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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



During his brief period (December 1863-August 1865) as Provincial Secretary, Rolleston carried much responsibility, and, in the debates, he is often referred to as the Head of the Government. As Provincial Treasurer, he prepared page 23and presented the financial statements of the Province to the Council, he controlled the important Department of Immigration, and he occasionally sat as a Justice of the Peace. The multifarious administrative tasks that fell to his lot provided him with valuable experience which, a few years later, was to serve him in good stead in the wider sphere of Parliament.

What astonishes the modern reader is the variety and magnitude of the tasks undertaken by the Provincial Council at a time when the whole population of Canterbury was no larger than a secondary town of the present day. In 1864, the total population was only 28,000, yet it found monies for a vigorous scheme of road construction, public works, harbour works, railways, and immigration. There was even a vote for defence "to provide modern ordnance", and volunteer corps flourished in and around Christchurch. At the same time the Lyttelton Tunnel was under construction, and even the Christchurch Cathedral was being boldly proceeded with.

To complete the bewilderment of the reader, it appears that, up to 1864, in spite of all these heavy undertakings, there was, as yet, imposed no direct taxation by way of Land or Income Tax. For Rolleston in his Budget, after indicating that the voluntary system of hospital maintenance was proving inadequate, says: "A new feature of revenue was rates. He was perfectly aware that there existed a natural repugnance to the introduction of taxation in the minds of most people, but there was no doubt that, sooner or later, there must be a system of taxation introduced into the Province."

This financial mystery of how so small a population could carry on so extensive a programme is partly solved if we remember that the proceeds of land sales belonged to the province within whose boundaries the land was sold. For, under the famous "Compact of 1856", the General Government had been forced to make this concession to the Provinces.