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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The contrast between Grey's brilliant career as a Governor and his failure as a politician is well known. In his earlier years he rightly earned an illustrious reputation as one of Britain's greatest Proconsuls; not only in New Zealand but in various parts of the Empire he had proved himself a great administrator, who displayed the highest qualities of courage, diplomacy and resourcefulness. For some years his mana among the Maoris stood high. When in 1868 he was not reappointed by the Duke of Newcastle it was regarded by the people of New Zealand as a humiliating dismissal. Many writers refer to the incident as if Grey had been recalled, but in fact Grey's term of office had expired. Nevertheless, the circumstances were such that a spontaneous burst of sympathy poured in from all quarters, demonstrating the esteem and admiration in which at that time he was held by the people of New Zealand. Not only the members of the Ministry but both branches of the Legislature and many public bodies presented him with addresses of confidence and admiration. But the triumphs won by Grey as a great Governor and Imperial Proconsul he could not repeat in the arena of party politics. It is true that in 1877 he became Premier, and in the lives of most statesmen that is regarded as the climax of a successful career; but in the case of Grey, his occupancy of that high page 130office was a melancholy and inglorious anticlimax. Indeed, the very qualities that had served him in such good stead as Governor were now distorted and perverted in such a way as to bring about before long his humiliation and downfall. His firmness, dignity and courage as Governor were now converted into obstinacy, arrogance and petulance as Premier. As Gisborne truly said in discussing the career of Grey: "The leader of a political party may become in a certain time autocratic, but he must first, as it were, stoop to conquer." This Grey could never learn to do, and so his parliamentary career was a pathetic series of bitter conflicts, not merely with his enemies but with his colleagues and supporters. Whenever he toured the country he could arouse vast crowds to a frenzy of wild enthusiasm by what Reeves calls "his cloudy eloquence". But this grandiosity was entirely unsuited to the parliamentary arena. "The honourable gentleman", said Rolleston, "labours under the constant belief that the rest of the world is sworn to persecute him. At one time it is the Colonial Office, at another time it is the Generals, at another time the Governor and the Legislative Council, and now the honourable gentleman on this side of the House are sworn to persecute and destroy him." He quarrelled with his able Treasurer, Ballance, who resigned from the Ministry. He became estranged from his Attorney-General, Sir Robert Stout, who went back to his legal practice on the plea that his partner was failing in health. His conflicts with the Governor were incessant, and finally his followers lost faith in him to such an extent that he not only had to give up the Premiership but had to surrender, or at any rate refuse to accept, the leadership of the Opposition.