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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The following year, 1883, Rolleston made another effort to establish his system of perpetual leases, without the right to purchase, but on this occasion the Bill was rejected by the Legislative Council. Rolleston was deeply chagrined. He never faltered in his plea that the system of perpetual leasing of at least one-third of the lands would be in the best interests of the Colony. He pointed out that a Royal Commission in New South Wales had recently insisted that it was impossible to prevent aggregation once the land was freehold, and under his proposals no more than one section could be held by one occupier. During the recess he said:

I stood on the top of a high range of hills, looking over a large extent of country reaching as far as the eye could see, and the whole of that country under the free selection scheme was in the hands, not of small holders, but of large companies and large landholders. That is what I trust to avoid in the future.2

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Although Rolleston was defeated in one of his main proposals, his efforts towards land reform earned for him an outstanding reputation. "No man", said Mr Hursthouse, "has made himself so popular throughout New Zealand as the Minister of Lands by his journeyings throughout the country during the recess." And Vincent Pyke said: "He has had the noble audacity to advocate principles which if not at the present time altogether popular are entirety just."

2 The system of free selection before survey had operated in the early days of Canterbury. It consisted in selling the land for what it would fetch and afterwards devoting a certain proportion of the proceeds to making roads. Rolleston said that for some time this system had worked well in Canterbury and caused land settlement to advance there more freely than in any other part of New Zealand, partly owing to the fact that the whole country was open and roads required little making, and partly because of the ease with which title was obtained. But the result of it was that of 2,800,000 acres of Canterbury land, 1,352,370 acres or nearly 47 per cent had been purchased by 91 persons. "That is not my idea", said Rolleston, "of what settlement should be" (Hansard, 1883, vol. xliv, p. 626).