Alt banner image

Louisa Seddon, New Zealand’s secret ‘queen’

This is a sneak peek into edition 26 of Traces!

By Rick Giles

More than just support for her husband, former premier Richard Seddon, Australian-born Louisa Seddon was an influential giant of New Zealand politics.

Richard and Louisa Seddon married on 13 January 1869, and were one of New Zealand’s great power couples. Richard, who became New Zealand’s longest-serving and most famous prime minister (known as ‘premier’ in New Zealand), is known as ‘King Dick’, but the true story is just as much (or more) about his wife, a young woman from Melbourne who played a significant role in the nation’s politics.

According to Tom Brooking, who wrote Richard’s biography, Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own, Louisa stated herself that her husband ‘never made a major decision without first consulting her’. Yet, Louisa is also quoted as saying she is not one of the ‘New Women’ in the feminist movement (such as Kate Sheppard and Anna Stout), but that she was ‘quite satisfied to leave politics and public affairs to my husband’. What is this paradox of the Seddons?

The couple met in Melbourne when Louisa Spotswood was literally the (wealthy and attractive) girl next door to the hotel in which Seddon boarded. She was only 14 and the Englishman (20 years old) was a very long way from making fame and fortune, so the well-to-do family told him to back off and come back when he was worthy. After two years in New Zealand, Seddon still was not worthy, but he came for Louisa anyway and somehow conned the Spotswood family into believing otherwise.

Until the middle of 1870, the couple had no home of their own. Richard had made a life for himself in the wild frontier of the Westland District by being a strong man in a time of honour culture. He had failed to find gold, but scratched his living selling goods to those who did in a fairly poor and especially damp section of the roadless goldfields around Greenstone and Stafford. It was already being abandoned, so low-end storekeeper Seddon’s plan to make money from people rather than gold wasn’t paying. He also made his living as a bush lawyer (an unqualified legal advocate) for miners. Sometimes those miners didn’t pay up, so an essential part of Richard’s vocation was to sustain a reputation as a violent man who occasionally beat up the men who were indebted to his store.

To find out what the Seddons did next, check out the latest edition of Traces.

Pictured: Louisa and Richard Seddon in 1897. Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library

Join our mailing list