William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman
It is doubtful, however, if anyone but Vogel could have precipitated the abolition of the Provinces on so slight a pretext as proved sufficient for that powerful autocrat. In 1874 he brought in a Bill to establish a proper system of forestry conservation. The Bill met with no serious opposition and indeed was passed by both Houses without a division. But in the course of the debate some criticism was offered as to whether the legislation might not restrict the control by Provincial Councils of such areas of land as might be affected by forestry activities. To the surprise of the House, Vogel seized on this criticism to make open war on the Provinces. In an elaborate speech he moved a resolution to the effect that the provincial form of government in the North Island should be abolished but that page 113localisation of the land revenue should be continued in accordance with the compact of 1856.
This resoltuion was launched with such precipitate haste that his own colleague (Sir) Maurice O'Rorke made a violent attack on the Premier and said that the proposal had never been discussed in Cabinet; not only so, but he announced his own resignation and dramatically walked across to the opposition benches. However, the majority in favour of the resolution was so large that it was clear the time was ripe for a general measure abolishing the whole system of provincial government in both islands. Accordingly when Parliament met next year (1875) this task was taken in hand. A Homeric battle raged between centralism and provincialism in a classical debate that lasted for three weeks. Vogel must have regarded the result as a foregone conclusion, as he had gone off on another financial mission to England. He left (Sir) Harry Atkinson in charge to bear the whole burden of piloting the Bill through the House. This Atkinson did with great skill, sagacity and patience. At some stage in his long career he earned the reputation of "wearing hobnailed boots", that is, of forcing legislation through the House. But on this occasion he showed himself to be reasonable and tactful. Sir George Grey had emerged from his retirement in order to lead the opposition to abolition. With him were Rolleston, Macandrew, Stout and other champions of the Provinces,