Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 19, June 1975
By Norman Morton, J.P.
I have been asked to comment on the "Seddon Memorial" which was shown in an illustration featuring the "Waihi National Bank" in Journal 17.
The Hon. R.J. Seddon who became Prime Minister of N.Z. in 1893 continued in that office until his sudden death at sea on 10th June 1906. Having been a West Coast miner himself, he showed a lively interest in Waihi which he visited after the turn of the century when it was the fastest growing town in N.Z. and the fourth largest outside the main centres.
Waihi's chief thoroughfare, previously known as "Main St" was renamed "Seddon St" and the dusty road to the Borough boundary became "Seddon Avenue". Doubtless inspired by feelings of gratitude for some of his advanced legislation, after Seddon's death the local townsfolk decided to erect a monument to his memory, and financed by public subscription, this accordingly graced the centre of Seddon St opposite the National Bank.
I believe that the Memorial was unveiled in 1907. It consisted of a base about 12 feet square, rising by four wide steps to a platform some six feet square upon which stood a four feet square concrete pedestal some five feet high.
For many years the memorial was the customary starting place for processions and I remember quite a few official proclamations and ceremonies centred around it, the last being the proclamation of Peace 1945. Through the years the ravages of time and vandals left their marks on the memorial until in 1939 the Borough Council was shamed into restoring it. The corroded ironwork was replaced by a tapering square granite column, some 12 inches thick at the base and about 40 inches high, surmounted by an opal glass gas-lit globe about 18 inches in diameter. The latter was the gift of an Auckland firm of gas fitting suppliers. Since the wastes of the basins were blocked by the accumulations of years further use as a drinking fountain was out of the question but the restoration contractor in an excess of zeal patriotically painted the steps RED WHITE and BLUE.
After the war when the long wheel-base buses of the N.Z.R. Road Services could not get around the Memorial it was proposed to trim the steps off in the interests of safety and I well remember the late Mr W.M. Wallnutt rounding off an impassioned speech in rebuttal with "Hands off the Seddon Memorial". Though through the years there had been dire predictions of disaster involving motor vehicles and mangled children nothing ever happened although urchins suddenly jumping off the steps must have caused a few stopped heartbeats. As a result of this in 1955 the Borough Council decided to put the question to popular vote and somewhat misguidedly put it to the people on the same day as a loan poll for much-needed road works. Unfortunately for the cause of progress the forces of reaction thronged to the hustings in defence of King Dick. As a result, he was left undisturbed and for good measure the road loan poll was defeated also and road sealing was deferred for a few more years.
Eventually the forces of change persuaded a gullible Council that the monument could be uplifted and re-sited for a modest sum. The work was set in hand and what followed was, and here I quote, "A melancholy record of human ignorance, arrogance and presumption". The erectors of the Memorial had builded better than the removal contractors knew. They winched and jacked, huffed and puffed, heaved and grunted, and then, unable to remove it intact proceeded to smash it up and remove it piecemeal while Council members hung their heads and dodged discussion of the subject in public. Eventually an explosives expert was brought in at dawn to blast most of the remainder away, a motor engineer finally cutting off the water and gas pipes which held it like an umbilical cord to Mother Earth. An enquiry as to when the Memorial is likely to be re-erected usually meets with a dusty answer since all that is left, is a few chipped granite columns, a couple of damaged marble basins and some battered plaques. To honour its promise to re-erect the original memorial the Council of the day had the bright idea of naming the Pensioners' Flats in Moresby Avenue, "Seddon Memorial Flats" but the name has never taken.
Latterly a more realistic approach to the restoration problem has been the suggestion to erect at the entrance to the town a quarter-size replica of a poppet head (the hoisting frame erected at the top of a shaft to bring the cages to the surface). For many years the first sight greeting the visitor to Waihi was the imposing headgear of No. 2 shaft dominating Martha Hill and many consider that the suggested structure could serve as memorial both to our former Prime Minister and to the pioneers who helped to make Waihi what it is today.