William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman
In view of the prospects that lay before Rolleston of a life of comfort and security in the English countryside among influential connections, the reader may be curious to know why he should have foregone these prospects for the hazards and hardships of New Zealand pioneering life. Fortunately, we have on record a clear statement of the motives that influenced him.
Shortly before leaving England in 1858, he wrote to an old College friend, Duncan Mathias, who was a master at Uppingham School, confiding to him his hopes and plans. Duncan Mathias had a number of relatives who had already settled in Canterbury. He must have made a sympathetic response to Rolleston's confidences, for there is in existence an undated reply written by Rolleston which is worth quoting:
He goes on to say that he has a justifiable longing to make a home for himself,
and, if hard work and steadiness will do it, I will be a married man before I am thirty-five.1 I am a great believer in the union of youth, marriage, and happiness. Mind you, this is written in cold blood. I am not in love, nor will I be till I see I can marry at once. What crimes society, respectability, position, and, not least of all, the intellectual mania of the present day have to answer for to him who looks on the heart.
But at a much later date Rolleston states in retrospect even more clearly the reasons that prompted him to come to New Zealand. In a letter dated 27 April 1898, written to a journalist who had criticised one of his speeches, he says:
1 As he was then twenty-seven, and married seven years later in 1865, he achieved marriage at thirty-four.
2 See Gisborne's New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen.
For some reason this letter was never sent to his journalistic critic, but it shows very clearly what actuated Rolleston in emigrating.
This craving to escape from Old World conventions was not peculiar to Rolleston. It was demonstrated in an amusing way by the conduct of G. S. Sale and some other young Englishmen who arrived at Lyttelton some time before Rolleston:
They were all so delighted with the prospect of the untrammelled life before them that they felt it necessary to make some gesture of contempt for the conventions they had left behind, so the first evening ashore they built a huge bonfire, piled on it their top hats and tail coats, and danced in a ring round the blazing fire.1
1 Extract from a letter from Mrs M. E. Orr, now living at Beaconsfield, Bucks, to the author, dated 29 December 1937. Mrs Orr is a daughter of the late Professor Sale.