William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman
So he retired to his farm on the sea coast at the Rangitata mouth. It consisted of about 1600 acres which he had bought in 1879. He had gradually turned it into what someone called "as nice a piece of land as any man might wish to farm". Here he spent the short remaining time left to him among those of his family not yet married and dispersed.
He had married in 1865 Mary Elizabeth Brittan, born in Sherborne, Dorset, in 1845, the daughter of Joseph Brittan, one of the early settlers of Canterbury, who arrived with her parents in 1852. This happy marriage realised his hope expressed in a letter written before he left England, that he would be a married man before he was thirty-five.
Mrs Rolleston's life of devotion to her husband's interests, the self-sacrifice demanded of her to bring up in the right way the nine children of the marriage, her vitality and beauty, and her triumph for so many years over the disabilities of age, is a story which demands a place of its own to be told adequately. She lived till the age of ninety-five, deeply interested in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Of their sons, two were members of the New Zealand Parliament, one being Attorney-General, and Minister of Justice and Defence in the Coates administration, 1925-28. Two other sons left New Zealand, one eventually to occupy important administrative posts in the medical profession in England, and the other to be resident magistrate in the Transvaal after the Boer War, and later the first British Trade Commissioner in New Zealand. Three of the daughters married New Zealanders, one of whom was a son of Sir Charles Bowen, Rolleston's lifelong friend.
He was happy in his domestic circle, and all the happenings on the farm were of intense interest and importance to him. As his strength failed he often sat gazing silently at the page 204distant mountains and at his beloved trees. He loved animals, flowers and trees—especially trees. His favourite saint was St Francis of Assisi, and he said he would like to found an order of St Francis for all people who love flowers and birds. His mind seemed to turn with wistful longing more and more to his early home in England. Bulbs of the wild daffodils which grew in the woods round Maltby Hall were sent to him and planted and watched over with great care. As far back as 1871 he had been instrumental in having some rooks imported which were used to establish a rookery at Riccarton near Christchurch. One of his great pleasures was to listen to the cawing of rooks, for they carried him in spirit back to his native land. During his last illness, at his earnest request, some of the birds were brought with great difficulty to his farm in an unsuccessful attempt to acclimatise them there.
His old friends did not forget him in his retirement and on 30 June 1902 he wrote to Sir Robert Stout:
It is very pleasant to find as I have found that one's old friends do not forget one when the days darken round one and the years. Your letter was particularly gratifying to me and my wife. I have little to complain of in my seventy-first year. No active physical pain, simply a decay of the powers of nature which has stood me in such good stead for so many years. Six months on one's back with sleepless nights, no appetite and a general failure of the system is of course a trial. I think however my strong constitution will rally within certain limits, and the interval between one's active life and the end may be well spent in a not unpleasant retrospect, nothing doubting that "good will be the final goal of ill".
He still kept up his love of the classics. A few months before his death he suggested to his old friend, Professor Sale, a new interpretation of a passage in one of Horace's Odes. Throughout his last illness, when he was unable to read, he frequently recalled to his mind the noblest passages from the works of this, his favourite, author.
After a long illness, he died on 8 February 1903.