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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The Reverend George Rolleston married Anne Nettleship, of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Some of her relatives acquired distinction as scholars and in other walks of life. Anne Nettleship is described as having been a gentle and lovely woman. Her son William applied to her the poet's words: "The sweetest soul that ever looked with human eyes." There were ten children of her marriage with the Reverend George Rolleston, of whom William was the youngest child but one.

One brother, George Rolleston, M.D., F.R.S. (1829-81), became a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford; Assistant page 5Physician, British Civil Hospital, Smyrna, in the Crimean War (1855-57); Linacre Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, Oxford, 1860; F.R.S. 1862; a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, 1872; and he was the author of many learned scientific papers on anthropology, anatomy, and zoology. There is an interesting story on record which illustrates Professor Rolleston's great reputation as an anthropologist. It appears that while some workmen were digging near Marble Arch at the site where Tyburn tree once stood they uncovered three skeletons. A controversy arose as to whether or not one of the skulls was that of Oliver Cromwell. An appeal was made to Professor Rolleston, who examined the exhibit and replied: "If that is the skull of Cromwell it must have been when he was quite a young man!"1

1 Many years later, when William Rolleston visited England in 1900, he attended a large dinner at St Bartholomew's Hospital, at which reference was made to the fact that Professor Rolleston had been a prominent member of Bart.'s forty years before. In replying for the visitors, Rolleston said that "as well in New Zealand as elsewhere in his travels, he owed more than he could express to the name and fame of his brother".