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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



When Samuel Butler (the author of Erewhon) was looking for a sheep run in Canterbury, he put up for the night with Rolleston. He gives an amusing description of his host as an exceedingly humane and judicious bullock driver. Every now and then (he says) he leaves his up-country avocation, and becomes a great gun at the College at Christchurch, examining the boys; he then returns to his shepherding, cooking, bullock-driving, as the case may be…. Under his bed I found Tennyson's "Idylls of the King". So you will see that even in these out-of-the-world places people do care a little for something besides sheep.

When Butler asked in the morning where he was to wash, Rolleston "with a shrug of the shoulders, and pointing outside, said: 'There is the lake'".1

There is a well-known and almost threadbare story to the effect that Rolleston swore at his bullocks in Greek. Whether the story is true or not, it is clear that his love of the Classics held to him throughout his life. I have heard it related that, long after his political career had passed its zenith, he could be met jolting along the country roads in an old spring-cart, reading his Horace as he went.

In later letters he tells of all the ordinary work of the station—breaking-in young colts, building a wool-shed, driving his bullock team, buying and selling cattle, mustering, and shearing sheep, and apparently all the time becoming increasingly prosperous. In the same year, 1862, the Government appointed him Inspector of the College in Christchurch. "So I get paid for examining, which is a good thing."

page 18

Rolleston sold his run in 1865 to Mr Neave at a good profit. During the last two or three years he had become absorbed in public affairs, and, as will be seen in the next chapter, he became in 1863 a member of the Provincial Council. Hence, during this period, his visits to Mount Algidus became intermittent. But his practical and successful experience on the land was to serve him in good stead in his long public career as an administrator and legislator.

1 Samuel Butler (1835-1902)—A memoir by Henry Festing Jones, vol. i, pp. 78-9; vol. ii, pp. 334-5.