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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman


page 138


In Hall's Ministry Rolleston was entrusted with the important portfolios of lands, immigration and education.

One would like to know why he did not become Prime Minister. According to the letters quoted in the preceding chapter the party would have welcomed Rolleston as leader. Did he make way for Hall out of diffidence or generosity, or did he consider that Atkinson had a better claim? Or was he too busy by reason of the fact that about this time he had bought a new farm at Rangitata in South Canterbury? Unfortunately, I have no letters from Rolleston to indicate what decisions he had to make or what influenced him in the course he took.

Turning now to Sir Harry Atkinson, who had already proved himself a statesman, for some reason equally obscure he was not a candidate for the leadership. It has been shown in the last chapter that he seems from time to time to have buried himself in his farm, and to have ignored all letters from members of his party. Whatever his motive may have been his conduct seems to refute the accusation (so frequently made) that he was always hungry for office. On the other hand there is evidence that the party feared that Atkinson would prove too radical. This is not improbable as, although by the irony of history Atkinson has come down to us as a conservative, he was in reality a socialist. The only reason why his socialistic views were never promulgated was that during all his years of office he was engaged in a constant struggle against falling prices and hard times. Under such conditions he was forced to subordinate his theoretical views to the practical necessities of fiscal stringency.