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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman


page 30


It was on 22 May 1868, from the balcony of the quaint wooden building known as the old Christchurch Town Hall, that Rolleston was proposed as Superintendent. There was no other nomination, and he was accordingly declared elected. His predecessor, William Sefton Moorhouse, had resigned a few weeks before in the middle of his term on account of pressure of private affairs.

As Rolleston and Moorhouse were the two leading figures of that period in the provincial history of Canterbury, a brief comparison of their aims and methods will be some guide to the reader in forming a true picture of Rolleston.1

The fame of Moorhouse chiefly rests on his initiation of the Lyttelton Tunnel, which, with fine vision and tireless energy, he caused to be undertaken against strong opposition.

But the alarm with which his spectacular policies were viewed by old colonists is well seen in Sewell's Journal, 10 May 1863:

We have frittered away our strength on these provincial loans, the effect of which locally is mischievous. They give an artificial stimulus to everything. This is the Moorhouse policy which has had such a run of luck that it has beguiled the whole country into following his example.2

Rolleston, on the other hand, was cautious, prudent, and steady, and, while his mind was full of constructive ideas, he was constantly on guard against extravagance and indiscriminate borrowing. In this respect, he was akin to men like Donald Reid, Atkinson, and Sir James Allen. Moorhouse, on the other hand, was always exuberant, spectacular, ultra-progressive, and a super-optimist. In his page 31attitude towards public expenditure, he was the forerunner of Vogel, Macandrew, and Ward.

This division of public men, based on the degree of speed which they wished to be applied in public expenditure, is a handy guide to the student. It runs persistently through all our politics, both provincial and national. In fact, until party lines gradually emerged in later years, it is the only practical generalisation that is of service to us. Other means of classification, such as centralist versus provincialist, or freeholder versus leaseholder, have all been transitory and temporary, and ceased to have much meaning once the issue was settled. A public man who would be branded one day with one of these titles would at a later date find himself forced to compromise or change in order to gain some wider or more immediate objective. But the types I have mentioned—the men of the Moorhouse and Vogel type on the one hand and the men of the Rolleston and Atkinson type on the other—seem both to have been necessary at different times to fit the changing moods of the modern democracy, and both had their uses. Sometimes the pendulum swings towards the one and sometimes towards the other.

1 It is an interesting coincidence that three leading Canterbury statesmen—Rolleston, Moorhouse, and Sir John Hall—were all Yorkshire men.

2 Quoted by Morrell, p. 127.