still think, that what the four Auckland members did at the time was the wrong thing to do, and yet the actions of Colbeck, Hurst, Wood, and Swanson were, with one or two exceptions, of such a character as to modify the strictures applied to the method adopted.
“I must thank you very kindly for your congratulations on the result of the last elections. It is true time works many changes, and you would be surprised to know the large number of people who supported and helped me. But their action was in accordance with common sense, and in no way reflected on their intelligence, and can be put in the following terms:—‘With Seddon we know where we are, and he will not go to the extremes. If anything happens to him we might get a weak Government, and then what would happen to us? It is page 359 better to be sure than sorry.' This is the keynote of the situation that led to the great majority of December 6th last. And the conclusions arrived at were quite right. Extremes on the part of either the labourites or the capitalists must lead to disaster. To exalt labour and to improve the conditions of the workers is noble, but at the same time it is wise and just to give security to capital, to ensure its profitable employment, and the corollary of the development of the resources of the country.
“On May 1st last I commenced my fourteenth year of office as Premier, and the papers say—and I suppose when both the Conservative and Liberal Press say it they cannot be far off the mark—that I am firmer in the saddle now than ever. However, I have my troubles before me, although with the whole of our party returned, and with only a few new members (or in other words ‘young colts’) to break in, the duties of the whips and the driving of the coachman will not entail much anxiety. Imagine a party of fifty members, and to lose only one of them, and he (Willis, of Wanganui) to be replaced by another Government supporter. I think this might claim to be a record in parliamentary history. However, I must leave New Zealand politics and give you a little idea as to how the Home elections and their results strike a New Zealander.
“In the first place, I was not surprised at the defeat of the Balfour Government. Had the result been otherwise, I should have been astonished, but I did not expect the dèbâcle that took place. Between the Chinese in South Africa, the muddle in regard to education and tariff reform, without the people being educated, was enough to wreck two or three Governments. How on earth they allowed the Rand mine-owners to juggle them into the importation of Chinese into South Africa, one cannot understand. The method was clumsy, and the Government should never have touched it. All they ought to have done was to have swamped the country with people of our own race. It was a splendid opportunity; they should have put road, railway, and irrigation works in hand, so as to provide work for immigrants. Numbers would have gone to the mines, people would have settled down, and I go the length of saying even supposing they had allowed Europeans—Scandinavians, Italians, and other Continental nations—to come, it would have been better than to have introduced the Chinese. Chinese, from my long experience on the goldfields, were never any good underground, whilst their other characteristics are sufficient to condemn their introduction into any country. They have proved dear labour, much dearer than Kaffir, just as I anticipated. As below-the-surface miners they have proved to be no good, both in Australia and Cuba. They are, moreover, a source of trouble to the present Government, who seem to be ‘backing down.’
“The education question, too, had got to be solved by the Bannerman Government. It is just possible that between the Catholics and the Anglicans on the one side, and the Nonconformists on the other, they might steer a middle course and put the Bill through. But they have got a hard row to hoe. As one who had a taste of it in our own colony, you will understand it. I think myself that in the end the secular system with the modified Bible-reading or religious instruction out of school hours would go through, but education should be put outside of sectarian influences.
“In respect to the parties at Home, Mr. Chamberlain, to my mind, still stands out as a bold and brilliant leader, and I am inclined to forgive him a little of the Chinese question. The courageous manner in which he tackled tariff reform stands out in bold relief as contrasted with Balfour's weakness on page 360 almost every question that has arisen. The one great blunder that was made was that he and the Government started before they were ready. You know better than I do how slow the average English working man is, how he requires to be educated up to a reform to a much larger extent than we do in the colonies, and it was ignorance on the part of the masses that led to the defeat of the Government in respect to the preferential tariff. There is a warmth of feeling at Home towards the colonies, but when it comes to a small loaf without the corresponding advantages, as understood by the workers, the way the votes were cast does not in the slightest take me by surprise. It required, in my opinion, another three to five years before the people at Home could properly understand what closer union with the colonies really means, and what an important part trade and commerce play in maintaining the solidarity of the Empire, and in strengthening the unbreakable bond of union.
“I must thank you very much for the information given regarding the meat freezing companies and shipping rings, although I see no reason, so far as shipping combines are concerned, to alter the statements I have made, and to which you take exception. When at Home in 1897 I saw the danger there was of New Zealand produce being hemmed in and around London and the Midland Counties. I ascertained that the Argentine and America were at work. The only way to counteract them was to get in amongst the working and middle classes, and by introducing our meats ensure a larger and more extended market. I am satisfied now that a great mistake was made by the meat producers and meat companies here opposing my ‘mutton shops,’ and I still feel sure, and I am fully convinced, that the colony suffered. The same principle has now been adopted by private firms, who have done exceedingly well. The Argentine also has profited by what ought to have fallen to New Zealand. However, on the whole, things are now much better than they were before. My principal trouble is the consumers in the colony. They are complaining at having to pay Home prices for their meat, caused, so they allege, by the export of our meat to the Mother Country. There is something in this. But for this exporting the local market prices would be much lower, but they fail to realise there must be an export for the surplus products, and this causes a collateral advantage to the producer and to the worker. There is one thing that we must do, and that is to counteract the distance we are from the markets of the world. It is no use for us to give reduced freights on our railways if we find our efforts to lower freights checkmated by shipping companies. There is no doubt whatever, as compared with Australia, even making allowances for the vessels to have to go tramping round from one port to another in New Zealand collecting cargo, that the freights from our colony are much higher. Amongst our other ventures, I do not wish to start the colony with a mercantile fleet, but at the same time it is well for the shipping companies to realise that in these days they must be satisfied with moderate profits.
“I am just now on a visit to Australia, seeking a little rest before the session commences. The only large question is the national annuities. I am going to try my 'prentice hand, where other stronger and better men have failed. I think my scheme will take. It is practical and simple; summed up, it means that those people who assist themselves, exercise thrift, and pay a certain amount into a given fund, will have the amount so paid subsidised by the Government. The scheme will also assist friendly societies, and by this means a number who would otherwise probably come on the old age pension will be encouraged, by the page 361 exercise of thrift, assisted by the Government, to provide for themselves. Of course, there is a class that will never assist themselves no matter what you do, and they will be provided for under the old age pension scheme. Going into this matter carefully, as I have done during the last few weeks, I find that Sir Harry Atkinson was not far out, and if he had kept clear of the compulsion proposed in his scheme he would have had a very good workable provision for the masses in this country.
“The Imperial Government has called the next conference of Prime Ministers for April 15th next. If all goes well I shall again represent this colony, and Mrs. Seddon and members of my family will be with me. I do not anticipate, however, that much good will eventuate, and if we hold what has already been conceded I shall be satisfied.”
When he arrived in Sydney, on May 16, he was received with an extraordinary outburst of enthusiasm. No statesman who has visited Australia has been received with greater demonstrations of admiration and love. He visited Sydney, Melbourne, Bendigo, and Ballarat, and made, in fact, a great triumphal procession through the land. He was accompanied by staffs of reporters, and Australian newspapers published long accounts of his doings. He transacted important negotiations in regard to reciprocal tariffs between New Zealand and Australia, made speeches, gave interviews, attended banquets and conferences, received deputations, and worked from early in the morning until late at night. It was a very characteristic holiday.
In Melbourne, he was entertained by residents of his own country, and there he made his last speech to New Zealanders. He was received into the drawing-room of the Grand Hotel with cries of “Haeremai Te Hetana.”* During the evening he spoke for an hour, and “God's Own Country” had a large share of his remarks. He said:—
* “Welcome Seddon.”
“There must be educational equipment for the battle of life. In New Zealand the University is within the reach of every man's child. There are to-day free places and scholarships for three thousand; thus master minds will be at the command of commerce and politics. When the best minds of a nation guide its destinies that nation is bound to hold an exalted position. The country which in the future is going to rule the destinies of the world is that in which primary, technical, and secondary education is within the reach of all.
“There is no mistaking New Zealand's loyalty and imperialism. We know that we are integral parts of a great Empire, living under a flag which ensures justice and freedom. The self-governing colonies must prove themselves buttresses of the Mother Country. Only the other day there was war in the East. Now we read that the Chinese are arming and training, and there are four hundred millions of them. There are four million people in Australia. The time is coming to be on guard. If trouble comes from the East the battleground will be Australia. If anything happens to Australia what will happen to New Zealand? These dangers will have to be provided against. Then who can say that trouble might not come from the West under changed conditions of the future? The United States is bent on securing the trade of the Pacific. If trouble does come from the West, New Zealand will have to bear the brunt of it. She is well prepared. There are thirty thousand trained men and boys there, a number relative to the population unequalled in the civilized world. I believe that the people in the colonies will be true to their traditions. Their race has fought at Trafalgar, at Alma, Inkermann, and Waterloo, and held Mafeking and Ladysmith. If necessity arises the colonials will prove themselves worthy chips of the ‘old block.’
“The self-governing colonies have a great opportunity to avoid what has taken place in older countries. They are building the foundations of a great nation. At the creation of the world it was never intended by the Divine Master that only a few should have the enjoyment of the good things, and that countless thousands should want for food. The sooner selfishness is thrown aside the better.”
He never struck the imperial note more effectively than whilst on that visit to Australia, and he never spoke more page 363 enthusiastically of the good he hoped to do for the people of New Zealand. He told the Federal Labour Party, when its members entertained him at lunch, that they were engaged in a noble work, but that their first endeavour should be to improve the material conditions of the people. “We must shape our labours so as to avert from our children the heritage of degradation and misery they have had in the Old Country. I have been for years the butt of much abuse and ridicule for what has been called my experimental legislation; but where am I to-day? The greatest curse of our day is the sacrifice of principle to expediency. Men are too much afraid of pushing a principle to its logical conclusion.”
It was on Friday, June 8th, that he spoke those words to the Federal Labour Party in Melbourne. On the same day he had a conference with Mr. Deakin and Sir William Lyne on trade reciprocity, and he left Melbourne for Sydney by train in the afternoon. Sir William Lyne accompanied him on a part of his journey, and in the train the conference was continued.
He had little rest that night. Arriving in Sydney at 11 a.m., he went to his hotel, and worked with his secretaries all day. In the evening he attended a performance at the Criterion Theatre with several members of his family, and afterwards was present with them at a supper in the House. After supper he found that he had more work to do at his hotel, so back he had to go with his secretaries, and he remained there until 2 o'clock on Sunday morning. In, apparently, the best of health, he went on board the “Oswestry Grange,” but he had no sooner reached the steamer than he sought his cabin, evidently with the object of securing rest at last. He had been buoyed up with the magnificent reception accorded to him wherever he went. Now that his hard holiday was over, he felt jaded and in need of real rest. “It's the hardest month I've had,” he said in a tone which showed that he was utterly worn out; “I'm glad it's over.”
On rising after a rest on Sunday, he stated that he did not feel very bright, but he did not seem to be seriously ill. As he was no better after lunch, he rested on his couch in his cabin, and Mrs. Seddon remained with him until he fell asleep. He page 364 slept for nearly two hours, and rose refreshed. His mind was still on his work, and he said that on the following day he would prepare some speeches he intended to deliver at the opening of Parliament. He also referred with satisfaction to the fact that he had practically arranged the reciprocal treaty between New Zealand and Australia.
At 6.20 p.m., when the steamer had passed the Heads, he was sitting in his cabin with Mrs. Seddon and Mr. J. F. Andrews, his private secretary. Suddenly placing his head on his wife's shoulder, he said, “Oh, mother,” and expired immediately.
His death was dramatic. The plaudits of the Australian nation were ringing in his ears, and he was returning to his own country to put into practice schemes he had devised to help his people. Throughout his Australian visit he had thrown off the ill-health that had beset him; he had spurned the ease to which he was entitled, and, apparently, was in splendid health. In his last moments, he suffered no pain, and he passed away in the happy possession of the love of his own country and the esteem of the Empire to which he belonged. He had had a hard life of toil, but he died a happy death. It was such a death as he, or any other man, might have wished for. He was in the enjoyment of great influence, which he was exercising for good; and the public, in whose gratitude he had little faith when he entered politics twenty-seven years previously, was showering upon him honour after honour and kindness after kindness. The time was fast approaching when he would have to relinquish the work he loved. He had already realised that; and he had made up his mind to retire from the Premiership when he returned to the colony after attending the Premiers' Conference in London in April, 1907. But Death anticipated him, and he passed away at the height of his career.
The steamer was taken back to Sydney, and when the sad news was sent abroad it created a profound sensation in the whole of Australia. The Australians were shocked to learn that the great man who had come to visit them, and who had said so much to them about the destiny of the Empire and the aims of humanitarian reformers, had suddenly passed away. His last page 365 message to the public, delivered a few hours before his death, was full of the imperialistic spirit:—
“Ask the British Government to take care of the colonies. The Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments are incensed at the Imperial Government Conference fixing conditions of dual protectorate in the New Hebrides without first consulting the colonies so deeply interested. The Imperial Government calls upon us now for advice on what is already decided, making our difficulties very great. The entire subject is of vital importance to the Commonwealth and New Zealand. We ought to have been represented at the Conference. If anybody had been there for us who knew anything about the subject, the result would have been very different. Whoever represented Britain, French diplomacy was too much for them. I cannot honourably say anything further, my hands and tongue are tied by the Imperial Government, but I wish I had the power of Joshua to make the sun stand still.”*
The last telegram he despatched was sent to Mr. Bent, Premier of Victoria:—
“Just leaving for God's Own Country.”
In New Zealand the grief was intense. The news came on Monday afternoon, and with one impulse the people stopped the ordinary transactions of the day. All business places and offices were closed, and the whole country mourned. Nobody had expected the end, and the suddenness with which it came seemed to stupefy the public.
The “Oswestry Grange” left Sydney again late on Monday night, and took the body to Wellington. Those who were on board state that they will never forget the voyage. They say that as one day followed the other the mournfulness of the journey increased, until it became heart-breaking. The ship's company went about their duties subdued and depressed. When the snow-clad Mount Egmont was sighted the grief on the steamer deepened. Shortly after Wellington harbour was entered, the Government steamer “Tutanekai,” with members of Mr. Seddon's family, the Hon. W. Hall-Jones, Acting-Premier, and other members of the Ministry, and a few personal friends, went alongside, and then the “Oswestry Grange” steamed up to the wharf and was berthed, and the body was taken to the ministerial residence at Molesworth Street.
* Given in an interview with the Sydney representative of the “British Australasian.”
Soon after day-break on the morning of the day of the funeral, June 21st, 1906, Maori mourners began to assemble at the Parliamentary Buildings. There were several hundreds of them, and they represented nearly all the New Zealand tribes. A few tribes, who were not present, sent messages of sorrow.
At 7.45 a.m., the coffin was carried into the lobby of the House of Representatives by a company of the New Zealand Permanent Artillery. It was followed by the Hon. W. Hall-Jones (the new Premier) and other Ministers, and Mr. Seddon's sons and other male relatives. Some of the chiefs had placed on the floor, beneath the picture of Queen Victoria, some beautiful flax cloaks and mats. These were the “hopaki,” or wrappings for the coffin. Treasured ancestral weapons, taiahas and mérés, were placed on the floor beside the coffin. They were gifts in honour of the dead.
Behind the chief mourners and the Ministers there followed several old friends of the late Premier. They remained there for a few minutes, and then quietly left the lobby, which was given up to the Maoris.
A woman's high-keyed voice, raised in the opening cries of a tangi-wail, was heard, and the Maoris, in a compact body, with the women in front, marched in. About fifty women formed this advance-guard of the “bringing of the tears,” as the Maoris call it. They trod slowly, turning this way and that way, but always keeping their heads bowed, until the front rank was close to the coffin. All the women of the tribes were of high birth and station. Most of them had blue tattoo marks on chins and lips, the cherished “tohu.” All were dressed in black. From their ears, hung by black ribbons, and around their necks, they wore greenstone ornaments and glistening white sharks' teeth, as in olden days. On their heads and shoulders there were green leaves and chaplets, the ancient insignia of mourning. They carried green branches in their hands, and kept time with these to the shrill dirge: “Haehaea! Ripiripia!” “Score the flesh; scarify your bodies as with knives!” This was the burden of their opening song, and they kept time to it, drawing their hands page 367 up and down and across their breasts and shoulders, in imitation of the ancient funeral custom of lacerating the flesh with flakes of obsidian or mussel-shells.
In front of these women there came a chieftainess from the Wanganui district, Wiki Taitoko. She is a daughter of Major Kemp, and a woman of commanding presence. With Utauta, a lady of rank from the Ngatiapa tribe, she gave the time to the main body of mourners in the “maimai,” the chant and dance of grief.
The men strangely and strikingly represented the old and the new. There were men who had fought for and against the Europeans in the Maori war. A college-bred Maori member of Parliament stood side by side with old Poma Haunui, whose deeply tattooed face singled him out for notice. He is one of the few survivors of a gallant band of friendly Maoris who defeated the rebellious and fanatical Hauhaus on Moutoa Island, in the Wanganui River, in 1864, and saved the Wanganui settlement. Tuta Nihoniho is chief of the Ngatiporou tribe on the East Coast of the North Island. He and his tribesmen were always friendly. He holds the New Zealand war medal for his services with Major Ropata Wahawaha, in the Urewera campaigns of 1869–71. Near to him there stood Tutange Waionui, who was a Hauhau in his younger days, and was one of the most active scouts of the famous Hauhau leader, Titokowaru, in the Taranaki war. The most conspicuous figure of them all was that of the Hon. James Carroll, the Native Minister, one of Mr. Seddon's colleagues.
The first wild burst of the “maimai” song subsided. The swaying women seated themselves on the floor and left a narrow lane, through which one or two chiefs advanced to place fine mats beside the other Maori treasures at the side of the coffin. The hum of weeping rose, led by the old tattooed ladies of Ngatikahungunu and other tribes. The Wanganui men, led by their chief Takarangi Mete Kingi, who quivered a polished méré in the air, chanted in chorus one of their laments.
Mr. Carroll addressed the Maoris. “Haere mai e te iwi takoto nei,” he said; greeting to all the tribes from both islands. Their shelter had gone, their provider had been taken away. page 368 The noble totara tree had fallen, cut off by the axe of Death. He had gone to the Great Night. Nothing could stay the hand of Death, but loving messages of sympathy could, perhaps, do something to assuage the keen sorrow of the bereaved ones. In that spirit it was desired to present the widow and children of the late Mr. Seddon with the Maoris' “mihi,” their loving message of sorrow and condolence.
Turning to the sons of the late Premier, Captain Seddon, and Messrs. T. Y. Seddon and Stuart Seddon, Mr. Carroll said that the whole of the Maori people felt most poignantly the death of their parent, and he trusted that if anything could in any way temper the sorrow of the afflicted family, it would be that little tribute of affection and grief from the native race.
He read from an engrossed scroll an address to Mrs. Seddon in Maori and English. It had been signed by more than 100 Maoris, men and women. The English, which was drafted by Messrs. Heke and Ngata, is as follows:—
To Mrs. Seddon.
Richard John Seddon,
Premier of New Zealand,
The Maori Tribes of Aotearoa (North Island)
and Te Waipounamu (South Island).
“Remain, O Mother, with thy children and thy children's children! Tarry ye a while in the house of mourning, in the chamber of Death. Clasp but the cold form of him who was to thee husband beloved. He is now from thee parted, gone into the Dark Night, into that long, long sleep. God be with thee in thine hour of trial. Here he lies in the calm majesty of death.“Rest, O Father! The tribes have assembled to mourn their loss. Aue! The canoe is cast from its moorings, its energy and guide no more. The redhued bird, the Kaka-kura,* the ornament of Aotearoa, the proud boast of the Waipounamu, the mighty heart of the land, the moving spirit of the people—fare thee well, a long farewell! Pass on, O noble one, across the long sands of Haumu, beyond the barrier of Paerau—going before to join the illustrious dead. Woe unto us that are left desolate in the Valley of Sorrow. In life thou wert great. Across the Great Ocean of Kiwa,† beset by the turbulent waves of faction, mid the perverse winds of opinion, thou didst essay forth that thy
* The red parrot.page break page break page 369 peoples should reap of benefits, that these islands and thy mother race should see and do their duty in the broader spheres of Empire and humanity. Fate, relentless, seized thee in the mid-ocean of effort, and compelled thee into the still waters of death, of rest.
† The Pacific Ocean.
“Sleep thou, O Father; resting on great deeds done, sure that to generations unborn they will be as beacons along the highways of history. Though thou art gone, may thy spirit, which so long moved the heart of things, inspire us to greater, nobler ends.
“Stay not your lamentations, O ye peoples, for ye have indeed lost a father. Verily our pa of refuge is razed to the ground. The breastwork of defence for great and small is taken. Torn up by the roots is the overshadowing rata tree. As the fall of the towering totara tree in the Deep Forest of Tane* (Te Wao-nui-a-Tane), so is the death of a mighty man. Earth quakes to the rending crash. Our shelter gone—who will temper the wind? What of thy Maori people hereafter unless thou canst from thy distant bourne help and inspire the age to kindlier impulse and action!
“So bide ye in your grief, bereaved ones! Though small our tribute, our hearts have spoken. Our feet have trod the sacred precincts of the court-yard of Death (te marae o aitua). Our hearts will be his grave. Love will keep his memory green through the long weary years.Hei konei ra! Farewell!”
Mr. Carroll concluded his oration by chanting a fragment of a beautiful old funeral dirge of his race:—
No te ao te hua ra tanga
Riro ki te po.
Waiho noa hei tumanako
Ma te ngakau.
Kei tawhiti to hou tinana,
Kei te reo o tuku;
Tenei au e noho ana
I te pouritanga,
Mapu kau noa atu i konei.
Au koha hau raro——i !
By day what thoughts of thee arise!
But thou'rt vanished in the Night of Death!
Naught is left my heart to cherish
But fond longings—fond and vain.
Far, far away thy form has taken flight;
Far, far thou'rt severed from my side,
And spirit voices breathe thy name.
Here in this lonely world
I sit with drooping head
And nurse my grief in depths of black despair.
Yet on the gentle northern breeze
Thy tender message, loved one, ever sighs to me.
* Tane, the God of the Forest.
Then tribe after tribe rose to pay tribute to the dead. Chief after chief stood up to deliver his “poroporoaki,” his salute to the spirit of Te Hetana.* Up rose Hori Te Huki, a grey old chief of Ngatikahungunu. “Haere atu, e koro! Farewell, O Old Man!” he cried. “Go thou to that last dwelling-place to salute thy honoured ancestors, to greet the spirits of the mighty dead.”
Then Te Huki broke out into a plaintive lament, in which all his people quickly joined in a resounding chant. It was an ancient lament by a widow for her departed husband:—
Restless I lie
Within my lonely house,
For the loved one of my life
Has passed away.
The singers, their voices rising and falling in wild cadences, went on to compare the dead chieftain to an uprooted tree: “My shelter from the blustering wind, alas, 'tis now laid low.”
Then the poet developed another beautiful piece of imagery:—
Behold yon glistening star so bright—
Perhaps 'tis my beloved friend,
Returned to me again.
O sire, return!
And tread with me again
Thy old loved paths.
Changing the metaphor again, the mourners chanted all together:—
O thou that art gone,
Thou wert as a great canoe
Decked with the snowy down
Of lordly albatross.
In another dirge, introducing many mythological allusions, the poet said:—“Thou'rt borne away in the canoe Rewarewa; snatched from us by the gods Raukatauri and Ruatangata. Dip deep the paddles, all together, to bear thee far away.”
* Mr. Seddon.
Eruera te Kahu and Ratana Ngahina, chiefs of the Ngatiapa tribe, led their people in the singing of this finely-phrased mourning chant, an adaptation of an apakura:—
Haere ra, Hetana, i te ara haukore,
Taku ate hoki ra, taku pa kairiri
Ki te ao o te tonga;
Taku manu-korero ki te nohanga pahii,
Taku manu hakahaka ki runga ki nga iwi.
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ri te kahu Tahu-whenua;
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Taharangi.
Marewa e te iwi
Nana i whitiki taku motoi-kahurangi,
Ka mau ki te taringa;
Ka mau ki te kaki:
Taku pou-mataaho e tu i te whare.
Kia tu mai koe i te ponaihu o te waka,
Kia whakaronga koe te wawara tangi wai hoe,
I roto Poneke,
I te Runanga-nui,
Waiho i muri ne i to pukaikura—i!
Pass on, Hetana, along the quiet ways,
The beloved one of my heart, my shelter and defence
Against the bleak south wind.
My speaking-bird that charmed the assembled tribes,
That swayed the people's councils.
Clothe him, the Father, with the stately garments,
The very fine mats Tahu-whenua and Taharangi,
Place in his ear the precious jewel-stone,
The greenstone kahurangi,
Hang on his breast the koko-tangiwai,
Of glistening lucid jade,
Oh, thou wert a prop within the house;
At the prow of the canoe thou wert,
Ears bent to the plashing sound
Of many paddles
In the waters of Poneke,*
In the contentions of the People's Council.
Our prized kaka-bird has gone,
The plumes alone remain.
* Port Nicholson, the former name of Wellington Harbour.
Keen blows the nor'-west wind,
Wind from the Mountain-land,
Bringing sad thoughts of thee.
Where, O Hetana, art thou gone?
Perhaps in council-hall thou'rt laid,
To await thy people's coming.
Yes, there lies thy mortal shell,
Resting at last
From its many, from its innumerable travels,
From its ceaseless going to and fro.
Yes, thou return'd'st to thy people
Round yonder mountain-cape,
Back to thy dwelling-place—
Rest from thy travels!
O well-beloved one,
Sharp pangs dart through my soul,
O lordly totara-tree,
The pride of Tane's woods,
Thou'rt lowly laid,
As was the canoe of Rata,
The son of Tane launched
For vengeance on the slayer Matuku,
Who soon himself was slain.
'Twas thou alone that Death didst pluck
From the midst of living men,
And now thou stand'st alone
Like the bright star of morning;
For us naught but sad memories;
Sleep soundly, Friend!
Wi Pere, who represented the Eastern Maori district in Parliament for many years, was the next speaker. “Farewell,”' he cried, “Farewell, O friend of mine! Depart to the Great Night, to Po, that opens wide for you.” When he began his tribal funeral chant he was joined by his people of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Te Rongowhakaata, and Ngatiporou in the stentorian song:—
Farewell, O Friend!
Depart to thine ancestral company.
Thou'rt plucked from us
As the flax-shoot is plucked from the bush
And held aloft among the mourners.*
Thou that wert our boast, our pride,
Whose name has soared on high,
Thy people now are lone and desolate.
Indeed thou'rt gone, O Friend!
Thou'rt vanished like our ocean-fleet of old—
The famed canoes, Atamira, Hotutaihirangi,
Taiopuapua, Te Roro-tua-maheni,
The Araiteuru! and Nuku-tai-memeha,
The canoe that drew up from the sea
This solid land.
Wi Pere began again, and all his people chanted with him:—
Affliction's deepest gloom
Enwraps this house,
For in it Seddon lies
Whose death eats out our hearts.
'Twas he to whom we closest clung
In days gone by.
O whispering north-west breeze,
Blow fair for me,
Waft me to Poneke,
And take me to the friend I loved
In days gone by.
O peoples all and tribes,
Raise the loud cry of grief,
For the Ship of Fate has passed
Port Jackson's distant cape,
And on the all-destroying sea
Our great one died.
* The reference to the plucking of the flax-shoot is in connection with the methods of divination practised in ancient time by the tohungas, or priests, before a war-party set out on the enemy's trail. The reader of the omen plucked the “rito” or central shoot of a flax-plant. If the end broke off evenly and straight, it was a good sign, presaging an easy victory. If it was jagged and gapped, or torn, that was a “tohu kino,” or evil omen, a warning that a leading chief of the war party would be slain. The ancient canoes named were some of those which brought the ancestors of the East Coast tribes to New Zealand from the islands of Polynesia. The Araiteuru is the sailing canoe which was wrecked on the beach near Moeraki six centuries ago. Nuku-tai-memeha is one of the mythological names of the canoe from which, in the days of remote antiquity, the great god Maui fished up the North Island of New Zealand.
Whakarongo e te rau
Tenei te tupuna o te mate.
The Maoris sprang to their feet and broke into a grand chorus, an old chant to Death. They stamped and threw their arms from side to side. The women waved their green branches, and as the sonorous poem was chanted with full voice, they seemed to be defiantly challenging Death. No translation can convey the pathos and poetic force of the lament, but the words may be given. They are as follow:—
Hearken O ye people!
This is the parent of Death,
Our common ancestor,
Who must embrace us all.
'Twas conceived in the Reinga,*
'Twas engendered in the Dark, Sad Night.
'Tis but a breath from heaven,
And we pass away for ever.
We fall, and prone we lie,
And ever soundly sleep.
We slumber with our knees drawn up,
We slumber stricken in a heap.
I liken me to yon bright starry sign,
That round and round revolves.
(We circle our short lives and then pass on),
I am but as a wandering sprite—
Behold the hawk that soars so far above
In summer skies—
And listen to the sullen matuku,
The bittern† that bellows in the swamp
(E hu ana i to repo—i—e!)
With eyes rolling, feathers dancing, black tresses tossing, and weapons brandished in the air, the Maoris ended their great song with a long drawn “E—e!”
* Te Reinga, the Maoris' name for Spirits' Bay, where, it was thought, spirits of the dead departed from this world for the other world.
† The Southern Cross.
† The matuku, or bittern, apparently, is taken as the symbol of death.
Takarangi, still quivering his méré in an excited hand, cried his loud farewell, higher and higher until he almost screamed it:—
“Farewell! Depart! Depart!
And greet your many ancestors.”
Then he snatched up a soft flax mat on which he had been kneeling, and, advancing, placed it at the foot of the bier. There arose again the wild heart-breaking cry, “Haere atu, Haere atu E Koro!” “Go, O, Old Man, to That Place, That Place!”
Subsiding into respectful silence, after their excited outburst, the Maoris formed up in line, and with bowed heads and tear-stained faces, filed past the coffin in order to shake hands with the Premier's sons and take their last look at their friend.
The body lay in state for three hours, and thousands of the dead Premier's “subjects,” as many of them loved to call themselves, passed in front of it. There was a service in the pro-cathedral, and the procession followed the remains to Observatory Hill, where the worker found a resting-place. On the day of the funeral, the whole colony was in mourning. The occasion was absolutely unique. One impulse ran through the whole community; one thought prevailed; and one sentiment was in all breasts. The man who had stood at the head of the administration for thirteen years, who had toiled with the people and for them, and who had been called suddenly away, was in every mind. They saw him again, as they had known him best, with his kingly presence and his majestic bearing, when he loved to come amongst them, listening to their troubles, inquiring into their grievances, righting their wrongs, and granting their petitions with the air and grace of a mighty monarch. He had had many enemies, as well as many friends, but all joined in reciting the good he had done, and extolling his splendid qualities.
The sorrow caused by his death was felt in all parts of the Empire. When the news was announced to the world, messages of condolence were sent to New Zealand.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies sent the following messages to the Hon. W. Hall-Jones:—
“I am commanded by His Majesty to convey to you the expression of the deep regret with which he has received the intelligence of the death of the page 376 Prime Minister of New Zealand. His Majesty is assured that the loyal and distinguished services which Mr. Seddon has rendered during his long tenure of office will secure for his name a permanent place among the statesmen who have most zealously aided in fostering the sentiment of kinship on which the unity of the Empire depends.”
“His Majesty's Government have received with the greatest regret the news of the death of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Please convey to Mrs. Seddon expressions of my deepest sympathy, and to the people of New Zealand our sense of the loss which they and we have all sustained by the removal of a statesman so distinguished in the history of the colony and the Empire.”
The Queen's message to Mrs. Seddon was as follows:—
“Accept my deepest sympathy in your overwhelming sorrow, which the whole of England shares.”
The Prince of Wales sent the following message to Mrs. Seddon:—
“The Princess of Wales and I are deeply grieved at your irreparable loss. We shall never forget your dear husband's kindness to us in New Zealand.”
Sir Joseph Ward, who was in London, sent the following message to the Mayor of Hokitika:—
“The hearts of the people of New Zealand are saddened by the removal of the representative of Westland from the control of the colony's public affairs. The Empire, whose interests were ever uppermost in his mind, will feel the loss of Mr. Seddon's powerful advocacy for its welfare. Among those who will miss his great public figure most will be his steadfast friends of Westland. The miners have lost a true friend and champion, and all classes will join me in tendering his wife and family their deepest possible sympathy.”
The High Commissioner in London received the following letter from Mr. J. Chamberlain:—
“Dear Mr. Reeves,—I have seen, with the deepest regret, the news in the paper this morning of the sudden death of my friend the late Prime Minister of New Zealand. I have ventured to cable a short message to Mrs. Seddon, but desire also, through you, as the official representative of New Zealand in this country, to express my keen sense of the loss the colony has sustained by the death of its able and patriotic leader. On the various occasions on which I had the pleasure of meeting him, I formed the highest opinion of his ability, courage, and devotion to the interests of New Zealand, while I had full opportunity of recognising his far-seeing appreciation of the privileges and responsibilities of the Empire in which he so earnestly desired that New Zealand should take her appropriate place. At the time of the South African war, he was the first to appeal to his fellow-colonists to give a practical proof of their sympathy with the Mother page 377 Country in her time of trial, and he induced New Zealand to offer a larger material assistance both in men and money than any other British colony in proportion to their wealth and population. The spirit which moved him then is to be found in almost his latest spoken words delivered at Sydney just before he sailed for what has proved to be his last voyage. During his long conduct of affairs the colony has made splendid progress in all that constitutes the true greatness of a people, and his friends looked forward to a continuance of his valuable life as a guarantee for the advancement of the interests to which he had devoted himself with so much energy and power. The Empire has lost one of its noblest citizens, and the colony a great administrator, while in our personal capacity Mrs. Chamberlain and I sincerely deplore the death of one whom we were proud to number amongst our friends.
“I beg you to accept the assurance of our heartfelt sympathy with his family and with the colony which he served so well.”
About forty members of the Imperial Parliament, representing all parties, assembled in one of the committee rooms of the House of Commons and passed a motion of condolence. Sir Joseph Ward, who was present by invitation, acknowledged the appreciation. At a meeting of members of the Independent Labour Party in the House of Commons, a motion was passed expressing condolence with Mr. Seddon's family and admiration for the social work of the Government he had led.
In the Federal Parliament of Australia the following motion, moved by Mr. Deakin, the Premier, was passed:—
“That this House places on record its profound regret at the untimely decease of Mr. Seddon, and expresses its deep sympathy with his family and the people of New Zealand.”
When the session of the New Zealand Parliament opened on June 28th, Mr. Hall-Jones, as Premier, moved in the House of Representatives:—
“That this House desires to place on record its high sense of the devoted and distinguished services rendered to New Zealand and to the Empire by the late Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Richard John Seddon, P.C., and of the loss the colony has sustained by his death; and respectfully tenders to Mrs. Seddon and her family an assurance of its sincere sympathy with them in their bereavement.”
The motion was seconded by Mr. W. F. Massey, leader of the Opposition, and after he had spoken the members present rose to their feet while the Speaker put the motion, and remained standing until he had declared it carried. A similar motion was carried in the Legislative Council.page 378
The newspaper press in all parts of the Empire united in praising him. One of the most interesting eulogies published in the press was written by Sir William Russell to the editor of the Lyttelton Times, in which Mr. Seddon's old opponent said,-“At the moment of a great tragedy it is difficult to judge accurately of the character of the hero, difficult also to define a true perspective of the work on which he had been engaged while that work is still new, and much of it incomplete. It is about a quarter of a century since first I remember him sitting somewhere about the centre of the House of Representatives— aggressive, arrogant and resolute, caring little for the forms of the House, less for the opinions of those opposed to him—essentially a man, a man of the rough and ready type, a typical representative of a mining community, vigorous, alert, intelligent, but unrestrained, in marked contrast to his leader, Sir George Grey, calm, critical, controlled. And yet one reacted on the other. The old statesman acquired practical experience of the views of a new democracy; the young politician learned the art and craft of government.
“In our own Parliament he has been a New Zealand Bismarck—of indomitable will and endless fertility of resource—and he unquestionably deserves the epithet ‘Great!’ It may be objected that many of the measures he placed on the Statute Book were not of his own origination, but he had, at least, the wisdom to know what the people wanted, and the personal influence which persuaded an often unwilling Parliament, and the tactical ability to realise what he might insist upon.
“Many have asked, ‘Had Mr. Seddon enjoyed the benefit of a university education would he have been a greater man?’ I doubt it. Education polishes the exterior, but God alone creates the material out of which a man is fashioned. Many are dwarfed by fears of precedent, and the personality and inherent force of any but the strongest men may be contorted by the formalism of too much training. Possibly Mr. Seddon would have been less great had early discipline taught him to consider more carefully the conventionalities of the world. His genius had greater scope owing to an untrammelled brain.”
Many poems have been composed in his honour. The following three, all by New Zealanders, are amongst the best:—
Rest, Premier, rest: The end of strife has come,page break page break page 379
Thy strenuous life has reached its peaceful close:
Throughout the land is hushed its busy hum,
With slackened pulse the life within it flows:
What grief was this, that held a people dumb?
From each has passed a dear-loved, faithful friend,
And wet, blurred eyes are dim to see the end
To this our woe of woes;
Rest, Premier, rest.
Sleep, Leader, sleep. Whose ardour never slept; Thy teeming brain has borne abundant fruit; Before thy fellows thou hast proudly stept, Regardless of flung scorn and rancour's bruit.page 380
Whom thou hast led thou leavest, not unwept; Though blossoms fall, the fruit will yet mature; Thy works with thy young nation will endure, Deep runs their well-struck root; Sleep, Leader, sleep.
Rest, Toiler, rest; In regions of dim dawn, Through social wildernesses thou hast led,
Nor climbed alone, but all thy people drawn To sunny heights; but now thou liest dead,
Like that old seer on Pisgah's upland lawn: Though we behold the land of promise near, Our leader leaves us with our hope, our fear— God called him; bow the head. Rest, Toiler, rest.
Peace, Statesman, peace. Do we with blinded eyes, And hearts too fond, exalt thee o'er thy peers?
A voice, no echo of our own, replies (And each sad heart rejoices as it hears):
“Of him who now forever silent lies We know the worth; a life yet promise-filled Has passed away; a mighty heart is stilled.” With our tears flow their tears; Peace, Statesman, peace.
Sleep, Father, sleep. To prove the love we bear, May we accomplish that by thee begun;
What thou triumphant daredst, may we dare; What thou wouldst do, may that by us be done.
Father ! thyself thou wouldst not respite, spare— Shall we then sit and wait? Nay, rather spend Our lives as thine was spent, that so our end, Like thine, may worth declare. Sleep, Father sleep.
Rest, Premier, rest: Premier in very deed As we have known, as sister States have known.
Thy words prophetic hitherward did speed— “I leave for God's own country,” and alone We wait, and hope, yes hope, with hearts that bleed.
Thy soul was borne from life that knows not ease, Thy body tossed upon the billowy seas Mid brackishness and moan, Rest, Premier, rest.
Sleep, loved one, sleep: Our cheeks with waiting burned, Through calm, cold nights, and frore midwinter days:
No heart but day and night to theeward turned, No eye but seaward did expectant gaze;
No friend but for his leal true comrade yearned. Thy faults though seen, what could they but endear Thee to us all?—and now thou canst not hear Our sorrow or our praise; Sleep, loved one, sleep.
Peace, War-king, peace: Triumphant in the fight,
In midst of victory thou hast found thine end; Old errors vanquished, lo ! the cause of right Has found thee life-long champion, life-long friend.
The nation thou hast welded moves in might, And as thyself was known o'er sea and land, Mav it in van of nations purely stand; And now—God us defend. Peace, War-king, peace.* **
Out of the West, sound sleeping, Heedless now of the change of dawn and sunset, Dreaming deep of the olden clamour and onset, Wrapt in peace and swayed in the passionate swell Of hurrying waves high leaping To foam farewell.
Home to the hills that mourn him! With silence set on the lips that laughed and lightened, Darkness set in the clear grey eyes that brightened When once he swept the strings of the songful days. High, high, pale Death has borne him By far, dim ways.
Vain now the trumpets' blaring,
The bright, blithe cheers and shouts of the hearts that love him Wishful only of peace and the grass above him, Out of the dark strange sea he is seeking rest. Ended his strong wayfaring— Closed his long quest.page 381
** From the “Lyttelton Times”
Our days go heavily onward,
The light that lit us of old is no more shining;
The dark has hidden our path beyond divining;
The soul that saw the East where the morning gleams
Has swept in a long flight sunward
With all its dreams.
Far past our utmost knowing!
Tears, or desirous hearts, or the death flag streaming
Vex him not in the deeps of his secret dreaming;
Passion he knows no more, nor the face of woe,
Where poppies of peace are glowing,
And sweet winds blow.*
What does he see, what does he hear,
Through the Future's vistas streaming-
He whom we saw on his tragic bier,
And bore to his rest on the hillside here,
On the darkest, saddest day of the year?
Does he look on the sordid scheming
Of puny pigmies for power and place?
Does Grief's black wing throw even a trace
Of shadow over his placid face?
What does he see in his dreaming?
Out on the world beneath him he looks from his high watch-tower;
No glance for the Senate Halls, where he ruled in his day of power.
Why should he care for the paltry plots of the petty brood,
Each one pursuing his own, instead of his country's, good?
With freer and fuller sweep he looks over sea and land,
With sight made clear by the touch of the dread Magician's wand;
His keen eye scans the Empire, wherever Britons dwell,
But first it rests on the people and the land he loved so well.
Looking forth from his watch-tower, with eyes undimmed and free,
Down through New Zealand's future, he sees what we may not see-
Sees the full-ripened fruit, the wise laws that assuage
Arrows and darts of misfortune, sorrow and sadness of age;
Sees strong Plutus degraded, grinding Monopoly prone;
Sees men reap where they sowed, each one holding his own;
Infancy nurtured, Maidenhood guarded, and Motherhood blest;
Labour ennobled and richly rewarded with guerdon of rest;
page 382 Homes made brighter and purer, hearts more glad and elate;
* From the “New Zealand Times” (Wellington) and “Bulletin” (Sydney).
Woman, co-equal with Man, sharing the duties of State;
Sees Humanity, Justice, and Love going hand in hand-
Progress and Peace and Plenty blessing this beauteous land!
Over a world-wide Empire he casts his sweeping glance;
Argosies, commerce-laden, on the ocean's broad expanse
Sees, as they speed on errands of love, goodwill, and peace,
Bearing joy to the nations and wasteful War's surcease;
Sees one free flag waving o'er all the Pacific Isles,
Canada grand in her strength, Australia wreathed in smiles,
Africa cleansed and purged of the alien helot strain-
Our race, pure, glad, triumphant, through all the proud domain.
These lands have heard him and heeded; his words were as pregnant seed,
And the golden grain is an Empire united in thought and deed.
Why, then, should women weep or the hearts of men be sad?
The fruit of his life's long travail he sees, and his soul is glad.
Sleep, tired Worker, and, sleeping, see
Those glorious visions teeming-
See, in the days of the Yet to Be,
The world more glad and men more free,
Brotherhood reigning from sea to sea
And the Banners of Progress streaming!
Sweet be your rest on that windy hill,
While all that we wish for and work for still-
The final triumph of Good o'er Ill-
You see in your peaceful dreaming!*
J. Liddell Kelly.
* From the New Zealand Times.