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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



It is also noteworthy that, in all Rolleston's letters and journals, we find no complaint of the hardships and difficulties of pioneering life. Probably the explanation lies in the fact that the life of a sheep-farmer in those years was one of well-grounded hope and financial progress. The same story repeats itself in the experience of Samuel Butler, who, after a few years as a sheep-farmer in Canterbury, was able to sell out and return to England with a substantial accumulation of capital. In this respect, both Rolleston and Butler were fortunate, for a few years later the value of breeding sheep had fallen from 25s. to 2s. 6d., and many runholders were ruined.

But it was not merely the prospects of material success that shed a rosy hue over the world, and filled those early days with the joy of living. Perhaps, as life has grown more complex and sophisticated, we have lost the secret of their happiness. Professor Sale, who has already been quoted, is emphatic that the explanation does not lie in the fact that the pioneers were young men intoxicated by youthful hopes and dreams.

There was a simplicity (he says), a freshness and a raciness about those early times, notwithstanding some discomfort, that made life far more enjoyable then than it is now, or ever will be again.

Of course it is easy to say that we were all forty years younger then, and that those who at the present time are forty years page 19younger than ourselves also find the same delight in their life that we experienced when we were young. But we were not all young in New Zealand forty years ago, and those who were old or middle-aged seemed at any rate to enjoy, and probably did enjoy life far more than any of us old or young enjoy it now.

The difference is mainly this, that in those days our life was simple and unpretentious. Now it is for the most part absurdly pretentious. In those days we were away in a remote and beautiful country unknown to, and unnoticed by the great world…. Our Arcadian simplicity has vanished, and along with it all the poetry is gone out of our lives. Nothing but prose remains, and for good downright dull flat prose New Zealand town life is probably not to be surpassed in the world.1

No doubt the worthy Professor exaggerates to some extent; but no student of early pioneering life can remain unconscious of the contrast between the buoyant optimism of those early days and the air of disillusionment that is now so widespread even among the younger set.

However, enough has been said to show that Rolleston succeeded in his ambition of establishing himself in life in the new young country, and did it by "the hard work and steadiness" which he had imposed upon himself before he left England.

1 Press, 8 March 1897.