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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



On 15 July 1858, Rolleston sailed for New Zealand, and reached Lyttelton on 15 November.2 The Canterbury settlement had then been in existence for eight years. It was the last of the settlements in New Zealand founded on the "Wakefield System".

That system has so often been described that it will suffice here to say that its main features were, first, that Crown Lands should be sold at a price sufficiently high to prevent speculation and to provide a fund out of which further immigrants could be brought to the Colony; secondly, that self-government, both Colonial and Muni-

2 His ship called en route at Otago Harbour, and, speaking at the Otago Jubilee in 1898, Rolleston said: "Forty years ago, I landed in Otago from the Old Country, and slept—or rather did not sleep—my first night in New Zealand on the then unformed track between Dunedin and Port Chalmers." He did not explain why he slept out on the track—perhaps he had got "bushed", which would easily happen in those days.

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, should be part of the system; and thirdly, that, where possible, the Church should form an integral part of the scheme, because of the value of its spiritual influence and authority.

The Canterbury settlement was Anglican, and obtained Provincial status in 1853. It did not, however, exclude non-Anglicans. It was more successful than any other province in drawing to its settlement a large number of young men of the Rolleston type. A writer in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1867 said:

The effort to transplant to Canterbury everything that was English led to its attracting a great number of young men of excellent family and education and of some means; and this, combined with the pastoral nature of the country, has brought about the strongly marked social distinctions more observable in Canterbury than anywhere else in New Zealand. Up to the present, there have been two widely distinguished classes—the gentry and the peasant—the sheep farmers and the labourers. It will require all the influence of the gold-fields to introduce that gentle graduation of ranks which render anything like an aristocracy unattainable.1

When he landed at Lyttelton, Rolleston was met and welcomed at the foot of the bridle track that led over the hills by C. C. Bowen, who had been Private Secretary to J. R. Godley. Bowen and Rolleston became fast friends, and worked together for forty years in Parliament, and on many public bodies. They both had a great love of the Classics, and in Rolleston's papers are many letters from Bowen, in Greek or Latin, discussing problems of philology or interpretation.

Rolleston stayed a short time in Christchurch, presenting his letters of introduction and getting advice from various people. He was fortunate enough to make friends with Mr George Arthur Emilius Ross, a well-known runholder in Canterbury, whose name frequently appears in

1 Quoted in the Illustrated New Zealander, 19 July 1867.

page 12Mr Acland's valuable history of the early Canterbury runs.1 He proved a staunch friend and adviser, and his name often crops up in Rolleston's letters and business dealings. It was while he owned the Lake Coleridge station that Rollestori became one of his shepherds.

Certainly Rolleston lost no time in getting to work, for, soon after his arrival, he wrote to his family in England:

I saw Mr Ross on Thursday last. He has very kindly kept a place for me at his station, and accordingly I am going up with him this week. I do not yet know exactly the terms of our arrangements, but he will let me have sheep on his run, and I shall be able to turn shepherd at once. I have thus fallen in with exactly what I wished, and indeed more than I had any right to expect. Ross thought at first that it might be well for me to think of Government employment, and, with that in view, we went to Lyttelton to make enquiries. We have decided against it. The office was one in the Customs. The work was pen work. Lyttelton a horrid place for a man to live in, as there is a range 1200 feet high between that and any society. Moreover, £200 in town does not go as far as the £50 I shall get up country. Still more, I will not give up my shepherding notions for a life of uncongenial drudgery. I took Mr Cookson's advice on the subject, and he said I should be utterly wretched, and most probably lose my health. Everybody says that sheep farming is the thing, and that I am safe to succeed. I have been staying two or three nights with Mr Ross at Mr Wilson's, one of whose daughters he is going to marry. They are a very nice family, most kind and hospitable. Indeed, I have found everybody so that I have met. I am here under very good auspices, otherwise I fancy a man may be here a long time without knowing anybody

1 Ross had been a cadet on Henry Tancred's run, Malvern Hills, when that station was first started in 1852. In 1854, he bought Waireka station, and took into partnership Charles Harper, a son of the Bishop. In 1860, these partners bought Lake Coleridge station, and later took a lease of Four Peaks. They were ruined in the snowstorm of 1867. Ross was also the first clerk of the Canterbury Provincial Council, and later a member. He died in Christchurch in 1876 at the age of forty-seven. See Acland, The Early Canterbury Runs.

page 13that is worth knowing. The Bishop has been very civil. I am going to a large party there tomorrow. A man may do what he likes up country, but, in town, etiquette is very strong. Hence, I look upon parties when in town as a necessary evil by way of making myself known. Mr Cookson insists on my coming down to the Anniversary Ball next month, in the necessity of which Mr Ross concurs, so I shall do as I am told. I have not yet got my things round from Lyttelton. The hill is a great barrier, impassible by carts, so everything has to come a long way round by water. Land is selling at an extravagant rate anywhere near town or the main roads. Unskilled labour 8s. a day. Beef 6d. a pound. Flour £18 the ton. House rents enormous. I am entirely satisfied that I have done the right thing in taking the step I have; but, of course, cannot yet speak as to the prospect of emigrants generally (except working men), especially as I have so soon fallen on my legs myself and have not had to make many general enquiries….