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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



In none of the letters and documents of Rolleston do we find any reference to his ancestry. Perhaps he was more interested in the future than in the past—more absorbed in the possibility of building up an ideal society in a new land than in dreaming of the long generations of squires, soldiers, and clergy from whom he was descended. If a dispute still exists between those who attribute the main influence in the life of an individual to heredity and those who lay most stress on environment, this dispute can hardly be settled by quoting the case of Rolleston, for he combined in his person the best of both factors. On the one hand his ancestry was the finest that England could give him, and on the other his environment in the new and virgin country of New Zealand afforded an ideal opportunity for the realisation of his dreams of a new society.

Nevertheless, those readers who find a fascination in family pedigrees cannot fail to be interested in knowing that Rolleston's ancestry can be traced in an unbroken line to the remote days of English history till we come at last to a William de Rolleston who lived at the time of the Norman Conquest. The famous Domesday Book records the Rolleston property as valued at 10s., which might be the equivalent now of £10. Some writers tell us that the name is of Norse origin and means Rolvers Town. Others page 2find its derivation to be from the Saxon word Hrothwulf's Ton—presumably the township of some forgotten chieftain of that name.

Possibly Rolleston was originally a place name, as there are at present six villages in England and Wales bearing that title. If this be so—if some early Rolleston ancestor of many centuries ago took his name from a place in England—it is strange to reflect that, in modern times, the process has been reversed in New Zealand, and that, in honour of William Rolleston, we find in Canterbury such place names as Rolleston Junction, Mount Rolleston, and Rolleston Avenue.