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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



In 1868 Rolleston gave up his position as Under-Secretary of Native Affairs, and returned to Canterbury. He must have made up his mind to this course some twelve months previously, judging by the following letter:

Dr James Turnbull (Christchurch) to Rolleston (Wellington), 26 February 1867:

I am surprised at your entertaining an idea of again settling here. The opinion is gradually gaining ground that the North Island is the proper spot nowadays. Native leases and native freeholds have an attraction…. At any rate, it is an idea that good things are only to be done in the North. But, for any sake, don't let anything I say influence your movements towards here. You will be very welcome when you do come. I do not think your old popularity is much to boast of with the mob. In fact, I cannot ever remember your ever having much in that line.

"Mob" is not now regarded as a polite term to apply to a democratic electorate—it has a taint of snobbishness and superiority. But this statement by Turnbull that Rolleston's popularity was "not much to boast of with the mob" is interesting, for, as we shall see later, while his local popularity was never sufficient to make his seat continuously safe in Parliament, his reputation as a public man was always rising in the eyes of the nation. Victor Hugo, in one of his novels, describes Louis Phillipe as "always popular page 29with the mob but never with the nation". The exact reverse of this seems to have been the case with Rolleston. It may be that he never sought popularity, and in later years he was accused of devoting himself too much to national affairs and neglecting his constituency. But the truth was that he had none of the showy arts of popular appeal, and even when he could have shown his electors that he had fought in the Cabinet against some decision that aroused public hostility, he remained silent and accepted the blame. Nevertheless, he attained something more valuable than mere popularity. As Superintendent of Canterbury he earned the confidence and admiration of the people, and came to be trusted as a safe pilot in a storm. This was a greater achievement than that of acting the easy part of a fair-weather leader.